Kevin Lewis

December 20, 2012

Would Tarzan believe in God? Conditions for the emergence of religious belief

Konika Banerjee & Paul Bloom
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, forthcoming

Would someone raised without exposure to religious views nonetheless come to believe in the existence of God, an afterlife, and the intentional creation of humans and other animals? Many scholars would answer yes, proposing that universal cognitive biases generate religious ideas anew within each individual mind. Drawing on evidence from developmental psychology, we argue here that the answer is no: children lack spontaneous theistic views and the emergence of religion is crucially dependent on culture.


Is God in the details? A reexamination of the role of religion in economic growth

Steven Durlauf, Andros Kourtellos & Chih Ming Tan
Journal of Applied Econometrics, November/December 2012, Pages 1059-1075

Barro and McCleary (2003, Religion and economic growth across countries. American Journal of Sociology 68: 760-781) is a key research contribution in the new literature exploring the macroeconomic effects of religious beliefs. This paper represents an effort to evaluate the strength of their claims. We evaluate their results in terms of replicability and robustness. Overall, their analysis generally meets the standard of statistical replicability, though not perfectly. On the other hand, we do not find that their results are robust to changes in their baseline statistical specification. When model-averaging methods are employed to integrate information across alternative statistical specifications, little evidence survives that religious variables help to predict cross-country income differences.


Why are religious people happy? The effect of the social norm of religiosity across countries

Olga Stavrova, Detlef Fetchenhauer & Thomas Schlösser
Social Science Research, January 2013, Pages 90-105

Drawing on social norms theories, we suggest that religiosity substantially increases subjective well-being if it is considered normative in a certain national context. In Study 1, we test this hypothesis using an indicator of a country's social norm of religiosity that includes both the national level of religiosity and the social desirability of religion. The results of a multilevel regression analysis suggest that religious individuals are on average happier and more satisfied with life than non-religious individuals. This effect is stronger in religious countries with dominant negative attitudes towards non-believers. In Study 2, we further examine whether the differences in social recognition of religious and non-religious individuals in countries where religiosity is normative account for this finding. The results of a moderated mediation analysis indicate that in religious countries, religious people report being treated with more respect, which partially explains their higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.


To believe or not believe...or not decide: A decision-theoretic model of agnosticism

Mark Pingle & Tigran Melkonyan
Rationality and Society, November 2012, Pages 408-441

Using decision theory, we construct a stylized theory of agnosticism, defined as choosing not to choose a religion. The theory indicates agnosticism can be supported as a rational choice if (a) adopting agnosticism provides in-life benefits relative to perceived religions, (b) the perceived payoff for agnosticism after death is not too much less than for any perceived religion, (c) no religion has a high perceived likelihood of truth, (d) the probability of death is neither too high nor too low, or (e) it is less costly to switch from agnosticism to a given religion than from one religion to another. Switching costs make the relative attractiveness of agnosticism dependent upon the perceived likelihood of receiving an informative signal about the truth of any perceived religion. Ironically, the lack of information that makes religious choice uncertain and difficult may contribute to decisiveness.


Faith after an Earthquake: A Longitudinal Study of Religion and Perceived Health before and after the 2011 Christchurch New Zealand Earthquake

Chris Sibley & Joseph Bulbulia
PLoS ONE, December 2012

On 22 February 2011, Christchurch New Zealand (population 367,700) experienced a devastating earthquake, causing extensive damage and killing one hundred and eighty-five people. The earthquake and aftershocks occurred between the 2009 and 2011 waves of a longitudinal probability sample conducted in New Zealand, enabling us to examine how a natural disaster of this magnitude affected deeply held commitments and global ratings of personal health, depending on earthquake exposure. We first investigated whether the earthquake-affected were more likely to believe in God. Consistent with the Religious Comfort Hypothesis, religious faith increased among the earthquake-affected, despite an overall decline in religious faith elsewhere. This result offers the first population-level demonstration that secular people turn to religion at times of natural crisis. We then examined whether religious affiliation was associated with differences in subjective ratings of personal health. We found no evidence for superior buffering from having religious faith. Among those affected by the earthquake, however, a loss of faith was associated with significant subjective health declines. Those who lost faith elsewhere in the country did not experience similar health declines. Our findings suggest that religious conversion after a natural disaster is unlikely to improve subjective well-being, yet upholding faith might be an important step on the road to recovery.


