Original Sin

Kevin Lewis

February 06, 2020

Declines in Religiosity Predict Increases in Violent Crime — but Not Among Countries With Relatively High Average IQ
Cory Clark et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Many scholars have argued that religion reduces violent behavior within human social groups. Here, we tested whether intelligence moderates this relationship. We hypothesized that religion would have greater utility for regulating violent behavior among societies with relatively lower average IQs than among societies with relatively more cognitively gifted citizens. Two studies supported this hypothesis. Study 1, a longitudinal analysis from 1945 to 2010 (with up to 176 countries and 1,046 observations), demonstrated that declines in religiosity were associated with increases in homicide rates—but only in countries with relatively low average IQs. Study 2, a multiverse analysis (171 models) using modern data (97–195 countries) and various controls, consistently confirmed that lower rates of religiosity were more strongly associated with higher homicide rates in countries with lower average IQ. These findings raise questions about how secularization might differentially affect groups of different mean cognitive ability.

The Devil is in the Deceit: Religion and Mortgage Misrepresentation
James Conklin, Moussa Diop & Mingming Qiu
University of Georgia Working Paper, December 2019


We investigate whether religion acts as a deterrent to the types of mortgage misrepresentation that played a significant role in the recent housing boom and bust. Using a large sample of mortgages originated from 2000 to 2007, we provide evidence that local religious adherence (religiosity) is associated with a lower likelihood of appraisal overstatement, owner occupancy misreporting, and income misrepresentation. We find no evidence that local religious adherence is related to a type of mortgage fraud -- unreported second liens -- that is unlikely to occur at the local level. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that religion, as a set of social norms, influences risk-aversion and ethics.

Are scientists biased against Christians? Exploring real and perceived bias against Christians in academic biology
Elizabeth Barnes et al.
PLoS ONE, January 2020


Christians are one of the most underrepresented groups in science, and one potential explanation is that scientists have a bias against Christian students, which could discourage and actively prevent Christian students from becoming scientists. Although there is a general perception in society that there is bias against Christians in science, we do not know whether science students, who frequently interact with scientists, perceive this bias. Further, no researchers have attempted to experimentally document the existence of bias against Christians in science. To address these gaps in the literature, we designed three studies. In the first study, we found that college science students report a perceived bias against Christians in science and that evangelical Christians perceive greater bias than Catholic and non-Christian students. Then in two studies, biology professors evaluated Ph.D. program applicants and we examined whether the professors rated a student less favorably when the student revealed a Christian religious identity. We found no statistically significant differences in how biology professors rated a student who was President of the Christian Association compared to a student who was President of the Atheist Association or a student who was President of the Activities Association. However, in Study 3, biology professors did rate a Christian student who went on a mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ as less hireable, less competent, and less likeable than a student who did not reveal a Christian identity. Taken together, these studies indicate that perceived bias against Christians in science may contribute to underrepresentation of Christians but actual bias against Christians in science may be restricted to a specific type of Christianity that scientists call fundamentalist and/or evangelical.

Religious Diversity and Party Control in the States: Explaining Adoptions of Same-Sex Marriage Laws
Giulia Mariani
Sexuality Research and Social Policy, March 2020, Pages 119–127


Despite the burgeoning literature on morality policies in the US, the conditions under which legislation in favor of same-sex marriage has been adopted remain largely unexplored. This study examines the enactment of marriage equality laws in the US states from 2004 to 2014, by focusing on the interplay between religious diversity and party control of the state government. I argue that incorporating the religious composition of each state allows to better understand the crucial role that political parties play in the policy-making process. The results of the discrete-time event history analysis show that party control of the state government is an important factor determining policy output only in those states that are religiously more diverse. Conversely, in religiously homogeneous states, the effect of Democratic versus Republican and divided governments is not significant.

