Key research areas & recent findings
Does religion enhance (pro)sociality?
causal directions, effects of religious priming, real behavior
impact of the in-/out-group status, role of religious dimensions
explanatory processes, cross-religious differences
Agnostic, not atheist: what makes the difference?
Neurotic, but also other-oriented and open-minded
Are agnostics a psychologically distinct group of nonbelievers? We found agnostics to be equally analytic in thinking but more neurotic than atheists (closet atheists?), but also more other-oriented and spiritual (resembling believers), and the most open-minded compared to atheists and believers.
Fundamentalism is similar across religious cultures
in dimensionality, components, and outcomes
In a 14-country study, we found fundamentalism to be uni-dimensional and to reflect, similarly across religions, dogmatic belief and moral rigorism, and, occasionally, strong groupness; and thus to predict inter-religious prejudice, with some variability between outgroups and between cultures.
Religious morality is righteous more than caring:
it is primarily coalitional, "hygienic", and deontological
In a meta-analysis of 45 studies on religion and moral foundations and a review of 27 studies on religion and moral deontology vs. consequentialism, we found that religious morality is primarily righteous (coalitional, hygienic, and deontological) over caring—only spirituality equally endorses both.
4Bs: identifiable across religions and cultures
distinct psychological characteristics and hierarchies by culture
We identified the 4 religious dimensions (believing, bonding, behaving, belonging) across almost all major world religions (14 countries). These four relate differently to personality, socio-cognitive rigidity, life satisfaction, spirituality, and fundamentalism, and their hierarchy varies across religions.
Deconverts: midway between atheists and believers
in personality and values
Do deconverts resemble the nonbelievers they become (following similar personal dispositions) or the religious they were (due to religious education)? We found deconverts to resemble socialized nonbelievers in neuroticism and low conservatism, but to differ on spirituality and non-materialistic values.
Atheists' prejudice differs from religious prejudice
in motives and values and capacity for "sin-sinner" distinction
(Liberal) nonbelievers' antireligious prejudice differs from (conservative) religionists' prejudice: it is motivated by liberal values (rationality, autonomy) and distrust of others and the word; and reflects effective distinction between religious acts/ideas to oppose and religious persons not to discriminate.
Religiosity predicts low sexual affects and behavior
partly differently for Christians and Muslims
In two samples of Christian and Muslim tradition, religiosity predicted less frequent heterosexual behaviors, through sexual guilt, inhibition, and low sexual fantasy and search for sexual pleasure. But, in Muslims, religiosity did not directly undermine fertility-oriented sexuality and the search for pleasure.
Atheists are prejudiced against ideological opponents
i.e. anti-liberals, fundamentalists, but also mere religionists
In a study in three EU countries, whereas both believers and nonbelievers were found to dislike antiliberal groups (antigay activists & fundamentalists), atheists and agnostics showed prejudicial discriminatory attitudes toward antiliberals, but also mere Christians; and atheists did so also tw. Buddhists.
Religious morality is mostly similar across cultures
but still religious denomination and culture matter
In an extended review of cross-cultural & international studies, we found key similarities bt the world religions on moral issues related to family, sexuality, altruism, & work, but also nuances depending on country-level factors, and differences in moral issues related to economy, environment, & citizenship.
Personality characteristics of religion across cultures:
some are similar but others depend on the cultural context
Cross-cultural evidence across continents reveals agreeableness (consistently) and conscientiousness (not in East Asia) as quasi-universals of religiosity, but also differences on religion's links with all big five personality traits following the civilizational zone and other cultural differences at the country-level.
Opposing (antiliberal) Muslim ideas does not protect
from discriminating Muslims as persons
In two experiments, Western Europeans were able to distinguish between opposing Muslim antiliberal ideas and not discriminating a Muslim, compared to a Christian, target for a noble cause, but they still showed discrimination by penalizing more a Muslim than a Christian antiliberal.
Religious priming increases sexism
for sure, benevolent sexism, even among women
Across four experiments in Belgium and the US, priming religious concepts consistently increased subtle, benevolent, sexism (protective paternalism, traditional gender roles, idealized purity), in men and women, believers or not, of Catholic and Protestant background.
Need for social closeness: higher among the religious
Just to be together, not strictly for prosocial motives
Across three studies using implicit and behavioral measures, religious people showed high social closeness by implicitly preferring pictures involving affiliation, siting close to a chair previously occupied by someone else, and playing with an ingroup member in a Cyberball game.
Compassion: in favor of or against child euthanasia?
The interplay of ideological, cognitive, and emotional factors
In a study among Belgian adults, those who disapproved child euthanasia tended to be religious, hold collectivistic values (loyalty & purity), had low flexibility in existential issues, and showed mixed prosocial dispositions, i.e. high emotional empathy, but not necessarily valuing care and fairness.
Struggling between deontology and consequentialism:
Religious people focus on the severity of consequences
What if (impersonal) deontology and care/consequentalism are in conflict? Using moral dilemmas, we found that religiosity predicts deontology over prosociality (partly due to purity) when the consequences for the target are minor, but not when they are severe: care has a suppressor effect.