March 8, 2019

Religion is a complicated nut to crack. It encompasses some of the most private and personal human experiences as well as the most dazzling, public displays you’ll ever see. Many holy scriptures teach the equal value of all people, yet religious traditions serve as a fount of tribalism. There’s no getting around the contradictions. Fortunately, we can study some of the most puzzling aspects of religion objectively, using the tools of the human behavioral, cognitive, and evolutionary sciences. This is… Read more

February 22, 2019

Religion, science, and postmodernism are usually seen as enemies. But each of these ideologies holds crucial values in common with each of the others – even if there’s nothing they all share together. Here’s a look at the complex, threeway relationship between Science™ and its two biggest competitors. Read more

February 7, 2019

Why do people – even atheists – tend to trust religious believers more? A scientific tool called life history theory may point to the answer. Religious believers are seen as having “slower” life history strategies – more committed relationships, more emphasis on caring for offspring. Read more

January 23, 2019

We’re living in a post-truth era. Is postmodernism to blame, as famous philosopher Daniel Dennett argues? In order to answer that question, we have to take a look at what postmodernism actually is. And it’s a lot more complicated than anyone told you. Read more

January 9, 2019

Why do so many people worship invisible beings, accept the authority of millennia-old texts, or or congregate on weekends in buildings for no apparently practical reason? The cognitive and bio-cultural sciences of religion are burgeoning as researchers attempt to answer these questions in the context of our secularizing culture. According to one popular hypothesis, people naturally tend to be religious because our brains, evolved to survive in the dangerous Paleolithic era, are hyper-sensitive to signals of agency, or personhood –… Read more

December 22, 2018

Want to try something really difficult? Be a researcher who studies religion in its many forms and facets using weird methods like computer simulations and lab psychology, and then try to explain your work to people who have normal careers. For example, you could go to a party and try explaining a paper my colleagues and I published last week on an agent-based model (ABM) computer simulation that explores why shamanism in some societies is mostly male-dominated, while in other… Read more

December 11, 2018

According to a recent research report, scholars in the humanities and the hard social sciences disagree about the relevance of genetic and biological explanations for human behavior. Could the two camps find common ground in the idea that *both* genes and culture influence our lives? Read more

November 29, 2018

I’m freshly back from Denver, where the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) took place this year. The AAR is the world’s largest academic body focused on the study of religion. It includes everything under its big tent – experts in ancient Daoist texts, Biblical historians, Sanskrit scholars, sociologists of religion, transhumanists, and even – yes – cognitive scientists of religion. Attending the AAR is a little bit like finding yourself in one of those edge-of-the-galaxy bazaars… Read more

November 14, 2018

If you’ve gotten into a political argument on Facebook recently, you might be excused for feeling somewhat-less-than-blindingly optimistic about the state of things these days. Whether you’re debating a conservative uncle or liberal colleague, a devout or unbelieving friend, it seems that the gaps between our divergent worldviews are becoming insurmountable. One hypothesis suggests that, as the Western world has become less religious, people have begun falling back on politics for identity and meaning. In other words, our political tribes… Read more

October 26, 2018

By trying to rid themselves of theology, religious studies scholars have paradoxically also banished science and scientific explanation rom their studies. Both theology and science, for whatever their other differences, claim to have access to universal, unconditioned truth. The humanities no longer do. Read more

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