The Fringe Effect: Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse about Islam since the September 11th Attacks

Christopher Bail
American Sociological Review, December 2012, Pages 855-879

Numerous studies indicate that civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream messages that resonate with prevailing discursive themes. Yet these case studies of highly influential organizations obscure the much larger population that have little or no impact. It is therefore unclear whether civil society organizations create cultural change by deploying mainstream discourses or if they become part of the mainstream because of their success. I present an evolutionary theory of how discursive fields settle after major historical ruptures that highlights framing, social networks, and emotional energy. To illustrate this theory, I use plagiarism detection software to compare 1,084 press releases about Muslims produced by 120 civil society organizations to 50,407 newspaper articles and television transcripts produced between 2001 and 2008. Although most organizations deployed pro-Muslim discourses after the September 11th attacks, I show that anti-Muslim fringe organizations dominated the mass media via displays of fear and anger. Institutional amplification of this emotional energy, I argue, created a gravitational pull or "fringe effect" that realigned inter-organizational networks and altered the contours of mainstream discourse itself.


Do religious cognitions promote prosociality?

Ashley Harrell
Rationality and Society, November 2012, Pages 463-482

Researchers have long argued that religion increases prosocial behavior, but results are equivocal. Recent findings on priming religious concepts seem to show that religion drives other-regarding behaviors. However, here I suggest that some religious concepts may not only be priming religion, but also anticipated rewards. I present the results of a new experiment that primes reward-related and reward-unrelated religious or secular concepts. Results show that priming reward-related concepts positively impacts prosocial behavior (specifically, generosity), regardless of their religious content. Religious cognitions alone are not sufficient to elicit generosity: reward cognitions must be present as well.


Under Which Conditions Does Religion Affect Educational Outcomes?

Timo Boppart et al.
Explorations in Economic History, forthcoming

This paper examines under which conditions religious denomination affects public spending on schooling and educational performance. We employ a unique data set which covers, inter alia, information on numerous measures of public school inputs in 169 Swiss districts for the years 1871/72, 1881/82 and 1894/95, marks from pedagogical examinations of conscripts (1875-1903), and results from political referenda to capture conservative or progressive values. Although Catholic districts show on average significantly lower educational performance and spend less on primary schooling than Protestant districts, Catholicism is harmful only in a conservative milieu. We also exploit information on absenteeism of pupils from school to separate provision of schooling from use of schooling.


"Practical Divine Influence": Socioeconomic Status and Belief in the Prosperity Gospel

Scott Schieman & Jong Hyun Jung
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 2012, Pages 738-756

The "prosperity gospel" is an understudied feature of the religious landscape of the United States. Little is known about the social patterning of prosperity gospel beliefs. We focus on two core dimensions of socioeconomic status (SES) - education and income - as potential influences. Our analyses of data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's 2006 Survey of Pentecostals produce three findings. First, education and income have negative and mostly independent associations with prosperity gospel beliefs. Second, SES-based patterns remain after accounting for other attributes of the religious role. Third, while most education-based differences are contingent upon the attributes of the religious role, these contingencies are not replicated for income-based differences. These observations reinforce the long-standing claim that SES plays a pivotal - and complex - role in the social patterning of religious beliefs.


No Ethical Bypass of Moral Status in Stem Cell Research

Mark Brown
Bioethics, January 2013, Pages 12-19

Recent advances in reprogramming technology do not bypass the ethical challenge of embryo sacrifice. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) research has been and almost certainly will continue to be conducted within the context of embryo sacrifice. If human embryos have moral status as human beings, then participation in iPS research renders one morally complicit in their destruction; if human embryos have moral status as mere precursors of human beings, then advocacy of iPS research policy that is inhibited by embryo sacrifice concerns renders one morally complicit in avoidable harms to persons. Steps may be taken to address these complicity concerns, but in the final analysis there is no alternative to achieving clarity with respect to the moral status of the human embryo.


