Please see selected recent belief, religion and spiruality-related change below.
- What's New? - Religion
- What's New? - Spirituality
- What's Changing? - Humanism
- What's Changing? - Philosophy
- The New York Times examined communities of faith that are examining the role religion can (or should) play at the frontiers of technological innovation.
- Brazilian researchers found that religion alleviates depressive symptoms in believers. Published in the journal Trends in Psychology, the researchers asked 279 volunteers (72 percent female) to respond to an online questionnaire that focused on intrinsic religiosity, meaning in life, and levels of anxiety and depression. The team concluded, "intrinsic religiosity has a protective effect against depression symptoms; however, it occurs indirectly, via meaning in life." One defining symptom of depression is an inability to foresee a better future. This new research may entertain an intrinsic sense of belief in the sacredness of life as a natural antidepressant, as Robert Sapolsky phrased it. During a time of growing unease, the suspension of disbelief might be what the doctor ordered - for some at least.
- William James defined spiritual experiences as states of higher consciousness, which are induced by efforts to understand the general principles or structure of the world through one’s inner experience. At the core of his view of spirituality is what we might call ‘connectedness’, which refers to the fact that individual goals can be truly realised only in the context of the whole - one’s relationship to the world and to others. Traditionally, this spiritual state has been described as divine, achievable through contemplative and embodied practices, such as prayer, meditation and rhythmic rituals. Indeed, this higher state of consciousness and connection has been reported in many spiritual traditions. However, recent neuroscientific research shows that the same state can be achieved by secular practices too, noted Psyche.
- Benjamin M. Friedman, Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University presented at Chatham House his book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, which fundamentally reassesses the foundations of current-day economics, showing how religious thinking has shaped economic thinking since the beginnings of modern Western economics and how this influence continues to be relevant today, especially in the United States.
- In Being Buddha at Work, authors BJ Gallagher and Franz Metcalf argue that, as it is based on both spiritual and pragmatic principles, Buddhism provides a path for individual enlightenment even in a work context, it offers a practical way to tackle the “three marks of existence,” which are “frustration, interconnectedness and impermanence.” The road to peace starts with simple awareness or mindfulness. (Buddhism posits four “noble truths”: that life is full of suffering, that humans suffer because they’re attached to what they want, that it’s possible to end suffering by ending desire and that the “eightfold path” offers a way to peace. The eight stages on this path to enlightenment are: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.)
- Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white. A Big Think video featured religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
- Confucianism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism - the world's scriptural belief systems take many different forms but all tend toward 'kenosis' - self-transcendence for the benefit of others, but all have been used and abused for less spiritual ends, according to former nun and renowned theologian Karen Armstrong.
- In increasingly secular western societies, technology and religion may seem at odds. Some organised religions, however, are using technology to interact with communities in an attempt to forge connections between devotees and fuel engagement. Religious education, relationships, habits and knowledge are being transformed as social media allows laypeople to network with clerics and other religious figures. In 2019, for example, Pope Francis addressed a conference at the Vatican on the “Common Good in the Digital Age”, saying that “a better world is possible thanks to technological progress, if this is accompanied by an ethic inspired by a vision of the common good”. Hugh Davies, a researcher of technological history, says organised religion has long embraced technology: through evangelising and proselytising, religion has used media technologies, employing the best sculptors, architects, painters and musicians to produce spectacles that captivate the masses.
- According to A Replacement for Religion, many people find themselves in the "odd" situation of not believing in religion - but nevertheless being interested in it, moved by it and sympathetic to some of its aims. We may enjoy religious art and architecture, music and community, and even some of the rituals - while being unable to believe in divine commandments or the existence of a higher being. The book examines these feelings and what we might do about them, addressing such issues as how hard it is to find a sense of community, how rituals are dying out and how much we sometimes crave the solemn quiet you find in religious buildings, as well as the comfort offered by the belief in a deity.
- Spirituality has been defined by one researcher as “a personalised, subjective commitment to one’s values of connection to self, others, nature, and the transcendent”. In a 2017 survey across 15 Western countries, for example, 64% of respondents said even though they didn’t believe in God as described in the Bible, they believed in a higher power.
- Recent research suggests that religious experiences satisfy two basic functions of the brain: self-maintenance (“How do we survive as individuals and as a species?”) and self-transcendence (“How do we continue to evolve and change ourselves as people?”).
