All posts filed under: Religion

Religion

The cognitive science of religion

The cognitive science of religion (CSR) is a scientific approach to the study of religion that combines methods and theory from cognitive, developmental and evolutionary psychology with the sorts of questions that animate anthropologists and historians of religion. Specifically, CSR explores causal explanations of religious phenomena (thoughts, ideas, practices and experiences) across peoples and populations. It asks ‘How does ordinary human psychology inform and constrain religious expression?’ Four current prominent topics in CSR are introduced here: teleological reasoning about the natural world; children’s acquisition of God concepts; ‘minimal counterintuitiveness theory’; and religion and prosociality. Why is religion so common around the world? Why do some religious ideas and practices out-compete others? Why do religious practices take on common characteristics across cultures, and how deeply imbedded in human history and nature is religion? The cognitive science of religion (CSR) tackles questions such as these, attempting to understand the reasons for initial acquisition, recurrence, and continued transmission of religious concepts and behaviour. Psychologists – particularly scientific psychologists – have the training and tools to address such issues, …

Religion means different things to different people

A lot of arguments about religion treat it like going to school: a religion is a set of lessons to be learned, tests to pass and rules to follow, all watched over by the great headmaster in the sky. That assumption shapes the sorts of questions we ask of religions and religious people: are your teachers telling the truth? Have they trained you to behave properly? And why do you think it’s a good idea to go to school anyway? But there’s an increasing body of evidence to suggest that we need to think about religion in a different way: not as a process of training or indoctrination, but as arising from some deep-seated instincts, hardwired into our brains and then shaped by our cultures. This is more like the way we think about sex, emotions and relationships. The shift in thinking arises from a field of study known as the cognitive science of religion, where cognitive psychologists and evolutionary theorists have joined forces to address a puzzling question. In the words of Jeffrey Schloss: Why, despite …

Is religion a force for good?

Do we need religion in order to be moral? George Washington cautioned against“indulg[ing] the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion”, and today more than half of Americans believe morality is impossible without a belief in God. The idea that religion is important for morality is not just widespread but deeply ingrained. Psychologist Will Gervais has shown that even people who explicitly deny believing in God harbour the intuition that acts such as serial murder and incest are more representative of atheists than of religious people. Of course, prominent atheistic commentators resent any suggestion that the religious have some special claim on moral behaviour. Comedian Tim Minchin said “if you think altruism without Jesus is not altruism, then you’re a dick.” In Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion he writes: “Faith can be very very dangerous, and deliberately to implant it into the vulnerable mind of an innocent child is a grievous wrong.” In a month when gunmen shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) while murdering 132 school children in Pakistan, it may be easy …

Is there an evolutionary advantage in being religious?

For a biologist like me, the interesting questions about religion have always been where did it come from and why did it evolve? I taught evolutionary biology in a Catholic University in the most Catholic country in the world – Brazil. Some of my colleagues here in the UK thought that must have been very challenging, but it wasn’t. The Brazilian population is unusual in that 60% of the population are religious and also believe in evolution by natural selection. The development of new religions looks like the way new species are formed and thrive. In case of protestants, the “evolutionary spark” would be Martin Luther with his calls for reform. Similarly the deliberate differences, such as religious rituals, were created to keep the two faiths separated in the same manner that speciation of songbirds often provides related species with similar, but distinct songs so they will not interbreed. A recent study by Bernard Crespi and Kyle Summers at Simon Fraser University attempts to explain religion in biological terms. They believe that evolution of religion …

India’s ‘instant divorce’,Un-Islamic, arbitrary, unconstitutional.”

“Un-Islamic, arbitrary, unconstitutional.” That was the judgement of the Indian Supreme Court as it announced a ban on the contentious practice of instant “triple-talaq”. Triple-talaq is a form of Islamic divorce which allows a husband to dissolve his marriage instantly and unilaterally, simply through pronouncing “talaq” (divorce) three times to his wife. While it has long existed in customary practice, it carries little formal sanction within Islamic law itself. It receives no endorsement in the Qur’an, which stresses unambiguously that all divorces should work through a staggered process which allows space for reconciliation. And authoritative works of jurisprudence uniformly declare instant-talaq to be “sinful”, if not always technically “forbidden”. It is on these grounds that, especially over the last century, a large majority of Muslim countries have banned instant-talaq, including neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sri Lankahas also banned it. Nevertheless, instant-talaq had remained legal in India. Delivered either in person, or increasingly via text message, email or WhatsApp, it led to countless women suffering the fates of instant abandonment, homelessness or destitution. This is why …

