Your soul

Kevin Lewis

November 08, 2018

A camel through the eye of a needle: The influence of the prosperity gospel on financial risk-taking, optimistic bias, and positive emotion
Nicholas Hobson, Juensung Kim & Geoff MacDonald
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, forthcoming


The prosperity gospel is one of the fastest growing religious movements in America. With popularized figures like Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar performing services to sold-out stadiums, new converts are drawn by the optimism-infused messages of positivity and financial wealth. Here we offer a formal scientific test of prosperity gospel’s impact on psychological functioning. In 2 experiments, we tested a set of hypotheses related to the prosperity gospel’s effects on financial risk-taking and positivity bias. The findings revealed that prosperity gospel messages generate heightened optimistic bias (Experiments 1 and 2), high arousal positive affect (Experiment 2), and financial risk-taking (Experiment 1). The results also indicated that even a secularized version of prosperity gospel leads to positivity bias, for both theists and atheists. This suggests the effectiveness of prosperity gospel lies in its ability to evoke positive states rather than communicate specifically religious teachings.

The Mission: Human Capital Transmission, Economic Persistence, and Culture in South America
Felipe Valencia Caicedo
Quarterly Journal of Economics, forthcoming


This article examines the long-term consequences of a historical human capital intervention. The Jesuit order founded religious missions in 1609 among the Guarani, in modern-day Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Before their expulsion in 1767, missionaries instructed indigenous inhabitants in reading, writing, and various crafts. Using archival records, as well as data at the individual and municipal level, I show that in areas of former Jesuit presence — within the Guarani area — educational attainment was higher and remains so (by 10%-15%) 250 years later. These educational differences have also translated into incomes that are 10% higher today. The identification of the positive effect of the Guarani Jesuit missions emerges after comparing them with abandoned Jesuit missions and neighboring Franciscan Guarani missions. The enduring effects observed are consistent with transmission mechanisms of structural transformation, occupational specialization, and technology adoption in agriculture.

The Surprising Predictable Decline of Religion in the United States
Simon Brauer
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, forthcoming


Scholars over the past several decades have noted the resilience of religion in the United States (Chaves 2011; Gorski and Altınordu 2008; Hadden 1987:601–02; Presser and Chaves 2007), but many recognize that the youngest U.S. cohorts are significantly lower on several religious characteristics than older cohorts (Hout and Fischer 2014; Putnam and Campbell 2012; Voas and Chaves 2016). Scholars have proposed several explanations for this trend, disagreeing about whether it is the result of a particular cultural moment or an ongoing process leading to even greater religious decline. Voas (2009) proposed one such explanation. He used European data to show that the proportion of nonreligious people in each cohort only became significant when previous cohorts reached a critical mass of moderately religious people. Voas’s model is novel and promising but has neither been examined statistically nor applied to U.S. data, which I take up here. I find that, surprisingly, the United States fits closely on the same trajectory of religious decline as European countries, suggesting a shared demographic process as opposed to idiosyncratic change. I conclude by discussing how these findings inform theories of self‐reinforcing religious decline and cross‐national patterns of religiosity.

Child Care and Human Development: Insights from Jewish History in Central and Eastern Europe, 1500-1930
Maristella Botticini, Zvi Eckstein & Anat Vaturi
Hebrew University of Jerusalem Working Paper, September 2018


Economists growingly highlight the fundamental role that human capital formation, institutions, cultural transmission, and religious norms may each distinctively play in shaping health, knowledge, and wealth. We contribute to this debate by studying one of the most remarkable instances in which religious norms and child care practices had a major impact on demographic and economic patterns: the history of the Jews in central and eastern Europe from 1500 to 1930. After documenting that the Jewish population in Poland Lithuania increased at a strikingly high annual rate of 1.37 percent during this period, we investigate the engines of this exceptional growth. We show that while Jewish and non-Jewish birth rates were about the same, infant and child mortality among Jews was much lower and account for the main difference (70 percent) in Jewish versus non-Jewish natural population growth. Our contribution stems from documenting that Jewish families routinely adopted childcare practices that recent medical research has shown as enhancing infants' and children's well-being. These practices, deeply rooted in Talmudic rulings, account for the lower infant and child mortality among Jews, and in turn, for the higher Jewish population growth rate in eastern and central Europe between 1500 and 1930. The key insight of our work is that once Judaism became a "literate religion," infant and child care, as well as enhancing offspring's cognitive skills, became focal activities of Jewish households.

