Religion's Surprising Persistence

While on a speaking tour in London in 1897, Mark Twain learned that rumors were spreading that he was on his deathbed. In response, he quipped, something to the effect that, "Rumors of my death are great exaggerated." One could argue the same about religion. Social scientists and philosophers have confidently been predicting its demise for several centuries, but it continues to thrive. Rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, available evidence suggests that the world's getting more religious, not less ("Trends in World Religions: More, not Less").

 

This section, in addition to noting any errors in the book, will provide links to articles, blog posts, and other books that explore various explanations as to why religious belief and practice continues to thrive in the modern world. Two lines of thought that I find intriguing are the arguments (1) of cognitive scientists of religion who contend that religion is cognitively easy or natural for people to embrace, and (2) of the sociologist of religion, Christian Smith, who believes that the primary drive in life is the quest for meaning and belonging. With regard to the former, by natural cognitive scientists don’t mean that it is hardwired into us and that therefore everyone is naturally religious and those who aren't are somehow "unnatural." Rather, they argue that a belief in a God, gods, or a supernatural force is a natural outcome of the maturational process. It is, in other words, easy for us to believe. I explored this phenomenon a few years ago in a series of blog posts ("Why It's Easy to Believe in God","Religion, Fast and Slow","Religion's Surprising (at least to some) Persistence"). More recently, I've examined Smith's argument ("Moral, Believing, and Storytelling Animals"). His basic contention is that we are all believers in one or more "world views," which provide us with a sense of direction and purpose. If Smith is correct, then religion (or at least some religions) is well-positioned to offer individuals world view that gives them a sense of meaning and belonging. It also fits quite nicely with the idea that religious belief and practice is "natural."

Errata

None noted so far.

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