The Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality
There is seems to be little evidence that religious people are more moral than nonreligious people, let alone that religion is necessary for morality. However, previous research on this topic has narrowly focused on particular conceptions of morality (e.g., based on harm or fairness) and has almost exclusively looked at Western Judeo-Christian populations. We are therefore casting a wider net, looking into diverse moral domains and religious and moral traditions. By running large-scale multinational surveys and field and lab-based experiments, we hope to provide a more nuanced picture of the relationship between religion and morality.
This project is supported by the Templeton World Charity Foundation
Main collaborators: Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford)
We are currently collecting data for two meta-analyses. The first is on manipulations of religiosity, looking specifically at the effectiveness of various experimental paradigms with religiosity as a dependent variable. For more information, please visit http://pc.rhul.ac.uk/sites/mab-lab/meta-analysis/. The second is on the relationship between two sets of individual differences: (a) agency detection and mentalizing tendencies/abilities, and (b) religioisty. For more information, please visit http://www.thomascoleman.guru/meta-analysis.
Main collaborators: Robert Ross (University of Oxford), Thomas J. Coleman III (Coventry University)
We have previously published a meta-analysis on death anxiety and religious belief:
Jong, J., Ross, R., Philip, T., Chang, S. H., Simons, N., & Halberstadt, J. (2017). The religious correlates of death anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Religion, Brain & Behavior. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2016.1238844
The number of people around the world who self-identify as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious has been on the increase. In this project, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists work together to provide a "map" of nonreligion, discovering similarities and differences across cultures in this growing group (or groups) of people.
My team is specifically involved the aspect of the project named Mapping Implicit Unbelief Across Cultures and Contexts, which involves collecting data from the most secular countries in the world.
This project is supported by the John Templeton Foundation
Main collaborators: Lois Lee (University of Kent), Jonathan Lanman (Queen's Univeristy Belfast), Miguel Farias (Coventry University), Stephen Bullivant (St Mary's Twickenham)
For more information, visit https://www.ucl.ac.uk/non-religious-belief/understanding-unbelief
Death Anxiety and Religious Belief
Theorists from Lucretius Carus in the 1st century BCE through to David Hume, Sigmund Freud, and contemporary social psychologists have speculated about the role that our fear of death plays in the origins of religious belief in the human mind and human culture. This research project aims to elucidate the link--if indeed there is a link--between death anxiety and religion. The project includes meta-analytic techniques and systematic reviews, cross-cultural surveys, and laboratory and online studies using implicit and explicit measures of death anxiety and religious belief.
This project is supported by the Marsden Fund Council from New Zealand Government funding, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.
Main collaborators: Jamin Halberstadt (University of Otago), Matthias Bluemke (University of Heidelberg)
The main findings of this project are presented in our book:
Toward an Affective Science of Religion
For the past 25 years, there has been increased interest in the role of basic cognitive processes in enabling and maintaining religious beliefs. In comparison, affective--including motivational--processes have been neglected. This project aims to investigate the ways in which negative life events, negative emotional states, and causal attributional processes interact to contribute to religious beliefs and representations.
This project is supported by the John Templeton Foundation.
Main collaborators: Ryan McKay (Royal Holloway, University of London), Robert Ross (University of Oxford), Jamin Halberstadt (University of Otago)
Ritual, Community, and Conflict
This project consists of three inter-locking parts: on the development of ritual participation in children, the role of rituals in the evolution of social complexity in human history, and lab- and field-based experimental research on the role of collective rituals in the formation of social bonds. My involvement with this project is in the latter part, and related to the Religion's Impact on Human Life project above.
This project is supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.
Main collaborators: Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford), Ryan McKay (Royal Holloway, University of London)
See for example:
Whitehouse, H., Jong, J., Buhrmester, M. D., Gómez, Á., Bastian, B., Kavanagh, C. M., Newson, M., Matthews, M., Lanman, J. A., & Gavrilets, S. (2017). The evolution of identity fusion and extreme cooperation. Scientific Reports, 7, doi:10.1038/srep19471
For more information, please visit http://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/ritual-community-and-conflict
Religion's Impact on Human Life
This project was a large and long-term multiphase effort to integrate proximate (e.g., psychological) and ultimate (e.g., evolutionary) perspectives in a single research interdisciplinary and international programme. My involvement with this current phase focuses on the ways in which collective rituals activate evolved kinship detection mechanisms to form strong bonds among non-kin, as are commonly found among religious groups. Though online, lab, and field experiments, as well as semantic text analyses of existing corpora, we examine how particularly dysphoric episodes feature in self-defining memories that enable the formation of strong bonds among group members.
This project was supported by the John Templeton Foundation.
Main collaborators: Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford), Jonathan Lanman (Queen's University Belfast)