- Some suggest we are human animals whose brains “have been designed to blur the line between self and other”, and that we are always going to seek out activities – trance dance, prayer, communion – that remind us of and enhance this blur.
- Alain de Botton’s Religion for Athiests argues that the supernatural claims of religion are entirely false - but that it still has some very important things to teach the secular. It suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it - because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. de Botton proposes that we may look to religion for insights into how to, among other concerns, build a sense of community, make our relationships last, overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy, inspire travel and reconnect with the natural world. (Not everyone agrees with this sentiment, by any means: for The Clarion Review "de Botton’s effort misses the mark. His treatment of religions is undermined by his glib generalisations and his indifference to (or lack of awareness of) the reasons believers do what they know or believe is right".)
- Asking which came first: all-seeing gods or large societies, The Economist argued that the gods who watch over small societies tend to demand little more than deference. One theory holds that this is because in small societies, where everyone knows everyone, a supernatural policeman is not needed. But bigger societies need a different policing mechanism. So a “Big God”, who cares whether people do right by others, is a feature of most top religions.
- Atheism has grown significantly in recent years. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins sold over 3 million copies and some of philosophy’s biggest names are flying the flag of the non-believer. Yet simultaneously, some traditional religions like Christianity are growing faster now than ever before worldwide, suggesting that both belief and non-belief are here to stay.
- The Protestant work ethic is real, argued Quartz. In a study in the Philippines, villagers taught a religious curriculum saw a 9% increase in income relative to a control group taught a secular programme.
- Researchers created an artificial society to investigate religious conflict. The model found that two xenophobic groups that are in regular contact create “periods of mutually escalating anxiety”. In practice, such a policy would create moral concerns about separating and confining groups based on identity, as well as whether dividing groups based on religion should be a goal in any society, noted Quartz.
- A new report from Brookings thinktank looked at the projection of religious soft power, mainly Islam. The authors find that it is not just Saudi Arabia and Iran that seek to win hearts and minds. Many other countries and regimes—including Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia - are projecting their particular versions of Islam internationally.
- Belief in the Gods once filled lives with purpose and a vision of truth. Now many in the secular West dismiss the divine yet also rue the loss of meaning and belief. Is this because evidence and reason are not sufficient to make sense of the world, asked an iAi debate? Is there something about the world that is deeply strange and justifies spirituality? Or is the worldwide flourishing of religion a temporary blip in human history?
- The Conversation argued that idea that being atheist is down to rationality alone is starting to look distinctly irrational. But the good news for all concerned is that rationality is overrated. Human ingenuity rests on a lot more than rational thinking. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt says of “the righteous mind”, we are actually “designed to ‘do’ morality” – even if we’re not doing it in the rational way we think we are. The ability to make quick decisions, follow our passions and act on intuition are also important human qualities and crucial for our success.
- Has our scientific age outgrown religion? Is faith still an essential component of human existence? A philosopher and theologian argued for the importance of religion in the modern world. While celebrating the success and significance of science, claimed that atheism is a kind of scientistic hubris which leaves us bereft of meaning or purpose.
- According a study published in Religion, Brain & Behaviour, and reported by Big Think, it turns out that parents that talk about religion but fail to practice what they preach are more likely to produce atheists.
- Thomas Aquinas was a man of deep faith, and provided a philosophical framework for the process of doubt and open scientific inquiry. For The School of Life, he reminds us that wisdom (that is, the ideas we need) can come from multiple sources. From intuition but also from rationality, from science but also from revelation, from pagans but also from monks: he’s sympathetic to all of these; he takes and uses whatever works, without caring where the ideas come from.
- Further reading:
Asserting belief in the face of contradicting facts rejects the pursuit of truth, claimed Aeon, arguing that belief is not knowledge. Beliefs are factive: to believe is to take to be true.
However, when asked: do you consider yourself a religious person, yes, replied 62% of 60,000 people across 68 countries polled by WIN/Gallup for a survey published in 2017. Back in 2005, the score for that answer was 77%.
Age, income and education level play a role. Beliefs diminish as people earn more and/or have received a higher education. They also fade as people get older: the most recent survey compares 18-24-year-olds to over-65s, and consistently finds gaps in the belief in God (74% vs. 67%), life after death (60% vs. 45%), the soul (78% vs. 68%), hell (57% vs. 35%) and heaven (64% vs. 46%).
