Kevin Lewis

February 25, 2014

Are the latter-day saints too latter day? Perceived age of the Mormon Church and attitudes toward Mormons

Ruth Warner & Kristin Kiddoo
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, January 2014, Pages 67-78

Two studies examine how social distance toward Mormons is affected by the relative recency of the Mormon religion. In Study 1, we found that the perceived age of the Mormon religion predicted social distance toward Mormons such that people who perceived Mormonism as more recent wanted more social distance from Mormons. In Study 2, we manipulated the antiquity or recency of the Mormon religion. We found that emphasizing the long history of the religion reduced social distance from Mormons (relative to emphasizing the religion’s newness), an effect that was mediated by perceived legitimacy of the Mormon religion. These findings support past research showing that the longevity of a practice implies its goodness and that this inference extends to practitioners as well.


Islamic Rule and the Empowerment of the Poor and Pious

Erik Meyersson
Econometrica, January 2014, Pages 229–269

Does Islamic political control affect women's empowerment? Several countries have recently experienced Islamic parties coming to power through democratic elections. Due to strong support among religious conservatives, constituencies with Islamic rule often tend to exhibit poor women's rights. Whether this reflects a causal relationship or a spurious one has so far gone unexplored. I provide the first piece of evidence using a new and unique data set of Turkish municipalities. In 1994, an Islamic party won multiple municipal mayor seats across the country. Using a regression discontinuity (RD) design, I compare municipalities where this Islamic party barely won or lost elections. Despite negative raw correlations, the RD results reveal that, over a period of six years, Islamic rule increased female secular high school education. Corresponding effects for men are systematically smaller and less precise. In the longer run, the effect on female education remained persistent up to 17 years after, and also reduced adolescent marriages. An analysis of long-run political effects of Islamic rule shows increased female political participation and an overall decrease in Islamic political preferences. The results are consistent with an explanation that emphasizes the Islamic party's effectiveness in overcoming barriers to female entry for the poor and pious.


The Emotional Toll of Hell: Cross-National and Experimental Evidence for the Negative Well-Being Effects of Hell Beliefs

Azim Shariff & Lara Aknin
PLoS ONE, January 2014

Though beliefs in Heaven and Hell are related, they are associated with different personality characteristics and social phenomena. Here we present three studies measuring Heaven and Hell beliefs' associations with and impact on subjective well-being. We find that a belief in Heaven is consistently associated with greater happiness and life satisfaction while a belief in Hell is associated with lower happiness and life satisfaction at the national (Study 1) and individual (Study 2) level. An experimental priming study (Study 3) suggests that these differences are mainly driven by the negative emotional impact of Hell beliefs. Possible cultural evolutionary explanations for the persistence of such a distressing religious concept are discussed.


The Politics of Denying Communion to Catholic Elected Officials

William Blake & Amanda Friesen
The Forum, February 2014, Pages 671–682

In his 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry, a Catholic, was threatened with being denied Holy Communion because of his pro-choice voting record. This article investigates the extent to which communion denial impacted Catholic elected officials and analyzes public attitudes regarding communion denial for Kerry. The results of our analysis suggest that, despite heavy media coverage, few bishops endorsed the communion denial and few pro-choice Catholic officials were threatened. While the data also indicate there are meaningful political implications for public attitudes on communion denial, the tactic does not command support from many Catholics.


Does Secular Education Impact Religiosity, Electoral Participation and the Propensity to Vote for Islamic Parties? Evidence from an Education Reform in a Muslim Country

Resul Cesur & Naci Mocan
NBER Working Paper, December 2013

Turkey, which is a predominantly Muslim country, enacted an education law in 1997 which increased the compulsory secular education from five to eight years. We employ a unique nation-wide survey of adults in 2012 to investigate the impact of education on religiosity, lifestyles and political preferences by using exposure to the law as an instrument for schooling. The data set includes information about the extent of religiosity, lifestyle choices (e.g. modern, conservative, religious), ethnic background (e.g. Kurd, Turk, Arab) and the religious sect of the respondents (Sunni, Alevite Shii’te, etc.) The results show that the reform had a significant impact on middle school completion for both men and women, with stronger effects on women. An increase in education, generated by exposure to the law, decreases women’s propensity to identify themselves as religious. Education also lowers women’s tendency to wear a religious head cover (head scarf, religious turban or burka) and it increases their propensity to have a modern lifestyle. Education reduces women’s propensity to cast a vote for Islamic parties, but it has no impact on the propensity to vote. Education has no statistically significant impact on men’s religiosity or their tendency to vote for Islamic parties. The results are robust to controlling for indicators of individuals’ economic well-being as well as variations in empirical specification of the treatment by the law. Using a smaller version of the survey, conducted in 2008, we perform a variety of tests, which demonstrate that the results are not due to a cohort effect. Finally, we show that the effect of education on religiosity and voting preference is not working through migration, residential location or labor force participation.


