Once people accept the historical emergence and spread of science as a unique discursive formation, it becomes nonsense to talk about the relationship between religion and science, or religion as a kind of science in societies that have not yet encountered or internalized this development. Religion and science cannot be judged or compared along a single axis of measurement, and therefore they will continue to irritate or complement each other. The de facto identification of science with abstract reason and religion with engaged performance, the incommensurability of science and religion in the modern world, the destabilization of the transcendent or foundational claims of each, and the ultimate uncertainty that their conjunction or opposition imposes, all beg for triangulation with a third construct: namely, ethics.
Science is the only path to understanding. It would be contaminated rather than enriched by any alliance with religion. Such should be the attitude of a scientifically alert atheist. This article elaborates and justifies this core attitude. There are those who consider that the domain of science is restricted to some kind of ‘physical world’, whereas religion deals with the ‘spiritual’. A scientific atheist holds that the domain of science is the physical world, but considers there is no other variety of world, and that the ‘spiritual’ is an illusion generated by a physical brain. The discussion considers the nature of this belief and distinguishes it from religious belief.
The last few years have seen a great deal of research on the association between religion, spirituality, and medical outcomes. This research has not been without controversy however, in terms of methodological and analytical issues. One particular under-researched area concerns the increasingly visible sub-population of individuals who identify themselves as ‘nonreligious’, a group that includes atheists, agnostics and individuals who believe in god(s) but do not identify with one particular religion. As a result, relatively little is known about the health and quality of life within this particular group, not only in comparison to religious individuals, but also within nonreligious populations as well. This essay covers three major issues: (1) a brief summary of the controversies concerning religion-health research; (2) what the current research does indicate about the nonreligious, particularly about affirmative atheists (as opposed to simply ‘nonreligious’); and (3) reasons for the neglect of nonreligious individuals to date and reasons for increasing attention to them.
Robert A. Segal
There has long been tension, not between social scientists and practitioners of religion, but between social scientists and scholars of religious studies, referred to here as ‘religionists’. Religionists have conventionally assumed that the social sciences are guilty of multiple sins, none of them forgivable: ignoring the proverbial believer's point of view; denying the irreducibly religious nature of religion; analysing religion exclusively functionally, reductively, and explanatorily; analysing religion exclusively materially and behaviourally; and denying the truth of religion. This article maintains that the social sciences – anthropology, sociology, psychology, and economics – are guilty of none of these charges, which rest on their misconstrual. Ironically, those religionists who contend that contemporary social scientists have come round to accepting the religionist approach likewise misconstrue the social sciences.
This chapter discusses Jewish environmental ethics. It focuses on what two central biblical stories—the Garden of Eden and the Flood—tell us about Jewish ecological ethics as the Torah itself tells those stories, and as the later rabbis interpreted and expanded them, with special concern for the emerging ethics of Eco-Judaism. In so doing, the chapter illustrates how the Jewish tradition uses midrash, the interpretation of texts and their literary nuances, to discover meanings in sacred texts that make them ever relevant to us in changing times and circumstances. It briefly develops one of the Torah's laws on ecology, and an emerging interest on the part of some Jews to understand God differently to reflect our current ecological understanding of life as one integrated whole, in order to demonstrate how Jewish law and theology are relevant to ecology.
This article considers a broad selection of mystical writings to identify in ecstatic mystical experience two fundamental dimensions: a feeling of self-transcendence and an extremely high level of positive affect. The article argues that pain is instrumental in promoting both experiences and is therefore extremely pervasive among mystics who report ecstatic states of consciousness. A brief critical survey looks at scholarly literature that has touched on the subject of pain in religious experience. A number of neuroscientific theories are examined as ways of explaining the role of pain in the production of transcendent states of consciousness, and a phenomenological approach is used for exploring the role of pain in the production of positive affect. The article argues that the mystics’ use of pain cannot be fully understood without taking into account the scientific and phenomenological terrain of positive affect.
This essay suggests that atheists endorse a range of naturalistic beliefs, such as belief in progress and in science. Social-psychological evidence for this belief replacement hypothesis, where naturalistic beliefs take the place of supernatural ones, is reviewed. Atheists seem to implicitly use their naturalistic beliefs to alleviate feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and stress, a psychological function which, until recently, had only been reported for religious beliefs. The second part of the essay focuses on motivational implications of being an atheist. Here, it is argued that atheists are particularly driven by a desire for self-mastery and, secondarily, by a sensation seeking need to engage in intense and pleasurable activities. A number of sociological, social-psychological, narrative, and sexual-behavioural studies are reviewed to support this idea. The essay concludes by highlighting the human need to believe and the importance of studying the process, rather than the content, of beliefs.
Raymond F. Paloutzian
Three of the five integrative themes in this article seem straightforward: the path of the research, the role of the psychology of religion, and the methods–theory–methods feedback loop. The other two are pivotal. The multilevel interdisciplinary paradigm and the model of religion as a meaning system may be intellectual devices that can foster more expansive research programmes and more visionary theoretical integration. The psychology of religion has developed to such a degree during the past quarter-century that its contributions to the science–religion dialogue are compelling. The boundaries within the subdisciplines of psychology are diminishing, and in their place, people see the rise of research that pulls together ideas from previously isolated lines of work. Similarly, cross-fertilization of psychological research with allied fields has increased, and this trend will continue.
Richard K. Fenn
In studying social order, sociologists of religion investigate the sacred. When a social system begins to emerge from the flux of everyday life, it develops boundaries that separate it from those outside. To signify the continuity of certain relationships over time, to give them an identity, and to mark their difference from other relationships, social systems define themselves in symbols, construct themselves through rituals, and realize themselves through practices. Whether it is called the numinous or the holy, charisma or mana, the sacred is always somewhat mysterious. In all of its manifestations, whether personal or social, natural or supernatural, the sacred provides only a limited embodiment of unfulfilled possibilities. What might well be called the upper-case Sacred, then, or the Sacred itself, comprises the set of all possibilities that any social system must necessarily exclude.