May God Guide Our Guns: Visualizing Supernatural Aid Heightens Team Confidence in a Paintball Battle Simulation
Jeremy Pollack et al.
Human Nature, September 2018, Pages 311–327


The perceived support of supernatural agents has been historically, ethnographically, and theoretically linked with confidence in engaging in violent intergroup conflict. However, scant experimental investigations of such links have been reported to date, and the extant evidence derives largely from indirect laboratory methods of limited ecological validity. Here, we experimentally tested the hypothesis that perceived supernatural aid would heighten inclinations toward coalitional aggression using a realistic simulated coalitional combat paradigm: competitive team paintball. In a between-subjects design, US paintball players recruited for the study were experimentally primed with thoughts of supernatural support using a guided visualization exercise analogous to prayer, or with a control visualization of a nature scene. The participants then competed in a team paintball battle game modeled after “Capture the Flag.” Immediately before and after the battle, participants completed surveys assessing confidence in their coalitional and personal battle performance. Participants assessed their coalition’s prospects of victory and performance more positively after visualizing supernatural aid. Participants primed with supernatural support also reported inflated assessments of their own performance. Importantly, however, covarying increases in assessments of their overall coalition’s performance accounted for the latter effect. This study provided support for the hypothesis that perceived supernatural support can heighten both prospective confidence in coalitional victory and retrospective confidence in the combat performance of one’s team, while highlighting the role of competitive play in evoking the coalitional psychology of intergroup conflict. These results accord with and extend convergent prior findings derived from laboratory paradigms far removed from the experience of combat. Accordingly, the field study approach utilized here shows promise as a method for investigating coalitional battle dynamics in a realistic, experientially immersive manner.

Evaluating the potential of Protestant Christianity to stimulate democracy and good governance in sub-Saharan Africa through the valuing of the individual
Nicola de Jager & Phillip de Jager
Democratization, forthcoming


The global distribution of Christians is expected to change by 2050, with the largest proportion of Christians – more than a billion – residing in sub-Saharan Africa. Historical and empirical studies have argued for a positive relationship between the proportion of Christians – Protestants in particular – and the development of liberal democracy. A key explanation for this positive influence is cultural, namely the valuing of the individual. Could the growth in Christianity have the potential to influence democratic development and good governance in the sub-Saharan region? To test our hypotheses – (1) sub-Saharan states with proportionally larger Protestant populations are more likely to have higher levels of democracy and good governance, and (2) sub-Saharan states with growing Protestant populations are more likely to have increasing levels of democracy and good governance – we employ a longitudinal and cross-sectional study (a panel of data) using data from the World Christian Database, Polity IV and the International Country Risk Guide. Our data show that the population share of Protestants is positively related with both levels of and growth in democracy and good governance. With the spread of Protestantism we could expect the future improvement of democracy and governance in the region.

Does Finance Make Us Less Social?
Henrik Cronqvist, Mitch Warachka & Frank Yu
University of Miami Working Paper, July 2018


Formal financial contracts and informal risk-sharing agreements within social networks both enable households to manage risk. Using an exogenous reduction in the cost of financial contracting, we find that the increased use of financial contracts to manage household risk is associated with a decline in religious adherence and smaller church congregations. These results indicate that a cost-benefit analysis leads households to replace their participation in social networks with lower-cost financial contracts. Our study contributes toward understanding the implications of emerging technologies known collectively as FinTech that lower the cost of financial contracting.

Reaching resolution: The effect of prayer on psychological perspective and emotional acceptance
Kathleen McCulloch & Elizabeth Parks-Stamm
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, forthcoming


In two experiments, we examined the mechanisms underlying the wide-ranging benefits of prayer on well-being. In line with research on psychological distance, we hypothesized that greater perspective mediates the emotional benefits of prayer. Participants were randomly assigned to pray or think about a personal problem and then reported their emotional management and cognitive understanding of the problem. In both experiments, those in the prayer condition reported having greater perspective and more emotional acceptance of their problem than those in the thought condition. The effect of prayer on acceptance was partially mediated by perspective. We found no benefit of prayer on cognitive measures. Our research suggests that prayer expands people’s psychological perspective, which then improves their emotional management of personal problems.

