Sacred Times

Kevin Lewis

July 05, 2022

Commitment through Sacrifice: How Longer Ramadan Fasting Strengthens Religiosity and Political Islam
Ozan Aksoy & Diego Gambetta
American Sociological Review, forthcoming 

Religions seem to defy the law-of-demand, which suggests that all else equal, an increase in the cost of an activity will induce individuals to decrease the resources they spend on that activity. Rather than weakening religious organizations, evidence shows that the sacrifices exacted by religious practices are positively associated with the success of those organizations. We present the first strong evidence that this association is neither spurious nor endogenous. We use a natural experiment that rests on a peculiar time-shifting feature of Ramadan that makes the fasting duration-our measure of sacrifice-vary not just by latitude but from year-to-year. We find that a half-hour increase in fasting time during the median Ramadan day increases the vote shares of Islamist political parties by 11 percent in Turkey's parliamentary elections between 1973 and 2018, and results in one additional attendee per 1,000 inhabitants for voluntary Quran courses. We further investigate two mechanisms, screening and commitment, that could explain the effects we find. By testing their divergent implications, we infer that commitment is the mechanism triggered by sacrifice, which drives up the intensity of religious beliefs and participation that in turn bolster the success of religious organizations. 

Ritualizing Nonreligion: Cultivating Rational Rituals in Secular Spaces
Jacqui Frost
Social Forces, forthcoming

As the religious landscape in the United States continues to change, and as more Americans leave organized religion, scholars have raised important questions about the role of ritual in secular spaces and whether or not religious decline will result in a decline in meaningful ritual practices. As ritual is often conflated with religion, it is often also assumed that nonreligious people are uninterested in rituals because they are committed to science, rationality, and materialism. And many believe this means that the nonreligious live "disenchanted" lives with no means for experiencing greater meaning, transcendence, or spirituality. Drawing on an ethnographic case study of ritual creation at a secular congregation called the Sunday Assembly, I disrupt these presumed dichotomies between rationality/ritual and science/spirituality. I show how atheists and agnostics at the Sunday Assembly are secularizing religious rituals, as well as creating new secular rituals, by relying on the scientific method and a trial-and-error approach to ritual creation. In doing so, they are producing experiences of transcendence, collective effervescence, and "secular spirituality." And I show how these "rational rituals" are often seen by nonreligious people as being more meaningful than religious rituals because of the work that goes into their creation. I argue that the Sunday Assembly is an illustrative case for shedding new light on the ritual creation process, and my findings contribute to discussions about how nonreligious people negotiate what many assume are conflicting discourses of science and religion as they create meaningful secular rituals. 

Religious Afterlife Beliefs Decrease Behavioral Avoidance of Symbols of Mortality
Xiaoyue Fan et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming 

An astonishing cultural phenomenon is where, far away from or close to a city center, people in different societies localize cemeteries that function as both sites of memory of lost ones and symbols of mortality. Yet a psychological account of such differences in behavioral responses to symbols of mortality is lacking. Across five studies (N = 1,590), we tested a psychological model that religious afterlife beliefs decrease behavioral avoidance of symbols of mortality (BASM) by developing and validating a word-position task for quantifying BASM. We showed evidence that religious believers, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, exhibited decreased BASM relative to nonbelievers. We also provide evidence for a causal relationship between religious afterlife beliefs and reduced BASM. Our findings provide new insight into the functional role of religious afterlife beliefs in modulating human avoidance behavior in response to symbols of mortality. 

Did Worship Attendance During Lockdown Promote COVID-19 Infection? Evidence from National Panel Data
Samuel Perry & Joshua Grubbs
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, May 2022

During late spring 2020, when states were issuing stay-at-home orders, the majority of congregations and Americans followed protocols and avoided in-person worship. Yet a vocal minority of Americans defied protocols and gathered in worship. The authors use national panel data collected in mid-May and August 2020 to assess whether Americans who attended worship more frequently during lockdown restrictions were more likely to report testing positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) three months later. Accounting for relevant correlates including mask use, general attendance at large gatherings, and knowing others who had tested positive, the likelihood that Americans tested positive for COVID-19 between May and August 2020 grew almost linearly as Americans attended in-person worship more frequently during lockdown. However, interactions indicate that this increase was limited primarily to those who were not regular attenders previously. The results suggest that worship attendance during lockdown substantially increased COVID-19 infections for the minority who attended possibly as a form of protest.

