About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The scientific study of religion, part III

[I'm in Baltimore for a meeting on the scientific study of religion. What follows are just some random notes and observations from the sessions I actually attended, and are not necessarily representative of the entire meeting, given of course that I picked the topics that tickled my curiosity.]
The first afternoon session I've attended was on religion and bias. The opening speaker was George Yancey from the University of North Texas, on "Religious bias among professors." Only 9% of scientists have no doubts about the existence of god, and 7% of members of the National Academy believe in a personal god. Of course these and similar numbers do not show bias, because there may well be self-selective factors operating (like more religious people feeling threatened by science, hence staying away from academic scientific careers). Controlled surveys across disciplines showed that most academics do not care about the religious affiliation of a prospective candidate, with the notable exception of evangelicals and fundamentalists, who admitted a significant bias against people with certain religious affiliations. Jews and atheists, but also Catholic and Muslims, were among the least biased. Mormons turned out somewhere in the middle. Bias induced by religion affiliation was stronger than that induced by political affiliation, with republicans being less biased than fundamentalists and evangelicals.
Next up: "Relationship between body mass index and engagement in a religious community," by Shanna Granstra of Baylor University. Two fundamental hypotheses: a) obese people have a positive relationship with their religious community; or b) obese people have a negative relationship with their religious community. (Well, if you add the null hypothesis you've covered the entire universe of logical possibilities.) Either way, previous research shows that whatever relationship there is, it is probably going to be gendered, as women tend to be more depressed and socially isolated if their BMI is very high. Results showed that obese people are more likely to be members of a church, but this was true only for women, not men. However, obese women were less likely to actually attend church.
The third talk was by Rod Ling of the University of Manchester-UK, on "Social distance and religion in Australia." This study focused on the Muslim population, which at last census comprised 1.7% of the total. Researchers asked people how socially close were they prepared to be to people from a number of religious denominations. The majority of responders said they would welcome a Muslim as a family member or a friend, but 16% felt that Muslims should be kept out of the country entirely. Non-religious were more tolerant toward Muslims than Anglicans and other Protestants. The author suggested that groups who expressed a desire for a greater social distance from Muslims were also historically more closely associated with Britain.
Finally, we have "Biases in juror decision making" by Jenny Reichert of the University of Nevada. The question: can jurors examine a court case while disregarding their preexisting ideas about satanism? Ideas about the defendant's religious belief are more difficult for jurors to disregard than race. Also, religious jurors tend to be harsher in judging someone who they consider a "deviant" from the point of view of their religion. (This type of research is conducted using mock jurors, not real trials, which is easier and allows the experimenter to control a variety of factors.) Jurors had a hard time discriminating between whether the person on trial had actually admitted to being a satanist, or whether this was simply alleged during the trial (which means that simply mentioning the word induces bias). Non-religious jurors had a more neutral view of satanists than did Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. More religious people were also more confident of the correctness of their verdict.
[Stay tuned for the last installment, a special session about attitudes of scientists about religion, based on a book addressing that issue...]

1 comment:

  1. scientific? and study?


    among professors." Only 9% of scientists have no doubts about the existence of god, and 7% of members of the National Academy believe in a personal god


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