Who Sympathizes with Osama bin Laden? Revisiting the Hearts and Minds of Pakistani and Indonesian Muslim People

Jung In Jo
International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Winter 2012, Pages 495-507

This article is designed to explore the elements of calculus behind Muslims'
support of bin Laden in light of al Qaeda's objectives in Indonesia and Pakistan. It - guided by ideas in scapegoat theory, religious theory, and rationalist theory - taps into survey data to fully investigate the demand side of determinants contributing to the popular approval of bin Laden. Local population in Pakistan and Indonesia is more prone to be supportive of bin Laden's appeals based on their political calculus. Neither sociotropic dissatisfaction nor personal economic frustration robustly explains the variance of support for bin Laden. This analysis also suggests that neither religiosity nor the attachment to political Islam is an effective predictor of one's positive faith in bin Laden.


Religion and Civic Engagement in Muslim Countries

Ani Sarkissian
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 2012, Pages 607-622

Previous studies of religion on civic and political participation focus primarily on Western Christian societies. Studies of Muslim societies concentrate on Islamic religiosity's effect on attitudes toward democracy, not on how Muslim religious participation carries over into social and political arenas. This article examines the relationship between religion and civic engagement in nine Muslim-majority countries using data from the World Values Surveys. I find that active participation in Muslim organizations is associated with greater civic engagement, while religious service attendance is not. In a subset of countries, daily prayer is associated with less civic engagement. The main area in which Muslim societies differ from Western ones is in the lack of association between civic engagement, trust, and tolerance. Religious participation is a more significant predictor of secular engagement than commonly used "social capital" measures, suggesting a need to adapt measures of religiosity to account for differences in religious expression across non-Christian faiths.


Prayer and satisfaction with sacrifice in close relationships

Nathaniel Lambert, Frank Fincham & Scott Stanley
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, December 2012, Pages 1058-1070

Three studies document the effect of prayer on satisfaction with sacrifice in close relationships. Study 1 (n = 771) demonstrated that prayer for partner predicted later satisfaction with sacrifice. In Study 2 couples discussed a disagreement and then prayed or engaged in a control activity. Praying increased satisfaction with sacrifice, couple identity and emergent goals, both of which mediated the relationship between prayer for partner and sacrifice. Study 3 (n = 37) showed that objective observers rated those who were randomly assigned to pray for a partner over a four-week period as being more satisfied with sacrifice than those who daily engaged in positive thoughts about their partner.


Countervailing Forces: Religiosity and Paranormal Belief in Italy

Christopher Bader, Joseph Baker & Andrea Molle
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 2012, Pages 705-720

Due to the unique cultural niche inhabited by "paranormal" beliefs and experiences, social scientists have struggled to understand the relationship between religion and the paranormal. Complicating matters is the fact that extant research has primarily focused upon North America, leaving open the possible relationship between these two spheres of the supernatural in less religiously pluralistic contexts. Using data from a random, national survey of Italian citizens, we examine the nature of the relationship between religiosity and paranormal beliefs in a largely Catholic context. We find a curvilinear relationship between religiosity and paranormal beliefs among Italians, with those at the lowest and highest levels of religious participation holding lower average levels of "paranormal" belief than those with moderate religious participation. This pattern reflects how two influential social institutions, religion and science, simultaneously define the paranormal as outside of acceptable realms of inquiry and belief.


Deliberating across Deep Divides

Robert Luskin et al.
Political Studies, forthcoming

Deeply divided societies would seem to be infertile ground for mass deliberation. ‘Enclave deliberation', among people on the same side, may well occur. But people on opposing sides may not trust one another, they may not listen with an open mind, or they may regard the other side's arguments as insincere cover for sectional interests. Perhaps, though, we underestimate their deliberative capacities? This article examines a deliberative poll (DP) in the Omagh area of Northern Ireland, a society having only recently emerged from protracted violence, reflecting and reinforcing the deep divide between Catholics and Protestants. The topic - the future of the local schools - was one on which many of the issues were heavily impinged by the Catholic-Protestant divide. We examine the extent to which a representative sample, including both Catholics and Protestants, was able to deliberate constructively and how the experience changed their policy attitudes and their opinions of one another.


