Holy days

Kevin Lewis

December 07, 2017

Generous heathens? Reputational concerns and atheists' behavior toward Christians in economic games
Colleen Cowgill, Kimberly Rios & Ain Simpson
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2017, Pages 169-179


Ample research demonstrates that people are more prosocial toward ingroup than outgroup members, and that religious believers (e.g., Christians) tend to be more prosocial than non-believers (e.g., atheists), in economic games. However, we identify a condition under which ingroup biases in such games are attenuated, focusing on prosociality among atheists. Specifically, we argue that atheists (but not Christians) experience unique reputational concerns due to stereotypes that their group is immoral, which in turn affect their behavior toward outgroup partners. Across three studies, when participants in a Dictator Game believed their religious identity was known to their partner, atheists behaved impartially toward ingroup and outgroup partners, whereas Christians consistently demonstrated an ingroup bias. The effects of religious identity on allocations to the outgroup were partially mediated by concerns about being perceived negatively by others and were eliminated by telling participants that their religious identity would be kept anonymous.

Social Cohesion, Religious Beliefs, and the Effect of Protestantism on Suicide
Sascha Becker & Ludger Woessmann
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming


In an economic theory of suicide, we model social cohesion of the religious community and religious beliefs about afterlife as two mechanisms by which Protestantism increases suicide propensity. We build a unique micro-regional dataset of 452 Prussian counties in 1816-21 and 1869-71, when religiousness was still pervasive. Exploiting the concentric dispersion of Protestantism around Wittenberg, our instrumental-variable model finds that Protestantism had a substantial positive effect on suicide. Results are corroborated in first-difference models. Tests relating to the two mechanisms based on historical church-attendance data and modern suicide data suggest that the sociological channel plays the more important role.

The Integration of Racial and Ethnic Minorities into White Congregations
Brandon Martinez
Sociological Inquiry, forthcoming


Drawing from the homophily principle and organizational ecology theory, I follow previous literature and predict racial minorities will have lower levels of belonging and commitment when attending predominantly white congregations. Going beyond this literature, I incorporate contemporary racial stratification literature and propose integration into white congregations would vary by racial group as a result of the differing symbolic group positioning of minorities in America's racial hierarchy. Results from multilevel models using a national dataset generally support my hypotheses. The findings from this study reveal distinctions between minority racial groups within predominantly white congregations. Thus, the homophily principle and organizational ecology are not sufficient when studying race within congregations, as it is not enough to rely solely on the numeric representation of racial groups in congregations without taking into account the social positioning of these groups. These results, their implications, and potential directions for future studies are further discussed.

Secularization and Attribution: How Mainline Protestant Clergy and Congregants Explain Church Growth and Decline
Kevin Flatt, Millard Haskell & Stephanie Burgoyne
Sociology of Religion, forthcoming


This article analyzes explanations for growth and decline given by 22 clergy and 128 congregants from 21 mainline Protestant churches in Canada, including both growing and declining congregations. Both clergy and congregants attributed growth and decline to a wide range of external and internal causes, but people in declining churches were more likely to attribute them to external factors outside churches' control, while people in growing churches tended to attribute them to the characteristics of the churches themselves. Both groups overwhelmingly relied on human explanations rather than supernatural ones, with some exceptions from growing church participants. We argue that these results align with the predictions of attribution theory and also reflect a high degree of internal secularization that is more advanced in the declining churches. We discuss the role of theological factors in these differences and suggest possible implications for understanding church growth and decline.

Supernatural Belief Is Not Modulated by Intuitive Thinking Style or Cognitive Inhibition
Miguel Farias et al.
Scientific Reports, November 2017


According to the Intuitive Belief Hypothesis, supernatural belief relies heavily on intuitive thinking - and decreases when analytic thinking is engaged. After pointing out various limitations in prior attempts to support this Intuitive Belief Hypothesis, we test it across three new studies using a variety of paradigms, ranging from a pilgrimage field study to a neurostimulation experiment. In all three studies, we found no relationship between intuitive or analytical thinking and supernatural belief. We conclude that it is premature to explain belief in gods as 'intuitive', and that other factors, such as socio-cultural upbringing, are likely to play a greater role in the emergence and maintenance of supernatural belief than cognitive style.

Searching for God: Illness-Related Mortality Threats and Religious Search Volume in Google in 16 Nations
Brett Pelham et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


We tested predictions about religiosity and terror management processes in 16 nations. Specifically, we examined weekly variation in Google search volume in each nation for 12 years (all weeks for which data were available). In all 16 nations, higher than usual weekly Google search volume for life-threatening illnesses (cancer, diabetes, and hypertension) predicted increases in search volume for religious content (e.g., God, Jesus, prayer) in the following week. This effect held up after controlling for (a) recent past and annual variation in religious search volume, (b) increases in search volume associated with religious holidays, and (c) variation in searches for a non-life-threatening illness ("sore throat"). Terror management threat reduction processes appear to occur across the globe. Furthermore, they may occur over much longer periods than those studied in the laboratory. Managing fears of death via religious belief regulation appears to be culturally pervasive.

Ebola salience, death-thought accessibility, and worldview defense: A terror management theory perspective
Robert Arrowood et al.
Death Studies, October 2017, Pages 585-591


According to terror management theory, individuals defend their cultural beliefs following mortality salience. The current research examined whether naturally occurring instances of death (i.e., Ebola) correspond to results found in laboratory studies. The results of two experiments demonstrated that participants experienced a greater accessibility of death-related thoughts in response to an Ebola prime during a regional outbreak. Study 2 also showed that increased mortality awareness following an Ebola manipulation was associated with greater worldview defense (i.e., religious fundamentalism). Together, these results suggest that reminders of death in the form of a disease threat operate similarly to a mortality salience manipulation.


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