Religion and Cognitive Style ProjectThe Cognitive Style and Religious Attitudes Project is a collaboration between two doctoral students at Boston University, Jonathan Morgan and Connor Wood, as well as Dr. Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California and doctoral student Thomas Talhelm of the University of Virginia. The objective of the project is to test a group of related hypotheses that make predictions about cognitive style, religious attitudes, and the local-cosmopolitan axis of psychological orientation. The team hopes that their research data, which will be gathered through online surveys at the website ExploringMyReligion.org, will help shed light on how social, cultural, cognitive, and personality factors influence – and are influenced by – religious belief. The resulting publications will contribute to conversations in the scientific study of religion, political psychology, moral psychology, political science, and related fields.

Key personnel: Jonathan Morgan, Connor P. Wood, Ravi Iyer, Thomas Talhelm.

Cognitive Style and Religious Attitudes Project: An Introduction

Holistic AnalyticalIn 2010, Joe Henrich and several of his colleagues at the University of British Columbia made a fascinating discovery: people in the industrialized world are weird. That is, WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Compared with the rest of the world, inhabitants of North American and European societies (including Australia and New Zealand) were much more analytical, as opposed to holistic, in their cognitive styles. This means, for example, that an American or European looking at a painting would be more likely to see a number of discrete, isolated elements: a tree here, a figure there. Meanwhile, people from other parts of the world would be more likely to see a complete whole: a landscape, within which was contained various elements. The Cognitive Style and Religious Attitudes project is an initiative by IBCSR to study the relationship between such cognitive orientations and religious belief – a relationship that may get at the heart of contemporary ideological polarization and religion-science tension.

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