Laundry Day

Today is laundry day! Sheri, my wife, knows that I have never been excited about laundry before. Since we don’t have washers at the training FOB (Forward Operating Base), we get to go back to main post to do laundry. At our building there, we also have air conditioning and a good internet connection. So, for the moment, laundry is a good thing.

It’s amazing how one’s priorities change relative to the circumstances. You find that very small things bring great happiness: running water, toilets that flush, a small piece of chocolate, and waking up at 1:00 in the morning and realizing that you don’t have to get up until 4:00.  Joy can be found in places you would never expect.

Pray for peace…

Bullets and Sleep

The unit had a night fire last night, and returned to the compound (affectionately known as cell block B) last night after midnight. We then got up at 4:00 this morning to go get smallpox shots and the second round of the anthrax shots. They then went to another live fire range immediately after the shots. I’m not sure that giving real bullets to a bunch of ticked-off soldiers with less than four hours sleep is a good idea.

Pray for peace…

Birthday Party

img_0033-tents_small.jpgYesterday was my birthday. We convoyed from our beautiful home in the woods (see picture) to the main part of the base. The soldiers went to practice firing their weapons, and I walked down to the main chapel to pick up some communion supplies. When we got back, I stepped into the tent for a moment, and stepped out into a crowd. Somehow, the soldiers had managed to get a decorated cake out into the field. The box was slightly crushed after the HUMVEE ride, so the decoration said


Everyone sang, then we cut the cake with a big Gerber knife, and ate cake.

All in all, it’s not a bad way to spend one’s birthday.

Pray for peace…Yesterday was my birthday. We are currently training at an Army base in the states, but staying in a compound designed to be like a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Iraq or Afghanistan. We convoyed from our beautiful home in the woods (see picture) to the main part of the base. The soldiers went to practice firing their weapons, and I walked down to the main chapel to pick up some communion supplies. When we got back, I stepped into the tent for a moment, and stepped out into a crowd. Somehow, the soldiers had managed to get a decorated cake out into the field. The box was slightly crushed after the HUMVEE ride, so the decoration said:


Everyone sang, then we cut the cake with a big Gerber knife, and ate a very good cake. The next morning, I had many messages from colleagues at OBU.

All in all, it’s not a bad way to spend one’s birthday.

Pray for peace…

Welcome to the Army, One More Time

I teach philosophy at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, but have recently been mobilized as a chaplain for a unit that will soon deploy to Iraq. I hope to use this blog to let family (especially my loving, and much loved, wife and daughter) and friends know what I am doing.

For security reasons, I will not post specific details, but only general information concerning my experiences as an Army chaplain. Feel free to comment, but also feel free to pray for soldiers, their families, and for peace.

Randy Ridenour

NGBTS Psychology of Religion

Religion in Psychological Perspective

  • Nothing has sparked more controversy and argument than religion.
  • Religion prompts people to do wonderful acts of love
  • Also horrible acts of brutality
  • What does psychological research have to say about religion?

Prevalence and Scope

  • US
    • 91% of population believes in God
    • 58% pray daily
    • 56% say religion very important in their lives
    • 23% say fairly important
    • 30% say they are non-religious
  • Canada
    • 30% willing to embrace religioun
  • UK
    • 30% religious
  • 2 billion Christians
  • Just over 1 billion Muslims
  • 1 billion Buddhists
  • 1 billion Hindus
  • Atheists second most disliked people in US
  • Affects our lives
  • Plays a part in national affairs.
  • We need to understand the forms of religion to help us see the meaning it holds for the people involved.
  • Questions
    • What are the processes that form spirituality?
    • What are the mental, physical, social effects?
  • What is psychology of religion?
  • Why study psychology of religion?
  • Until 1960, religion and spirituality meant the same thing.
  • Divergent meanings now.
  • Religion refers to established faith traditions.
    • Histories
    • Organizations
    • Practices
  • People began to look outside religion to find meaning
  • Combinations of spiritual and religious

What is religion?

Different uses of the concept.

Cultural and Personal

  • How does this function in a person’s life?
  • Give meaning
  • Provide code of ethics
  • Gives one truth to believe
  • What do you personally believe, and how does it function in your life?
  • What does it do to and for you?
  • How does it affect what you do, your health, etc?
  • Cultural
  • Social institution
  • Religion in culture may not be the same as in the individual.

Function and Substance

  • Functional role of religion
  • Substantive definition says what is believed is important.

Function Substance
Personal Serves religious purpose Unique beliefs
Social Performs religious function for society Formal creed, public stance


  • Religion is a search for significance in ways related to the sacred
  • Significance: something that matters
  • Sacred: Something that is set apart for some reason
  • Circular definition: a person’s religion is whatever they say it is.