Religion in China

Introduction Religious observance in China is on the rise. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is officially atheist, but it has grown more tolerant of religious activity over the past forty years. Amid China’s economic boom and rapid modernization, experts point to the emergence of a spiritual vacuum as a trigger for the growing number of religious believers, particularly adherents of Christianity and traditional Chinese religious groups. Though China’s constitution explicitly allows “freedom of religious belief,” adherents across all religious organizations, from state-sanctioned to underground and banned groups, still face persecution and repression. Freedom and Regulation Article thirty-six of the Chinese constitution says that Chinese citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief.” It bans discrimination based on religion and it forbids state organs, public organizations, or individuals from compelling citizens to believe in—or not to believe in—any particular faith. In 2005, the State Council passed new Regulations on Religious Affairs, which allow state-registered religious organizations to possess property, publish literature, train and approve clergy, and collect donations. But religious freedom is still not universal in China. Human Rights Watch China …

Sisi’s religious revolution in Egypt

“We need a religious revolution!” Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi declared those words a month ago as he addressed senior religious leaders from al-Azhar University and elsewhere while Egyptians celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The speech was widely applauded in Egypt, particularly as it opened an ideological front to the battle against the Islamist violence that has troubled the country since the summer of 2013. His words seem especially significant after last week’s attack on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula that killed at least thirty and wounded many more. However, before Sisi is praised any more as a visionary and a reformer, observers should understand that Egypt and Sisi may not have the capacity to carry out much reform in Islamic thinking. First of all, what exactly does Sisi mean by a religious revolution? The general Western observer might interpret it as a call to overturn central Islamic institutions and principles in a bid to combat extremism. After the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a number of Western media outlets hailed …

Shift in Japan’s Religions

New religious movements have been a part of Japanese society since the early nineteenth century. Some of them, much like the American new religions, Christian Science or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have become accepted institutions with one or even two centuries of history. The more established, such as Kurozumikyō (founded in 1814), have university-educated leaders who serve on the boards of respected museums and corporations, sit on government bodies, and are pillars of their communities. Unlike Sōka Gakkai and its political party Kōmeitō, or Happy Science and its Happiness Realization Party, they do not preach politics from the pulpit, because they believe in the separation of religion from state. Many new religious movements joined the Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan (Shin Nihon Shūkyō Rengō Kai, generally called Shinshūren), founded in 1951. Shinshūren lobbies for a variety of progressive causes, including opposition to constitutional revision, and supports liberal politicians. Although the Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honchō) previously belonged to Shinshūren, both it and numerous other religious organizations have recently …

Church of England’s ban on sex reassignment therapy

The Church of England has called on the government to ban conversion therapy and has condemned the practice, which aims to change sexual orientation, as unethical and potentially harmful. At the end of an emotional debate in which two members of the C of E synod described their experiences as spiritual abuse, the church’s governing body overwhelmingly backed a motion saying the practice had “no place in the modern world”. Conversion therapy is usually described as an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Some churches in the C of E and other denominations have encouraged LGBT members to take part in prayer sessions and other activities to rid them of their “sin”. Proposing the motion, Jayne Ozanne – who underwent conversion therapy resulting in two breakdowns and two spells in hospital – said conversion therapy was “abuse from which vulnerable adults need protecting”. It was “discredited by the government, the NHS, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of General Practitioners and many other senior health care bodies,” she said. …

Turkish schools to stop teaching evolution

In the US there have been many attempts to expunge evolution from the school curriculmor demand that creationism – the idea that all life was uniquely created by God – is given equal treatment in science textbooks. While all these have failed, the government in Turkey has now banned evolution from its national curriculum. US creationists want both views to be presented, to let children decide what to believe. Bids to reject this are wrongly characterised as attempts to shut down debate or free speech – to promote a scientific, atheistic, secular, ideology over a more moral, ethical, commonsense religious worldview. Turkey’s decision goes much further. This isn’t about claiming equal treatment, it’s an outright ban. The government justifies it by claiming evolution is “difficult to understand” and “controversial”. Any controversy however is one manufactured by ultra-religious communities seeking to undermine science. Many concepts in science are more difficult than evolution, yet they still get taught. Creationist arguments Evolution, creationists argue, is just a theory – it’s not proven and so up for debate. Evolutionary …