Higher Powers

Kevin Lewis

January 25, 2022

Diversity in Religiosity Undermines Conventional Personal Morality Across the Globe: Evidence From 90 Nations, 300,000+ Individuals
Mariah Evans & Jonathan Kelley
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, forthcoming

In societies where the populace exhibits a wide range of religiosity, social conservatives (religiously devout or socially traditional) feel their beliefs and way of life threatened, even where others in their society (secular, or socially liberal) have no desire to threaten them, or to discriminate against them, or even to proselytize. Examples include devout English Pilgrims in liberal 16th century Holland and devout Muslims in liberal 21st century Western Europe. We suggest that this is because diversity in religiosity itself poses a threat to conventional personal morality (attitudes on abortion, divorce, euthanasia, suicide, prostitution). The consequences of societal diversity in religiosity (the centrality of religion to one's life) for individuals’ endorsement of conventional personal morality have been neglected in prior research. This paper shows that diversity in religiosity at the national level undermines individuals’ endorsement of conventional personal morality, net of an individual's own religiosity, net of the average levels of religiosity and socioeconomic development in the individual's society, and net of key individual-level controls. Data are pooled from the World Values Surveys/European Values Surveys, 1981–2008, with 90 countries, 200+ surveys, and 300,000+ individual respondents. Analysis is by multilevel methods (variance components models with fixed effects and random intercepts, estimated by generalized least squares [GLS]).

Is LGBT progress seen as an attack on Christians?: Examining Christian/sexual orientation zero-sum beliefs
Clara Wilkins et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, January 2022, Pages 73–101

As social policies have changed to grant more rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, some Christians in the United States have suggested that LGBT rights impede Christians’ religious freedom. Across five studies, we examined the causes and consequences of zero-sum beliefs (ZSBs) about Christians and LGBT individuals. We demonstrate that Christians’ beliefs about conflict with sexual minorities are shaped by their understandings of Christian values, social change, interpretation of the Bible, and in response to religious institutions. In Study 1, heterosexual cisgender Christians endorsed ZSBs more than other groups. Christians reported perceiving that anti-LGBT bias has decreased over time while anti-Christian bias has correspondingly increased. In Study 2, Christians’ zero-sum beliefs increased after they reflected on religious values, suggesting that intergroup conflict is seen as being a function of Christian beliefs. Study 3 confirmed the role of symbolic threat in driving ZSBs; perceived conflict was accentuated when Christians read about a changing cultural climate in which Christians’ influence is waning. An intervention using Biblical scripture to encourage acceptance successfully lowered zero-sum beliefs for mainline but not fundamentalist Christians (Study 4). A final field study examined how ZSBs predict sexual prejudice in response to changing group norms. After a special conference in which the United Methodist Church voted to restrict LGBT people from marriage and serving as clergy, zero-sum beliefs became a stronger predictor of sexual prejudice (Study 5). We discuss the implications of Christian/LGBT ZSBs for religious freedom legislation, attitudes toward sexual minorities, and intergroup conflict more generally. 

Historical Fundamentalism? Christian Nationalism and Ignorance About Religion in American Political History
Samuel Perry et al.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, forthcoming

Religious right leaders often promulgate views of Christianity's historical preeminence, privilege, and persecution in the United States that are factually incorrect, suggesting credulity, ignorance, or perhaps, a form of ideologically motivated ignorance on the part of their audience. This study examines whether Christian nationalism predicts explicit misconceptions regarding religion in American political history and explores theories about the connection. Analyzing nationally representative panel data containing true/false statements about religion's place in America's founding documents, policies, and court decisions, Christian nationalism is the strongest predictor that Americans fail to affirm factually correct answers. This association is stronger among whites compared to black Americans and religiosity actually predicts selecting factually correct answers once we account for Christian nationalism. Analyses of “do not know” response patterns find more confident correct answers from Americans who reject Christian nationalism and more confident incorrect answers from Americans who embrace Christian nationalism. We theorize that, much like conservative Christians have been shown to incorrectly answer science questions that are “religiously contested,” Christian nationalism inclines Americans to affirm factually incorrect views about religion in American political history, likely through their exposure to certain disseminators of such misinformation, but also through their allegiance to a particular political-cultural narrative they wish to privilege.

The Long-Term Effects of Protestant Activities in China
Yuyu Chen, Hui Wang & Se Yan
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming

Combining China's county-level data on Protestant density before 1920 and socioeconomic indicators in 2000, we find persistent positive effects of historical missionary activities on contemporary growth. Using disaster frequency as an instrument for Protestant distribution, we find stronger IV results. We further find that although improvements in education and health care account for a sizable portion of the total effects, other channels such as transformed social values may also matter. Our findings acknowledge the pioneering effects of missionary work in China's modernization, and imply that China's recent growth may benefit from of human capital and social values acquired in history. 