Sex and the Mission: The conflicting effects of early Christian missions on HIV in sub-Saharan Africa
Julia Cage & Valeria Rueda
University of Oxford Working Paper, October 2018


This article investigates the long-term impact of historical missionary activity on HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. On the one hand, missionaries were the first to invest in modern medicine in the region. On the other hand, Christianity influenced sexual beliefs and behaviors that affect the risk of contagion. We build a new geocoded dataset locating Protestant and Catholic missions in the early 20th century, as well as the health facilities they invested in. With these data, we can address separately these two channels, within regions close to historical missionary settlements. First, we show that proximity to historical missionary health facilities decreases the likelihood of HIV; persistence in healthcare provision and safer sexual behaviors in the region explain this result. Second, we show that regions close to historical missionary settlements exhibit higher likelihood of HIV. This effect is driven by the Christian population in our sample. This suggests conversion to Christianity as a possible explanatory channel. Our findings are robust to alternative specifications addressing selection.

The price of redemption: Sin, penance, and marginal deterrence
Metin Coşgel & Thomas Miceli
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming


The threat of loss of the afterlife as punishment for sin is a fundamental tenet of nearly all religious traditions. Most religions also contain a notion of redemption, or forgiveness of sin, but they differ as to whether or not redemption requires atonement, or penance. The possibility of redemption allows sinners to be rehabilitated, but in so doing potentially undermines the incentive for them to refrain from sin in the first place. We show that a properly calibrated form of penance as the “price” of redemption can both deter people from committing early sins, and provide an incentive for those who have previously sinned to refrain from committing further sins. In other words, it achieves marginal deterrence. Such a system requires strong belief in the afterlife. When belief is moderate, we show that a regime of free redemption may be optimal. We conclude by examining the implications of the analysis for after-death redemption, the Catholic Church's practice of selling redemption (indulgences), and the Protestant doctrine of Predestination, which was in part a reaction to the Church's “commodification” of redemption.

The Institutional Foundations of Religious Politics: Evidence from Indonesia
Samuel Bazzi, Gabriel Koehler-Derrick & Benjamin Marx
NBER Working Paper, October 2018


Why do religious politics thrive in some societies but not others? This paper explores the institutional foundations of this process in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim democracy. We show that a major Islamic institution, the waqf, fostered the entrenchment of political Islam at a critical historical juncture. In the early 1960s, rural elites transferred large amounts of land into waqf — a type of inalienable charitable trust — to avoid expropriation by the government as part of a major land reform effort. Although the land reform was later undone, the waqf properties remained. We show that greater intensity of the planned reform led to more prevalent waqf land and Islamic institutions endowed as such, including religious schools, which are strongholds of the Islamist movement. We identify lasting effects of the reform on electoral support for Islamist parties, preferences for religious candidates, and the adoption of Islamic legal regulations (sharia). Overall, the land reform contributed to the resilience and eventual rise of political Islam by helping to spread religious institutions, thereby solidifying the alliance between local elites and Islamist groups. These findings shed new light on how religious institutions may shape politics in modern democracies.

The nearshore cradle of early vertebrate diversification
Lauren Sallan et al.
Science, 26 October 2018, Pages 460-464


Ancestral vertebrate habitats are subject to controversy and obscured by limited, often contradictory paleontological data. We assembled fossil vertebrate occurrence and habitat datasets spanning the middle Paleozoic (480 million to 360 million years ago) and found that early vertebrate clades, both jawed and jawless, originated in restricted, shallow intertidal-subtidal environments. Nearshore divergences gave rise to body plans with different dispersal abilities: Robust fishes shifted shoreward, whereas gracile groups moved seaward. Fresh waters were invaded repeatedly, but movement to deeper waters was contingent upon form and short-lived until the later Devonian. Our results contrast with the onshore-offshore trends, reef-centered diversification, and mid-shelf clustering observed for benthic invertebrates. Nearshore origins for vertebrates may be linked to the demands of their mobility and may have influenced the structure of their early fossil record and diversification.

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