Dimensions of Religiousness

Combinations of religious belief with knowledge and effects on life.

page 23

Ninian Smart’s dimensions of religion

Believing — Ideology

  • What is believed
  • Basis for belief
  • How strongly is it held
  • Different categories of belief
    • Bottom line, or essential ground
    • Purpose of humanity
    • How to implement that purposen

Practice: Ritual

  • Behaviors
  • More or less central to faith

Feeling: Experience

Knowledge: Understanding

  • What knowledge do you have about your faith?
  • Know what you believe, but also why you believe it.

Effects: Consequences

  • Impact on life

Dimensions in combination

Psychological Roots

  1. Neuro-physiological
  2. Learning, reinforcement, modeling
  3. Values, fulfillment
  4. Social influence
  5. Historical roots
  6. Multicultural

History of psychology of religion

  • Beginning 1900
    • Starbuck
    • James
    • Associated with spiritualism
  • 1927-1967: no work in psychology of religion
    • Scientific or religious
    • Competition for clients
    • Split of psychology and philosophy
    • What changed?
  • Religious violence

Barbour’s Model of Science and Religion

  1. Conflict
  2. Parallel
  3. Dialogue
  4. Integration

Psychology as a Science

  • Assumes laws
  • World of observation and world of abstract concepts
  • Scientific method

Psychological Theories


  • Freud, writing 1900 — 1930
    • Two levels: cultural and personal
    • Cultural
      • Subdue antisocial tendencies to selfishness and aggression
      • Helps society to operate smoothly
    • Personal
      • Unconscious core is pleasure seeking
      • Ego and superego repress expression of these motivations
      • Religion serves the ego and superego
      • Religion keeps inappropriate social behaviors in check
      • Led to tendency to neurosis by suppressing natural motivations
      • Healthy person can accommodate needs and social restraints
      • Unhealthy person suffers psychological conflict
    • Jung
      • Ego psychology
      • Emphasizes part of mind that satisfies unconscious desires and guides person to do so in socially acceptable ways.
      • Mind contains built-in universal ideas that motivate people to seek their real-world counterparts.
        • Mother, for example
      • God is an archetype, an unconscious reality
      • Humans born with tendency to search for and find God.
    • Rizzuto
      • Object relations theory
        • Emphasizes mental representation of God and person’s relation to that representation.

Attachment Theory

  • Attachment of child to caregiver formed early
  • Varies in type and quality
  • Type and strength will determine whether people gravitate toward belief in God later
  • Three types: secure, insecure, avoidant
  • Secure —— child orients to caregiver, is comforted. Feels safe and secure.
  • Secure: least likely to experience religious conversion
  • Insecure: need a safe haven, search for loving God.

Uncertainty-Identity Theory

  • Too much uncertainty upsets stability, which disturbs sense of identity
  • Religion provides a sense of who you are.
  • Uncertainty is part of life
  • Too much is stressful
  • Cope with stress by joining group
  • Group provides identity
  • Can create boundaries between individuals and other groups.
  • Extreme: dehumanization of other groups

Need for Meaning

  • Victor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning
  • Nazi concentration camp
  • Fundamental motive is a search for meaning
  • Fulfilled only by something outside self
  • Unconscious need for transcendence
    • Religious, loved one, cause
    • Anything other than self will do
    • Best in life is selfless, not selfish

Attribution Theory

  • Attribution is inferred
  • Common-sense attributions
    • People who believe that God is active in world are more likely to say that something is God’s will
  • Paradoxical attributions
    • Adults who were victims of religiously motivated abuse as children are more likely to see God as involved int heir upbringing.

Neurological Cognitive Substrate

  • Region is a brain function
  • Tibetan Buddhists and Catholic nuns
    • Same brain event
    • Meaning of experience reported differently

Cognitive Anthropomorphism

  • We engage with nonhuman world the same way we engage with humans
  • Makes sense of things we don’t understand

Cognitive Structures

  • Religion is a way of processing information and making sense of the world.

Cognitive Processes

  • Human cognition system has some flexibility
  • Flexibility is important
  • We take the idea of human, make small changes, create idea of God
  • Naturally occurs
  • Objection, doesn’t explain why people believe

Group Selection

  • Religion gives survival benefit, not needed in every member of the group.

Big Gods

  • Need a way to hold people accountable as society grows.