Professed religion is growing around the world - at 84% - through demographics, not conversion. But it’s on the wane in North America and western Europe, according to a Guardian survey of young adults. Christians are most numerous, followed by Muslims, with non-believers third. Wars spurred by religions are rising. Wherever religions hold sway, however, believes The Guardian, LGBT people are persecuted and women subjugated, Islamophobia and antisemitism flourish.
The major religions all make heavy use of ritual to inspire feelings of awe and devotion, but for those who grew up in secular backgrounds its power is mostly untapped. However, for atheists and agnostics, ritual doesn’t have to be synonymous with a church or mosque: it can be a conscious, creative, purposeful practice that can be woven into people's lives in other ways, and thereby make their experience all the richer for it.
- One of the most obvious but striking things about a modern education is that you go through it only once, noted The School of Life. You show up every day for a number of years, get filled up with knowledge and then, once you’re twenty-one or so, you stop - and begin the rest of your life. However, before modern education took off, the mightiest educational systems in the world were religions. It was religions that taught us about ethics, purpose and the meaning of life. And one of the interesting aspects of their pedagogy was that they were obsessed with repetition. For them, it was absurd to imagine ever learning anything if you went through it only once.
- New research measuring the importance of religion in 109 countries spanning the entire 20th century reignited an age-old debate around the link between secularisation and economic growth. The study, published in Science Advances, appeared to show that a decline in religion influences a country's future economic prosperity.
- iAi warned that, from religious crusades to acts of terrorism, moral convictions can be used to justify terrible acts. Some though might say the same of Western military intervention in the Middle East. Is morality, and the belief that we are on the right side of history, the root of appalling acts and not their solution? Or can we dismiss the morality of others and hold our own version of morality to be the one true version?
The number of people who claim to have “No religious belief” is fast-growing in America and Europe, but the number expressing religious belief is growing even faster. Big Think looked at the findings of a study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, which suggested that such believers were more likely to be women, intuitive thinkers, and less likely to think analytically.
Sacred choral music, which is enjoying a huge revival emerged to fill a need, explained The Economist. For centuries it brought people together in formal public worship. But it also answered an individual spiritual call, whether in singers or the silent. Young people today may be moving away from God, but the solace of the spiritual in music is as powerful as ever.
Columbia and Yale University researchers claimed they have isolated the place in our brains that processes spiritual experiences. Neuroscientists explain how they generated “personally relevant” spiritual experiences in a diverse group of subjects and scanned their brains while these experiences were happening. The results indicate that there is a “neurobiological home” for spirituality. When we feel a sense of connection with something greater than the self—whether transcendence involves communion with God, nature, or humanity—a certain part of the brain appears to activate.
Religion does not appear to be going away, argued Aeon. It remains a potent force in public life, whether it be for peasants pressing for land reforms in Brazil or women mobilising en masse to end civil war in Liberia. And more crucially, for the majority of people in the world faced with suffering and the perennial uncertainties of life, religion can bring comfort, understanding and identity. In 2000, when the World Bank spoke to women and men from 60 countries about what really mattered to them, they said living in ‘harmony’ with the transcendent mattered to them. A widow from Bangladesh, for instance, said that time for prayer was as essential to her welfare as a full stomach and mat to sleep on. For some, a meaningful life might even be the most basic human need.
- Some argue that all religious organisations should now be relegated to the status of private self-selected and self-constituted NGOs like trade unions and other lobby groups, should survive on what money they can raise from their adherents, should have the same and no more than the same rights and entitlements as any other such organisation and should stop getting privileges, money and an amplification for their views (views, never forget, derived from the beliefs of illiterate goat-herds in ancient times) from government. (The same philosopher created a non-religious Bible that draws from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions.)
- Spirituality, for many, seems ton involvw a sense of connection to a much greater whole, which can include an emotional experience of awe and reverence. However, for many others especially those who are inclined towards the pragmatic, there may be an increasing tension between their own values and spirituality.
- Many people are starting to try and understand and thereby influence the evolution of spirituality. One conscious effort to act on this has been the creation of 31 December each year as World Spirituality Day.
- Spirituality is of course, an ancient value, and previous attempts to make the whole of society more spiritually aware have occurred, for example, during both the Renaissance and even long before that, during the the so-called "Axial Age".
- At TED, psychologist Jonathan Haidt asked a simple, but difficult question: why do we search for self-transcendence? Why do we attempt to lose ourselves? In a tour through the science of evolution by group selection, he proposed a provocative answer.
- David Foster Wallace said that everybody worships and,"The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship - be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some intangible set of ethical principles."