Believe it or not

Kevin Lewis

June 13, 2017

How Many Atheists Are There?
Will Gervais & Maxine Najle
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming


One crucible for theories of religion is their ability to predict and explain the patterns of belief and disbelief. Yet, religious nonbelief is often heavily stigmatized, potentially leading many atheists to refrain from outing themselves even in anonymous polls. We used the unmatched count technique and Bayesian estimation to indirectly estimate atheist prevalence in two nationally representative samples of 2,000 U.S. adults apiece. Widely cited telephone polls (e.g., Gallup, Pew) suggest U.S. atheist prevalence of only 3–11%. In contrast, our most credible indirect estimate is 26% (albeit with considerable estimate and method uncertainty). Our data and model predict that atheist prevalence exceeds 11% with greater than .99 probability and exceeds 20% with roughly .8 probability. Prevalence estimates of 11% were even less credible than estimates of 40%, and all intermediate estimates were more credible. Some popular theoretical approaches to religious cognition may require heavy revision to accommodate actual levels of religious disbelief.

Religious Veiling as a Mate-Guarding Strategy: Effects of Environmental Pressures on Cultural Practices
Farid Pazhoohi et al.
Evolutionary Psychological Science, June 2017, Pages 118–124


Male parental investment can contribute to the fitness of both sexes through increased fertility and child survivorship. The level and intensity of parental investment are dependent upon ecological variations: in harsh and demanding environments, the need for biparental care increases. Moreover, when environmental pressures increase, uncertainty over paternity may lead to favoring stricter mate-guarding practices, thus directing males to invest more effort toward controlling and guarding their mates from infidelity. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that religious veiling, as a social and cultural practice which regulates and restricts sexuality, will be more important in harsher environments. Our results show that harsh and demanding environments are associated with the importance of religious veiling and the level of religiosity, providing a link between cultural practices such as religious veiling and ecological variation.

The hijab as a protective factor for body image and disordered eating: A replication in French Muslim women
Sevag Kertechian & Viren Swami
Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 2016, Pages 1056-1068


We examined differences in body image and disordered eating between Muslim women who do and do not wear the hijab in France, a nation marked by religious-based sartorial censorship. In an online survey, 450 French Muslim women completed measures of hijab use, weight discrepancy, disordered eating, body image-related constructs, religiosity, perceived support from Allah, and perceived discrimination. Controlling for religiosity and support from Allah, women who wore the hijab reported significantly lower weight discrepancy, body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, social physique anxiety, internalisation of the thin and muscular ideals, and pressure to attain ideals from peers and the media, though they also reported significantly higher perceived discrimination than those who did not wear the hijab. Further analyses showed that use of the hijab was significantly associated with weight discrepancy and disordered eating. Our results suggest that use of the hijab may offer a protective element for French Muslim women.

The Rise of Protestantism in Post-Mao China: State and Religion in Historical Perspective
Yanfei Sun
American Journal of Sociology, May 2017, Pages 1664-1725


This article, using fieldwork from a Chinese county, seeks to explain why Protestantism has experienced explosive growth in post-Mao China, but not before. It identifies six institutional features of Chinese Protestantism vital to the religion’s rapid growth, but it does not make a simple institutional argument. Instead, it contends that each of these institutional features can facilitate or impede the spread of Protestantism depending on the context. Protestantism flourished in the post-Mao era because the Maoist state had dissolved the locally entrenched social/cultural resistance to Protestantism and because the post-Mao state’s market-oriented economic reform created an environment conducive to the expansion of Protestantism. Theoretically, this article makes a claim that the effect of any religion’s institutional features on its growth is contingent on the sociopolitical context of the religion, and that the state is the most powerful actor in creating and shaping that context.

Church attendance, allostatic load and mortality in middle aged adults
Marino Bruce et al.
PLoS ONE, May 2017

Objective: The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between religiosity (church attendance), allostatic load (AL) (a physiologic measure of stress) and all-cause mortality in middle-aged adults.

Design, setting and participants: Data for this study are from NHANES III (1988–1994). The analytic sample (n = 5449) was restricted to adult participants, who were between 40–65 years of age at the time of interview, had values for at least 9 out of 10 clinical/biologic markers used to derive AL, and had complete information on church attendance.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcomes were AL and mortality. AL was derived from values for metabolic, cardiovascular, and nutritional/inflammatory clinical/biologic markers. Mortality was derived from a probabilistic algorithm matching the NHANES III Linked Mortality File to the National Death Index through December 31, 2006, providing up to 18 years follow-up. The primary predictor variable was baseline report of church attendance over the past 12 months. Cox proportional hazard logistic regression models contained key covariates including socioeconomic status, self-rated health, co-morbid medical conditions, social support, healthy eating, physical activity, and alcohol intake.

Results: Churchgoers (at least once a year) comprised 64.0% of the study cohort (n = 3782). Non-churchgoers had significantly higher overall mean AL scores and higher prevalence of high-risk values for 3 of the 10 markers of AL than did churchgoers. In bivariate analyses non-churchgoers, compared to churchgoers, had higher odds of an AL score 2–3 (OR 1.24; 95% CI 1.01, 1.50) or ≥4 (OR 1.38; 95% CI 1.11, 1.71) compared to AL score of 0–1. More frequent churchgoers (more than once a week) had a 55% reduction of all-cause mortality risk compared with non-churchgoers. (HR 0.45, CI 0.24–0.85) in the fully adjusted model that included AL.