Religious decline in the 20th century West: Testing alternative explanations

Raphaël Franck & Laurence Iannaccone
Public Choice, forthcoming

Retrospective questions from recent surveys let us estimate rates of church attendance among children and their parents in ten Western democracies throughout most of the 20th century. We combine these time series with standard sources to test competing theories of religious change. Although our attendance estimates affirm the prevalence of religious decline, our statistical tests offer no support for traditional theories of secularization (which link decline to changes in income, education, industrialization, urbanization, and family life). Nor can we attribute much of the observed decline to growth in the welfare state. But increased school spending by governments does reduce church attendance, and this effect is not the result of greater educational attainment. In shaping the content of schooling, governments may strongly influence long-run religious trends.


Religion: Productive or unproductive?

Travis Wiseman & Andrew Young
Journal of Institutional Economics, March 2014, Pages 21-45

In this paper, we investigate the relationships between informal institutions – proxied for by measures of religiosity – and levels of entrepreneurial activity, both productive and unproductive, using cross-section US state-level data. In doing so, we evaluate Baumol's (1990) conjectures on the role of institutions in determining whether entrepreneurs will channel their efforts toward wealth-generating activities or toward zero- or negative-sum rent-seeking. We distinguish between measures of both the belief (e.g., the frequency of prayer) and belonging (e.g., church attendance) that have been stressed by authors such as Barro and McCleary (2003). We find that several religious variables significantly and negatively correlate with a state's productive entrepreneurship score. Alternatively, most religious variables in our data do not correlate significantly with unproductive entrepreneurship. We also find that the percent of individuals reporting as atheist/agnostic is positively associated with productive entrepreneurship.


Let My People Go (Home) to Spain: A Genealogical Model of Jewish Identities since 1492

Joshua Weitz
PLoS ONE, January 2014

The Spanish government recently announced an official fast-track path to citizenship for any individual who is Jewish and whose ancestors were expelled from Spain during the inquisition-related dislocation of Spanish Jews in 1492. It would seem that this policy targets a small subset of the global Jewish population, that is, restricted to individuals who retain cultural practices associated with ancestral origins in Spain. However, the central contribution of this manuscript is to demonstrate how and why the policy is far more likely to apply to a very large fraction (i.e., the vast majority) of Jews. This claim is supported using a series of genealogical models that include transmissible “identities” and preferential intra-group mating. Model analysis reveals that even when intra-group mating is strong and even if only a small subset of a present-day population retains cultural practices typically associated with that of an ancestral group, it is highly likely that nearly all members of that population have direct genealogical links to that ancestral group, given sufficient number of generations have elapsed. The basis for this conclusion is that not having a link to an ancestral group must be a property of all of an individual’s ancestors, the probability of which declines (nearly) superexponentially with each successive generation. These findings highlight unexpected incongruities induced by genealogical dynamics between present-day and ancestral identities.


Neuroanatomical Correlates of Religiosity and Spirituality: A Study in Adults at High and Low Familial Risk for Depression

Lisa Miller et al.
JAMA Psychiatry, February 2014, Pages 128-135

Importance: We previously reported a 90% decreased risk in major depression, assessed prospectively, in adult offspring of depressed probands who reported that religion or spirituality was highly important to them. Frequency of church attendance was not significantly related to depression risk. Our previous brain imaging findings in adult offspring in these high-risk families also revealed large expanses of cortical thinning across the lateral surface of the right cerebral hemisphere.

Objective: To determine whether high-risk adults who reported high importance of religion or spirituality had thicker cortices than those who reported moderate or low importance of religion or spirituality and whether this effect varied by family risk status.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Longitudinal, retrospective cohort, familial study of 103 adults (aged 18-54 years) who were the second- or third-generation offspring of depressed (high familial risk) or nondepressed (low familiar risk) probands (first generation). Religious or spiritual importance and church attendance were assessed at 2 time points during 5 years, and cortical thickness was measured on anatomical images of the brain acquired with magnetic resonance imaging at the second time point.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Cortical thickness in the parietal regions by risk status.

Results: Importance of religion or spirituality, but not frequency of attendance, was associated with thicker cortices in the left and right parietal and occipital regions, the mesial frontal lobe of the right hemisphere, and the cuneus and precuneus in the left hemisphere, independent of familial risk. In addition, the effects of importance on cortical thickness were significantly stronger in the high-risk than in the low-risk group, particularly along the mesial wall of the left hemisphere, in the same region where we previously reported a significant thinner cortex associated with a familial risk of developing depressive illness. We note that these findings are correlational and therefore do not prove a causal association between importance and cortical thickness.