Cultural Psychology

  1. A religion can be considered a culture. Both constructs include notions of shared values, norms, symbols, and practices that define the group and the expectations for members.
  2. Members of a religion and members of a national or ethnic group may be one in the same, as when all people in a country follow the same beliefs. In such cases, we cannot separate the effects of the religion from the effects of the national or ethnic aspects.
  3. The shape that a religion takes may result from the culture in which it happens to be placed.
  4. A religion and the larger culture may interact to produce unique effects that would not otherwise appear.

Logic and Methods

  • How do we know what we think we know?
  • How do we formulate good questions?
    • Many methods, each has its strengths.
  • Two axes
    • Individual and group
    • Qualitative and quantitative
  • Qualitative
    • Biography, interviews, observation
    • Interpret the meaning of raw material, often interviews
    • Tendency to be subjective
    • Need to control for bias of the researcher
      • Have several independent analyses
  • Quantitative
    • Self-ratings or other measurable behaviors
  • Need both
  • Preventing bias
    • Bias can be in both procedures and interpretation
  • Bias from religious differences in population and psychologists
    • Americans in general are twice as religious as psychologists
    • Ashiq Ali Shah and Sebastian Murken in “From Conflict to Dialogue” in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 2002

Measuring Religious Variables

  • We don’t measure religion
  • We measure particular variables
    • Number of times a person went to church during a period
    • Reported degree of satisfaction with a church
    • Blood flow, brain activity

Simple identification approach

  • Ask people what they believe and do
    • Place data in category
    • Strengths: easy, versatile
    • Weaknesses: can be misleading, imprecise categories
      • Example: different churches count membership in different ways

Factors and Scales

  • 66 good measuring tools
  • Criteria
    • Conceptual clarity
      • Clear idea of what is to be measured
    • Sample representativeness
      • Clear about what sample the tool is designed for (religious and non-religious groups, religious groups only, etc.)
    • Cultural sensitivity
      • Measures appropriate to the meaning of religious language in the culture
    • Sustained research program
      • Can stand the test of time
    • Alternative to self-report and simple category
      • Only used when simple identification approach would fail
  • Recent progress in scales to measure international and multi-cultural religion

Research Methods

  • Need to state the question clearly
  • Describe the goal precisely

Lab Experiments

  • Most precise
  • Closest to cause-effect conclusion
  • Manipulate the independent variable
  • See if a change occurs in the dependent variable
  • Example: does thinking about religion have emotional effects?
    • Give people a list of non-religious words to read, followed by a list of religious words
    • Measure pulse-rate, respiratory rate, skin capacitance. See if there is a change
  • Controlled experiment
    • Subjects randomly assigned to two groups
    • Experimental group gets suspected cause
    • Control group does not
    • Test if there is a difference in the level of the effect in the two groups
    • Blind experiment: subjects don’t know which group they are in
    • Double-blind: the experimenter also does not know which group the subjects are in
    • Very hard to do in the context of religion.
      • Example: does conversion result in a greater sense of satisfaction with life?
        • Can’t randomly select people to be converted
      • Example: does prayer cause healing?
        • Can’t be sure the control group is not being prayed for


  • Survey is procedure
  • Questionnaire is instrument
  • Measures what people claim
  • Does not measure actual behavior


  • Surveys are samples
  • Population: whole group you are studying
  • Sample: subset of the population
  • A good sample is
    • Not too small
    • Not biased
  • A sample is representative if it matches the population in every respect
  • A sample is random if every member of the population has an equal chance to be included in the sample.
  • Random samples are more likely to be representative than non-random samples
  • Bad surveys
    • Self-selected
    • Ignore order effects
    • Ask slanted questions
  • Margin of error: the range from the survey result that the right answer could be in
    • If N is the sample size and the population is very large, then the margin of error at the 95% confidence level is roughly 1 divided by the square root of N.

Developmental Processes


  • Children are involved in religion in ways that have lifelong consequences.
  • Outcome depends on parents

Ancient Wisdom

Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Child Religious Development

  • Children are not adults
  • Minds do not work like adults’.
  • May not mean the same thing by religious words.
  • Ideas are hung on words. Adults have many words, children only a few.
  • Questions children ask
    • Does God die like everyone else?
    • How does God pick up the dead people?
    • How old is God?
  • View prayer as a tool.
    • “Next time I’m going to pray before I throw the dice!”

Stages of Religious Concepts

  1. Fairy-tale stage (3-6)
  2. Realistic stage (7-12)
  3. Individualistic stage (13-18)

Why was Moses afraid to look at God?

  1. Because God had a funny face
  2. Because it was a ball of fire or bright light.
  3. Because God is holy and the world is sinful.