Trust and Trustworthiness of Christians, Muslims and Atheists/Agnostics in the U.S.
Linda Thunstrӧm et al.
University of Wyoming Working Paper, December 2019


Trust is a cornerstone of economic development. Further, trust is promoted within religious groups and might even be the very reason religions emerged. The U.S. stands out as particularly religious, compared to other Western countries. Yet, little is known about trust within and across its religious affiliations. We use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to examine how trust and trustworthiness vary across religions (Christianity, Islam, and non-believers; atheists and agnostics) and religiosity. Three novel findings emerge. First, Christians are trusted more than other religious groups in the U.S., which is due entirely to a Christian ingroup bias – Christians trust other Christians more than they trust Muslims and atheists/agnostics, while Muslims and non-believers trust all religious groups the same. Second, religiosity matters to trust. However, the way in which it matters depends on religious beliefs and ingroups. Religious people trust those of higher religiosity more only when they are of the same religion. In contrast, non-believers trust people of higher religiosity less. Third, religious people may be more trustworthy than non-believers. Our results may help explain the cause of observed discrimination against Muslims and atheists, given discrimination often originates in distrust, and underscore the importance of policies that promote trust.

Conflict Changes How People View God
Nava Caluori et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming


Religion shapes the nature of intergroup conflict, but conflict may also shape religion. Here, we report four multimethod studies that reveal the impact of conflict on religious belief: The threat of warfare and intergroup tensions increase the psychological need for order and obedience to rules, which leads people to view God as more punitive. Studies 1 (N = 372) and 2 (N = 911) showed that people’s concern about conflict correlates with belief in a punitive God. Study 3 (N = 1,065) found that experimentally increasing the salience of conflict increases people’s perceptions of the importance of a punitive God, and this effect is mediated by people’s support for a tightly regulated society. Study 4 showed that the severity of warfare predicted and preceded worldwide fluctuations in punitive-God belief between 1800 CE and 2000 CE. Our findings illustrate how conflict can change the nature of religious belief and add to a growing literature showing how cultural ecologies shape psychology.

Secularization Theory and Religion
Kostanca Dhima & Matt Golder
Politics and Religion, forthcoming


What is the relationship between religion and human development? Using data from the pooled 1981–2014 World and European Values Surveys, we examine the effect of human development on a country's level of religious attendance and belief. Consistent with the idea that the primary causal mechanism underlying secularization theory has to do with the substitutability of secular and religious goods, we find that human development has a negative effect on religious attendance but no effect on religious belief. Our results indicate that as societies develop, we should not be surprised if religious belief remains high even as religious attendance declines. The negative effect of human development on religious attendance is driven primarily by a country's level of education and health. Our analysis suggests that it is important to think carefully about what one's theoretical model of the secularization process implies for different aspects of religion.

Ours is not to reason why: Information seeking across domains
Jennifer Vonk, Brock Brothers & Virgil Zeigler-Hill
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, forthcoming


It is incontrovertible that religious individuals differ from nonbelievers in the extent to which they seek factual information when it comes to endorsing values and beliefs, but is this relationship between religiosity and information seeking stable across domains other than belief systems? Is this a stable strategy related to individuals’ tendency to engage in intuitive or deliberative decision making? We examined information-seeking behavior in 4 different domains: values, reproduction, finance, and health. Community members (N = 310) completed measures of their intuitive and deliberative decision making as well as their information-seeking behavior within each domain. Mediational analyses confirmed that an intuitive decision-making style mediated the observed relationship between religiosity and information seeking in each domain. These results suggest that religious individuals may make decisions without seeking additional information because of a more intuitive, rather than a less deliberative, style of decision making across domains.

Why Do Evangelicals Support Israel?
Motti Inbari, Kirill Bumin & Gordon Byrd
Politics and Religion, forthcoming


This study considers the sources of evangelical support for Israel, utilizing an original survey of 1,000 evangelical and born-again respondents. The results show that the three strongest predictors of evangelical and born-again Christian support for Israel are (1) age (older respondents are more supportive); (2) opinion of Jews; and (3) socialization (frequency of hearing other evangelicals talking about Israel). Our results also show that evangelical support for Israel is driven by respondents' beliefs rooted in evangelical Christian theology on eschatology and Biblical literalism. Thus, the most significant ideological statements that were found in the research were that the “State of Israel is proof of the fulfillment of prophesy regarding the nearing of Jesus' Second Coming” and that “Jews are God's chosen people.” Another important finding is that there is less support toward Israel among young evangelicals (ages 18–29).