Conclusions and Relevance: A thicker cortex associated with a high importance of religion or spirituality may confer resilience to the development of depressive illness in individuals at high familial risk for major depression, possibly by expanding a cortical reserve that counters to some extent the vulnerability that cortical thinning poses for developing familial depressive illness.


Losing Faith and Finding Religion: Religiosity over the life course and substance use and abuse

Arden Moscati & Briana Mezuk
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, March 2014, Pages 127–134

Background: Religion has only come into the light of scientific inquiry as a factor influencing health and behavior in the last few decades. While religiosity is a protective factor for contemporaneous substance misuse, the relationship between longitudinal changes in religiosity and substance use outcomes is understudied

Methods: Using data from the National Comorbidity Study–Replication (N = 6203), we examined how changes in religiosity from childhood to adulthood are related to use and abuse/dependence of licit (alcohol and tobacco) and illicit drugs. Multivariable logistic regression was used to account for potential confounders including demographic characteristics, familial disruption during childhood, and comorbid major depression

Results: Religiosity was inversely associated with use and misuse of both licit and illicit substances, however this relationship varied by level of childhood religiosity. Relative to stable levels of religiosity from childhood to adulthood, a 2-unit decrease in religiosity from childhood was associated with increased likelihood of illicit drug use in the past year (Odds ratio (OR):2.43, 95% Confidence Interval (CI):1.39-4.25). However, a 2-unit increase in religiosity was also associated with past-year illicit drug use (OR:1.85, 95% CI:1.09-3.13). Comparable associations were found with a range of recent and lifetime measures of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs

Conclusions: Substantial gains or losses in religiosity from childhood to adulthood are associated with substance use and misuse. Findings support the use of a life course approach to understanding the relationship between religiosity and substance use outcomes.


Cognitive style and religiosity: The role of conflict detection

Gordon Pennycook et al.
Memory & Cognition, January 2014, Pages 1-10

Recent research has indicated a negative relation between the propensity for analytic reasoning and religious beliefs and practices. Here, we propose conflict detection as a mechanism underlying this relation, on the basis of the hypothesis that more-analytic people are less religious, in part, because they are more sensitive to conflicts between immaterial religious beliefs and beliefs about the material world. To examine cognitive conflict sensitivity, we presented problems containing stereotypes that conflicted with base-rate probabilities in a task with no religious content. In three studies, we found evidence that religiosity is negatively related to conflict detection during reasoning. Independent measures of analytic cognitive style also positively predicted conflict detection. The present findings provide evidence for a mechanism potentially contributing to the negative association between analytic thinking and religiosity, and more generally, they illustrate the insights to be gained from integrating individual-difference factors and contextual factors to investigate analytic reasoning.


Cueing God: Religious Cues and Voter Support

Bryan McLaughlin & David Wise
Politics and Religion, forthcoming

Scholars contend that correctly applying religious cues is crucial to winning political elections. This article examines the effect of general religious cues by conducting an experiment on a national sample (N = 520). Through the use of a fictitious congressional candidate's webpage, we examine how subtle and overt religious cues interact with citizen religiosity to affect political evaluations. The findings demonstrate that politicians who use overt religious cues run the risk of alienating a large portion of potential voters. Religious cues do, however, appear to become more effective as citizens become more religious. We also find some evidence that overt religious cues are more polarizing than subtle religious cues. This article provides a foundation from which to more thoroughly consider how general religious cues can affect political outcomes and how these cues may interact with other factors.


Holy Fools: A Religious Phenomenon of Extreme Behaviour

E. Poulakou-Rebelakou et al.
Journal of Religion and Health, February 2014, Pages 95-104

Monks in Byzantine times (330–1453 AD) often expressed their faith with extreme manifestations of behaviour, such as living on a high column (stylites), on a tree (dendrites) or in crowded urban centres of the empire pretending to be fools for Christ’s sake. These Holy Fools exposed themselves to the ridicule and the mistreatment of the citizens, being protected, however, by their state of insanity to mock and violate moral codes and social conventions. The official Church barely tolerated these religious attitudes as promoting deviations from standard orthodoxy, and the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (592 AD) judged them as dangerous and formally denounced the phenomenon. The two most famous of them in Byzantium were Symeon of Emesa and Andrew of Constantinople, whose lives constitute unique testimonies to insanity and the simulation thereof. The survival and transplantation of the Holy Fools in Russia, called “yurodivye”, where they met widespread acceptance, confirm their appeal in specific geographic areas and their endurance over time. We attempt to approach the symbolism of holy lunacy and to analyse the personality trends of these “eccentric” saints.

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