The Limits of Secularization? The Resurgence of Orthodoxy in Post-Soviet Russia

Geoffrey Evans & Ksenia Northmore-Ball
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 2012, Pages 795-808

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended a long period of state repression of religion, facilitating a possible religious revival in Russia. Despite evidence of increasing levels of Russian Orthodox identification in the 1990s, however, the debate over whether post-Soviet Russia is an exception to secularization trends elsewhere continues. We address this debate by examining trends in Orthodox identification and church attendance and their impact on conservative moral values, as well as the basis of religiosity in age cohorts, using a seven-wave national, stratified random sample survey covering 1993-2007. The analysis indicates continued growth in Orthodox self-identification, increased church attendance, and an increasingly strong association between religiosity and conservative morality over this time period. Moreover, signs of religious revival are most pronounced among the cohort of people who came to maturity after communism ended. The resurgence of Orthodoxy in Russia provides a robust exception to secularization trends in Western Europe.


The Place of God in Synthetic Biology: How Will the Catholic Church Respond?

Patrick Heavey
Bioethics, January 2013, Pages 36-47

Some religious believers may see synthetic biology as usurping God's creative role. The Catholic Church has yet to issue a formal teaching on the field (though it has issued some informal statements in response to Craig Venter's development of a ‘synthetic' cell). In this paper I examine the likely reaction of the Catholic Magisterium to synthetic biology in its entirety. I begin by examining the Church's teaching role, from its own viewpoint, to set the necessary background and context for the discussion that follows. I then describe the Church's attitude to science, and particularly to biotechnology. From this I derive a likely Catholic theology of synthetic biology. The Church's teachings on scientific and biotech research show that it is likely to have a generally positive disposition to synbio, if it and its products can be acceptably safe. Proper evaluation of, and protection against, risk will be a significant factor in determining the morality of the research. If the risks can be minimized through regulation or other means, then the Church is likely to be supportive. The Church will also critique the social and legal environment in which the research is done, evaluating issues such as the patenting of scientific discoveries and of life.


Piety, Power, and the Purse: Religious Economies Theory and Urban Reform in the Holy Roman Empire

Steven Pfaff & Katie Corcoran
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 2012, Pages 757-776

The religious economies model has been influential in the sociology of religion. Yet, propositions drawn from the model have been difficult to test in the comparative and historical study of religion, generally for lack of appropriate data. We develop a general theory of religious disestablishment and apply it to the Reformation in 16th-century Europe to explain variation in the abolition of the Catholic monopoly. We suggest three principal factors - changes in demand, entry control mechanisms, and political incentives - that explain why incumbent religious firms may lose their monopoly. We then analyze the resulting hypotheses in a systematic analysis of cities in the Holy Roman Empire. Our analysis yields mixed support for demand-side factors and entry control mechanisms, and firm support for political incentives in the institution of reform.


A new problem of evil: Authority and the duty of interference

Luke Maring
Religious Studies, December 2012, Pages 497-514

The traditional problem of evil sets theists the task of reconciling two
things: God and evil. I argue that theists face the more difficult task of reconciling God and evils that God is specially obligated to prevent. Because of His authority, God's obligation to curtail evil goes far beyond our Samaritan duty to prevent evil when doing so isn't overly hard. Authorities owe their subjects a positive obligation to prevent certain evils; we have a right against our authorities that they protect us. God's apparent mistake is not merely the impersonal wrong of failing to do enough good - though it is that too. It is the highly personal wrong of failing to live up to a moral requirement that comes bundled with authority over persons. To make my argument, I use the resources of political philosophy and defend a novel change to the orthodox account of authority.

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