Conclusions and relevance: We found a significant association between church attendance and mortality among middle-aged adults after full adjustments. AL, a measure of stress, only partially explained differences in mortality between church and non-church attendees. These findings suggest a potential independent effect of church attendance on mortality.

Is saving lives your task or God’s? Religiosity, belief in god, and moral judgment
Netta Barak-Corren & Max Bazerman
Judgment and Decision Making, May 2017, Pages 280–296


Should a Catholic hospital abort a life-threatening pregnancy or let a pregnant woman die? Should a religious employer allow his employees access to contraceptives or break with healthcare legislation? People and organizations of faith often face moral decisions that have significant consequences. Research in psychology found that religion is typically associated with deontological judgment. Yet deontology consists of many principles, which may, at times, conflict. In three studies, we design a conflict between moral principles and find that the relationship between moral judgment and religiosity is more nuanced than currently assumed. Studies 1 and 2 show that, while religious U.S. Christians and Israeli Jews are more likely to form deontological judgments, they divide between the deontological principles of inaction and indirectness. Using textual analysis, we reveal that specific beliefs regarding divine responsibility and human responsibility distinguish inaction from indirectness deontologists. Study 3 exploits natural differences in religious saliency across days of the week to provide causal evidence that religion raises deontological tendencies on Sundays and selectively increases the appeal of inaction deontology for those who believe in an interventionist and responsible God.

Improving the Electability of Atheists in the United States: A Preliminary Examination
Andrew Franks
Politics and Religion, forthcoming


Decades of polling data and recent research have demonstrated the magnitude of anti-atheist prejudice in the United States and its relationship to perceptions of atheists as immoral and untrustworthy. Across three studies, I examine the malleability of bias against atheists in the context of election politics. Informational manipulations of an atheist candidate's stated values (Study 1) and popularity (Study 2) improve participants’ perceptions of the morality and trustworthiness of and likelihood of voting for that atheist candidate, but religiously affiliated participants still prefer a similarly situated Christian candidate. Study 3 shows that participants are more likely to vote for an atheist when the opposing candidate was described as a theocrat. Implications of this research for ameliorating the under-representation of non-religious individuals in government are discussed.

The Religious and Political Origins of Evangelical Protestants’ Opposition to Environmental Spending
Philip Schwadel & Erik Johnson
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, forthcoming


Evangelical Protestants are less likely than most other Americans to support environmental policies and spending to protect the natural environment. We use almost three decades of repeated cross-sectional data to examine the factors that promote evangelicals’ opposition to environmental spending. Mediation models with bootstrapped standard errors show that affiliation with the Republican Party, biblical literalism, and religious service attendance mediate differences in support for environmental spending between evangelical Protestants and other Americans. The importance of these mediating variables, however, varies over time and by the group evangelicals are being compared to. Differences in support for environmental spending between evangelical and mainline Protestants, for example, are primarily due to views of the Bible, but not at all to Republican identification. The results shed light on the causal effects of religion on views of the environment, temporal changes in the social and political implications of religiosity, the persistence of divisive issues that support the continued existence of culture wars, and the future of government spending on environmental problems in a social context where scientific evidence is filtered through political and religious ideology.

Family Formation and Close Social Ties Within Religious Congregations
Benjamin Gurrentz
Journal of Marriage and Family, forthcoming


The study of family and religion has yet to elaborate on the social ties that connect these two important and changing institutions. Specifically, how does family formation (i.e., marriage and childrearing) impact social ties to religious communities? Using longitudinal data from the Portraits of American Life Study (2006–2012) and fixed effects regression models that control for time-stable heterogeneity (N = 1,314), this study tests the effects of marriage and childrearing on changes in close congregational social ties. Fixed effects estimates suggest that marriage actually decreases close social ties to religious congregations, whereas rearing children within marital unions increases them. Thus, it is children, not marriage per se, that actually integrates married couples into religious communities. These contrasting effects tend to be the strongest among young adults, but they weaken with age as well as marital duration.

Why is Intelligence Negatively Associated with Religiousness?
Edward Dutton & Dimitri Van der Linden
Evolutionary Psychological Science, forthcoming


We present three models which attempt to explain the robust negative association between religion and intelligence: the Irrationality of Religion Model, the Cultural Mediation Hypothesis, and the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. We highlight problems with each of them and propose that the negative religion-IQ nexus can be understood through substantially revising the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. We argue that religion should be regarded as an evolved domain or instinct. Intelligence, by contrast, involves rising above our instincts. It follows that an inclination toward the non-instinctive will thus be an aspect of intelligence because it will help us to solve problems. Thus, intelligence will involve being attracted to evolutionary mismatch, to that which we would not be instinctively evolved to be attracted to. It is this, we argue, that is behind the negative religion-intelligence nexus. We respond to potential criticisms of our model and we examine how this model can be further tested.

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