Are Shifts in Same-Sex Marriage Attitudes Associated With Declines in Religious Behavior and Affiliation?
Paul Djupe & Jacob Neiheisel
American Politics Research, forthcoming

The anti-LGBTQ politics of the Religious Right has been implicated as one of the critical forces promoting the rise of disaffiliation from religion. The association seems plain given the rapid rise of the nones among younger cohorts of Americans - a group which also holds the most pro-LGBTQ attitudes. However, little work actually tests the link between shifting attitudes on same-sex marriage and declining religious behavior and affiliation. Drawing on the Portraits of American Life Panel study with waves in 2006 and 2012, we use appropriate measures to document the religious effects of changing views on same-sex marriage. We find that while shifting views did have a negative effect on church attendance and affiliation, these effects were not limited to shifts toward support for same-sex marriage and were not limited to liberals.

Does it Matter if the President Isn't Pious? White Evangelicals and Elite Religiosity in the Trump Era
Jack Thompson
Politics and Religion, forthcoming

Trump's unwavering support among white evangelicals seems a contradiction considering his seeming irreligiosity and well publicized moral transgressions. This contradiction raises an interesting question concerning whether Trump represents something of a unique case when it comes to white evangelical evaluations of elite religiosity, or whether his support among the group indicative of a new era of evangelical support for candidates that does not assess religiosity as it used to. Drawing on contemporary debates from the religious psychology and Christian nationalism scholarship, I use data from Wave 61 of the American Trends Panel (ATP) to test whether white evangelicals who encounter threats to their religious identities are more likely to view that God played some role in Trump's election. Overall, I find that white evangelicals consider themselves minorities as a result of their beliefs. Most importantly, these beliefs condition white evangelical beliefs about God's role in Trump's election. Specifically, I find that increases in threat perceptions lead to an increase in the probability of a white evangelical believing that Trump's election was part of God's plan. These findings provide a new vantage point for understanding why so many white evangelicals view Trump's election as a divine outcome despite the fact they are indifferent to his irreligiosity. 

The Friday Effect: How Communal Religious Practice Heightens Exclusionary Attitudes
Steven Brooke, Youssef Chouhoud & Michael Hoffman
British Journal of Political Science
, forthcoming

Does attending communal religious services heighten the tendency to express exclusionary attitudes? Drawing on responses from thousands of Muslims, we identify how the ritual Friday Prayer systematically influences congregants' political and social attitudes. To isolate the independent role of this religious behavior, we exploit day-of-the-week variation in survey enumeration, which we assume to be plausibly uncorrelated with likely confounders, including self-reported religiosity. In our primary analysis, six variables charting various modes of intolerance each indicate that frequent attenders interviewed on Fridays (that is, proximate to the weekly communal prayer) were significantly more likely to express sectarian and antisecular attitudes than their counterparts. To test the potential mechanism behind this tendency, we rely on a controlled comparison between Egyptian and Algerian subgroups, as well as an original survey experiment in Lebanon. Evidence from both analyses is consistent with arguments that elite political messaging embedded in religious rituals spurs much of the observed variation.

Amicus Curiae Briefs and the Competing Legal Agendas of White Protestants in the United States, 1969-2020
Jonathan Hensley & Paul McCartney
Politics and Religion, forthcoming 

We use Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs filed by seven religious groups - four liberal and three conservative - to understand the changing nature of political conflict between American religious groups in the predominantly White Protestant tradition from 1969 to 2020. Religious groups on both sides of the ideological divide have increased the frequency of their amicus filings, and increasingly become involved in issue areas which were once primarily the concern of groups on the other side. These findings suggest that the culture war that redefined party politics in America has also shaped religious activism, including legal activism. We argue that these groups have increased their involvement in a wider range of issues for two reasons: their rivalry for influence over the nation's moral center has become more encompassing and overtly political, and their appreciation for and consciously developed ability to tap into the courts' influence on American politics has grown. 

The Variable Association Between Religiosity and Delinquency
Chase Montagnet
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming

Although religion and crime occupies a relatively small space in contemporary criminological research, religious beliefs, and practices are central to classical social theory. This study uses fixed effects models to analyze three waves of panel data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health to examine the relationship between a multidimensional measure of religiosity and several forms of delinquency. The results indicate that the relationship between religiosity and delinquency is offense-specific. While religiosity is inversely related to substance use in the presence of social bonds and predictors of delinquency, its relationship with non-violent delinquency is mixed. Finally, religiosity is not associated with violent offending. The results suggest that renewed interest in religion among criminologists is warranted.


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