On the social psychology of religion

by maghshoosh

Since religion and the psychology of its believers are in the background of much of the discussion relating to Iran at this site, it may be interesting to note some research on the social psychology of religious belief, as discussed in this 2009 talk titled "Darwin and Your Beliefs" by Prof. Ara Norenzayan at the Simon Fraser Univ.  Most of the experimental results he reports in support of his contentions seem to be from societies with separation of chruch and state.  So you may have fun conducting analogous thought experiments in Iran.  You can bypass the introduction by sliding to minute 4 of the video.


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Disenchanted & Ari Siletz

by maghshoosh on

I hadn't noticed your comments before, but I'm glad you found the talk informative.

Ari, I don't know about this topic more than I heard from the talk, but the book you recommend would be a good followup on this topic.  As far as more discipline (rituals & prohibitions) helping religious groups but working against secular ones, is that also true of religious-like but technically-secular ideologies like personality cults in Stalinist Russia or present-day N. Korea?  What kind of rituals can one identify in those societies?

It also seems that more discipline may help longevity of religious communities but may also restrict their reach.  Those who are willing to adhere to all those rituals and prohibitions are really dedicated and are more likely to persevere in that religion, but many people aren't willing to be that disciplined.  There's also another angle to it.  Consider, for example, M.L. King & Gandhi who were leaders of their own church/ashram, but are more universally recognized for particular moral leaderships.  They had a limited number of members in their church/ashram where many rituals were applied, but their simple moral message, which involved no overt rituals, has had global reach and long-term perseverance.  So, at least sometimes, a less complicated but highly resonant message and no ritual can extend in space & time no less than highly disciplined religions. 

But I think many of the conclusions and results that are expressed on this topic should be taken with skepticism, since, as Norenzayan states, it's not a well-developed field yet.

Ari Siletz

Some nudity could help.

by Ari Siletz on

Thanks Maghshoosh; terrific  post!

I found David Sloan's Darwin's Cathedral a good scientific book on the subject. Sloan also brings up the attractive idea of the utility of religion as an inexpensive social monitoring system. Prof. Norenzayan backs up this hypothesis with empirical data, so now I feel free to use the idea in forming opinions. Also Norenzayan presents a fascinating new puzzle: why do costly requirements in religion (rituals and prohibitions) increase the longevity of religious communites but not of secular ones? 

Disenchanted: agreed about the post not getting the attention it deserves. For one thing, the topic is quite relevant when analyzing Iran's domestic politics. Could be standard presentations are too dry. Suggest researchers hire nude actresses to present their lectures or speak in a cooking show format. An evolutionist may suspect that I'm only partly kidding!


Thanks for posting...

by Disenchanted on


  unfortunately it doesn't seem to have got the attention it deserves!