01: People tend to think differently about spirituality and God according to what time of the day it is and the activities they are engaged in, according to a study by sociologist Bradley Wright of the University of Connecticut.
Wright, who presented a paper at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, used a survey method using smart phones where respondents were asked two times a day to report the activities they were engaged in and rate the level of their awareness of God. The survey, which had 2,900 respondents (with a 70 percent response rate), found considerable variation throughout the day.
Mornings were reported to be the times when respondents reported lower rates of such awareness, with the quality of sleep reported having an effect on such feelings. Activities where respondents were more likely to report feeling an awareness of God included praying, meditating, watching TV, listening to music, preparing food, reading and housework. Those activities where an awareness of God was reported the least included working, playing video games, computer work and shopping.
02: Religious traditions have an influence on space knowledge and attitudes toward policy support, and the benefits of space exploration, with evangelicals ranking lower than the rest of the population on these measures, according to Joshua Ambrosius of the University of Dayton.
Ambrosius, who presented a paper at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study for Religion in Indianapolis, analyzed data from the 2010 General Social Survey and three other surveys on religious belief and attitudes toward space. Yet evangelicals also more strongly supported the idea that the U.S. should continue to lead the world in space exploration (a measure which Ambrosius classified as “space nationalism”).
Ambrosius cited the example of Ken Ham, a prominent evangelical creationist, who links opposition to evolution to resistance to the idea of space exploration. Ham has encouraged NASA to continue exploration because he views their inability to find life as proof that evolution is a false theory; he was referring to scientists using space probes to understand the big bang and the development of the solar system over billions of years.
Mainline Protestants, Jews, Eastern traditions, and those with no religion all scored significantly higher on space knowledge than evangelicals. Eastern religious traditions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and Jews, seem to be the core of what Ambrosius calls a “religious attentive public” for space exploration, as they rank higher than the public as a whole on their knowledge, interest, and support for space exploration.
While Catholics were not differentiated from the American public as a whole regarding space exploration (except for higher rates of support for space nationalism), their greater acceptance of the possibility of life on other planets suggests that various Catholic theologians and authors have been successful at “integrating extraterrestrials into the Catholic worldview,” according to Ambrosius. He pointed to such theologians and writers as Thomas F. O’Meara and Mary Doria Russell, as well as the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, as influencing Catholics.
03: Atheist book buyers, particularly those of the “new atheist” variety, are less likely to read much about other religions outside of this genre, according to research presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR), which RW attended.
The paper, presented by Nathaniel Porter of Penn State University, is based on a “big data” study of book buyers on Amazon and the “recommendations” or related book purchases (co-purchases) they made. Porter looked at purchases of 827 Kindle books from the top 100 best-seller list. Most of the books relating to religion that were purchased also included recommendations of books relating to other religions.
For instance, those buying books about Judaism also purchased books about other faiths. But the co-purchases of many atheist titles only included recommendations of other atheist titles—there was little sign of reading in other religions, creating what Porter calls an “echo chamber effect.” Those purchases that maintained tight connections mostly with other atheist books tended to be in the “scientific” or new atheist category; the other one-third of atheist purchases, which included more agnostic titles, did recommend books about religion more widely outside of their circle, according to Porter.
04: A big data study of atheists and religious believers using Twitter, finds that atheist use of this social media outpaces those who are members of the much larger religions.
Based on a study of 96 million tweets of over 250,000 Twitter users, researchers Lu Chen, Ingmar Weber, and Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn found that atheists have more friends, more followers and they tweet more. Among the other major religions, Muslims were found to be the most active on Twitter, according to the Religion News Service-based article (October 3). This study may be related to new research showing that the religiously non-affiliated (“nones”) are heavier Internet users than religious believers.
Paul McClure of Baylor University presented a paper at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion conference showing that nones devote far more hours on the Internet (from four to10 hours a day) than active religious believers or inactive “nominals” (one to three hours). Drawing on the Baylor Religion Survey, McClure noted that nones have less social capital than believers as expressed in community involvement and are less trusting toward others.
Yet he found that nones who surfed the Internet more have higher levels of social trust than churchgoers and nominals. Their heavy Internet use may be a way of generating trust they don’t get through religious institutions.
05: While the U.S. is considered to be an exception to the secularization found in much of Europe, recent rates of religious decline and the way they are produced by generational patterns in America suggests that it may not be so exceptional after all, according to a recent paper by David Voas and Mark Chaves.
In a paper presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Voas and Chaves seek to challenge the widely-held view among many social scientists that America is an outlier in the general pattern of secularization that started in Europe, mainly by comparing it to other cases of religious decline in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The erosion of religious affiliation in these countries was marked by “cohort replacement,” meaning that every succeeding generation is less religious than the previous one. Even with minor reversals, such as during the 1980s, cohort replacement has further declined religious affiliation throughout the past four decades.
The same goes for measures of church attendance and belief in God. On the latter item, Voas and Chaves parse the question of belief in God to those who believe in God with no doubts versus those who believe but have doubts about God’s existence. They find that where unequivocal believers in God were a majority in the country, in recent years only 43 percent of young adults ages 18-30 had no doubt about God’s existence.
The sociologists allow that interest in spirituality and belief in the afterlife has increased in recent years, but they argue that such generic beliefs have developed among the least religious groups, such as Jews, and do not constitute an upsurge or even a continuation of traditional religious belief and affiliation.
06: America’s gun culture is related to conservative religiosity, but it is strongest among those who believe in a judgmental God but are moderately religious, according to F. Carson Mencken and Paul Froeze of Baylor University.
Mencken and Froeze, who presented their research at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, analyzed data from the new wave of the Baylor Religion Survey and found that the gun culture in the U.S. has a curvilinear relationship church attendance. Those who were most likely to embrace gun culture, answering affirmatively the question of whether guns made them feel empowered, attended services two to three times a month; more regular attendance tended to drive down the level of attachment to gun culture.
Those claiming empowerment through gun ownership tended to be moderately religious in their own definition. In contrast, there was little relationship between non-white gun owner empowerment and religiosity, with those claiming to be very religious the least likely to embrace gun culture. The way in which belief in a judgmental God enhances gun empowerment was also found only among whites. The authors conclude that guns have a deeply symbolic and emotional resonance for many Americans and that stricter gun laws will do little to weaken gun culture.