Born-Again Versus Evangelical: Does the Difference Make a Difference?
Corwin Smidt
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, forthcoming

Although it has long been recognized that treating “born-again” and “evangelical” as equivalents is problematic, little scholarly effort has been made to assess whether the difference makes a difference. This study seeks to do so, assessing, in part, the extent to which the “born-again or evangelical Christian” survey question captures evangelical identities and whether the question has merit for capturing evangelical respondents. By analyzing surveys in which respondents were asked separate questions related to a “born-again” and an evangelical identity, this study addresses several issues related to such identities, including whether “born-again” and evangelical identities are the same, and, if not, whether the difference makes a difference. In the end, significant political differences emerge between those who identify as evangelicals and those who identify as “born-again,” suggesting that scholars and surveys would be better served to ask separate “born-again” and evangelical identity questions than to merge the two into one. 

More Than a Momentary Blip in the Universe? Investigating the Link Between Religiousness and Perceived Meaning in Life
Michael Prinzing, Patty Van Cappellen & Barbara Fredrickson
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

One longitudinal and four cross-sectional studies (total N = 3,141) tested two candidate explanations for the association between religiousness and perceived meaning in life. Religiousness may foster a sense of significance, importance, or mattering — either to others (social mattering) or in the grand scheme of the universe (cosmic mattering) — which, in turn, support perceived meaning. We found that perceived social mattering mediated, but could not fully explain, the link between religiousness and perceived meaning. In contrast, perceived cosmic mattering did fully explain the association. Overall, results suggest that perceived social and cosmic mattering are each part of the explanation. Yet, perceived cosmic mattering appears to be the stronger mechanism. We discuss how religious faith may be especially suited to support such perceptions, making it a partially unique source of felt meaning. 

Saving Grace? Religious ecology and deaths of despair
Christopher Seto
Social Science & Medicine, January 2022

Since the late 1990s, deaths related to drug and alcohol abuse and suicide have increased substantially in the United States. Religious ecology is an important community attribute with theoretical links to these “deaths of despair.” This study uses spatial autoregressive models to explore the relationship between religious ecology and deaths of despair, analyzing 2,992 US counties. Analyses focus on the effects of four American religious traditions (Mainline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, Black Protestant, and Catholic), and how religious ecological effects interact with structural community disadvantage. Mainline Protestantism is protective in communities of low to medium disadvantage, while Black Protestantism is protective at high levels of disadvantage. Catholicism is positively associated with death rate at high levels of disadvantage. These denominational differences are likely linked to social processes of organizational support and norms about alcohol, which vary in efficacy and salience by community disadvantage. Overall, findings highlight the importance of religious ecology to understanding community health and mortality, as well as nuance in where and how religious ecology matters. 

The Cultural Origins of the Demographic Transition in France
Guillaume Blanc
Brown University Working Paper, December 2021

This research shows that secularization accounts for the early decline in fertility in eighteenth-century France. The demographic transition, a turning point in history and an essential condition for development, took hold in France first, before the French Revolution and more than a century earlier than in any other country. Why it happened so early is, according to Robert Darnton, one of the "big questions of history" because it challenges historical and economic interpretations and because of data limitations at the time. I comprehensively document the decline in fertility and its timing using a novel crowdsourced genealogical dataset. Then, I document an important process of secularization at the time. Using census data available in the nineteenth century, I show a strong association between secularization and the timing of the transition. Finally, I leverage the genealogies to account for unobserved pre-existing, geographic, and institutional differences by studying individuals before and after the onset of the transition and exploiting the choices of second-generation migrants. 

Armed Conflict and Religious Adherence Across Countries: A Time Series Analysis
Nohemi Jocabeth Echeverría Vicente, Kenneth Hemmerechts & Dimokritos Kavadias
Sociology of Religion, forthcoming

A fundamental question in the comparative sociology of religion is: What are the drivers of cross-national differences in religiosity? The existential insecurity argument raises the expectation of higher levels of religiosity in contexts of social crisis. We test this argument against countries’ armed conflict experiences, employing global longitudinal data on religious adherence over almost half a century. We did not find evidence of religious revival when measuring the consequences of armed conflict with a 5-year lag, indicating that armed conflict-related social crises do not tend to lead to sudden changes in the religious adherence of a country. However, we did find more consistent indications of a higher proportion of religious people when using accumulated measurements of armed conflict, highlighting the importance of investigating the armed conflict history of a country when assessing its religious consequences. Our results show that countries with a more devastating experience of armed conflict tend to present higher proportions of religious adherence in comparison with countries with a less devastating armed conflict history. We concluded that armed conflict tends to partially drive religious persistence in societies that have experienced it, and that the pace at which this takes place is gradual rather than immediate.


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