Religious rules as a means of strengthening family ties: Theory and evidence from the Amish
James Choy
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming


Religious institutions impose many rules on their members. I argue that a central function of these rules in many religious communities is to promote altruistic and cooperative behavior within families. My argument contrasts with the dominant view in the literature that the primary economic function of religious rules is to promote altruism and cooperation between unrelated religious community members. I develop my argument using a novel dataset on the Amish. My theory can explain selection patterns into the Amish church, Amish cultural persistence, persistent inequality between the Amish and non-Amish people, and high Amish fertility rates.

Why Divination? Evolved Psychology and Strategic Interaction in the Production of Truth
Pascal Boyer
Current Anthropology, forthcoming


Divination is found in most human societies, but there is little systematic research to explain (1) why it is persuasive or (2) why divination is required for important collective decisions in many small-scale societies. Common features of human communication and cooperation may help address both questions. A highly recurrent feature of divination is “ostensive detachment,” a demonstration that the diviners are not the authors of the statements they utter. As a consequence, people spontaneously interpret divination as less likely than other statements to be influenced by anyone’s intentions or interests. This is enough to give divination an epistemic advantage compared with other sources of information, answering question 1. This advantage is all the more important in situations where a diagnosis will create differential costs and benefits, for example, determining who is responsible for someone’s misfortune in a small-scale community. Divinatory statements provide a version of the situation that most participants are motivated to agree with, as it provides a focal point for efficient coordination at a minimal cost for almost all participants, which would answer question 2.

A Construal Level Account of the Impact of Religion and God on Prosociality
Mustafa Karataş & Zeynep Gürhan-Canli
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


This research shows that the two most prevalent religious constructs — God and religion — differentially impact cognition. Activating thoughts about God (vs. religion) induces a relatively more abstract (vs. concrete) mindset (Studies 1a–1c). Consequently, time donation intentions (Study 2) and actual monetary donations (Study 3) after a God (vs. religion) prime increase when people are presented an abstractly (vs. concretely) framed donation appeal. Similarly, people donate more money to distant (vs. close) donation targets, which are construed relatively abstractly (vs. concretely), when a religious speech activates predominantly God-specific (vs. religion-specific) thoughts (Study 4). These effects are mediated by “feeling right” under construal level fit (Study 3). Overall, this research significantly advances extant knowledge on religious cognition and past research on the link between religion and prosociality.

Near-death experiences and afterlife belief: A mixed-method analysis
Nicole Lindsay & Natasha Tassell-Matamua
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, forthcoming


Following near-death experiences (NDEs) many people report a new or increased belief in life after death, yet this construct has never been specifically examined. In this mixed-method analysis, 105 persons who had experienced a life-threatening event and 69 participants who had never come close to death completed an online survey measuring beliefs about the “self” after death. Those who reported having an NDE during a life-threatening event were significantly more likely to believe in postmortem continuation, particularly the persistence of consciousness and individual identity beyond death. Eighteen people were also independently interviewed to explore the thematic form and psychological antecedents for any revised beliefs. Results were highly convergent with survey data and suggested the phenomenological characteristics of NDEs played an important role. These findings offer more systematic empirical evidence for the idea that NDEs foster certain types of postmortem beliefs.


Religiosity and Desired Emotions: Belief Maintenance or Prosocial Facilitation?
Allon Vishkin et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


We assessed how religiosity is related to desired emotions. We tested two competing hypotheses. First, religiosity could be associated with a stronger desire for emotions that strengthen foundational religious beliefs (i.e., more awe and gratitude and less pride). Second, religiosity could be associated with a stronger desire for emotions that promote prosocial engagement (e.g., more love and empathy and less anger and jealousy). Two cross-cultural studies supported the first hypothesis. Religiosity was related to desire for emotions that strengthen religious beliefs, but not to desire for socially engaging or socially disengaging emotions. These findings held across countries and across several different religions. A third study investigating the mechanisms of both hypotheses using structural equation modeling supported only the first hypothesis. This research extends prior work on desired emotions to the domain of religiosity. It demonstrates that the emotions religious people desire may be those that help strengthen their religious beliefs.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.