  • Children asked about prayer
  • Global, undifferentiated stage (5-7)
  • Concrete, differentiated stage (7-9)
    • Uttering requests
  • Abstract, differentiated stage (11-12)
    • Conversation with God

Learning and Socialization

  • Learning is based on reward, punishment, reinforcement, imitation and modeling.
  • Attachment theory
    • Children need haven of safety and secure base


  • US and China on origin of the world
  • US, 8-10, prefer creation
  • China, uniformly evolution
  • Views about soul
    • Children apply it to plants, furniture
    • Mennonite children did not.
  • Parenting styles
    • Authoritarian
      • Demanding, not responsive
    • Authoritative
      • Demanding and responsive
    • Permissive
      • Not demanding, responsive (give in to children)
    • Rejecting
      • Neither demanding nor responsive
  • Authoritative parenting has greatest chance of developing socially responsible children.


  • Peers
  • Increased mental ability
  • Individuation and identity
  • Doubt


Story: druggist charging ten times (2,000 dollars)for medicine than it costs to make. Woman will die without the drug. Druggist refuses to sell it for the 1,000 dollars that her husband has raised. Husband breaks in and steals the drug. Was he right?


  1. Punishment and obedience stage
  2. Instrumental relativist orientation
    1. Right and wrong are determined by reward
  3. Interpersonal concordance (good boy)
  4. Social system maintenance
  5. Social contract orientation
  6. Universal ethical principles

Lifespan Models

Stages of Faith Development

  1. Primal, Undifferentiated Faith
    1. 0-2 years, foundations of hope, trust, loyalty made with relationship to caregiver. Mistakes here create foundation of mistrust and lack of faith.
  2. Intuitive–Projective Faith
    1. 3-7, tendency to imagination
  3. Mythic–Literal Faith
    1. 7-11, lessons and moral rules taken literally, greater understanding.
  4. Synthetic–Conventional Faith
    1. 12 and up, many factors influence life, faith synthesizes all of those factors. Gives identity.
  5. Inductive–Reflective Faith
    1. Reaction to tensions, critically self-reflective, development of unique individual identity and worldview. May begin late adolescence to 30’s or 40’s.
  6. Conjunctive Faith
    1. Development of epistemological humility. Start to reject exclusive dichotomies in certain contexts. Begins before midlife if at all.
  7. Universalizing Faith
    1. See beyond human categories, feel a oneness with ultimate reality.


  • 88% of children 0-6 were in stage 1.
    • 12% transitioning to stage 2.
  • 7-12, 72% at stage 2.
    • 17% transition to 3, 10% still in 1.
  • 13-20, 50% at stage 3.
    • 29% transition to 4.
  • 21-30, 40% at 4.
    • 33% at 3-4
    • Smaller percentages at surrounding stages.
  • 31-40, 38% in stage 3.
  • 41-50, 56% in stage 4.
    • 9% in 3n


  • Heavily cognitive, ignores practice and behavior.
  • No attention to personality.
  • Ignores life events.

Faith Styles

  • Evidence shows that at early stages of faith development, subjects think that one has faith or fear, not both. Decisions are eternal or temporal but not both.
  • Later stages tend to see both ends at the same time.

Religion in the Individual

  • Adults should show coherence in traits, attitudes, values, goals, and sense of self.
  • A person who had a clear developmental path should function as a integrated whole, not set of dissociated, separate parts.
  • Internally consistent meaning system is key

The Whole Person

  • The religious person is involved in the processes of
    • Believing
    • Bonding (emotions and attachments)
    • Behaving
    • Belonging

Psychology of the Whole Person

  • Three levels of interdependent processes: core traits, goals, identity and worldview


  • Dispositions
    • Kind, extrovert, etc.

Midlevel Functions

  • Goals, purposes, values
  • Goals can be short term and specific or long term and abstract.
  • Much of religion is at this level.

Identity and Worldview

  • Self-identity: how you define yourself.
  • Factors that determine how you understand and interpret reality.

Self as Construct

  • The self is made, not found.
  • The self you are today is not the same as yesterday.


  • Five-factor model
    • Openness to experience
    • Conscientiousness
    • Extroversion
    • Agreeableness
    • Neuroticism
  • A sixth, spirituality, has been suggested.

Spiritual Intelligence

  • Ultimate Concern: things that a person holds in absolute or highest importance.
  • Spiritual Intelligence: the ability to define goals and purposes that are part of UC and act to move towards UC.


  • People convert in large numbers
  • People also deconvert


  • Most stay with the religion of their upbringing.
  • US – 30% switch from one religion to another.
  • 10-20% deconvert, claim no religion.
  • When adults change to another religion or to none:
    • 40% say that a major reason was the teachings of the religion.
      • 25% say this was a minor reason
    • 33% say they found a religion that was more fulfilling.
      • 15% – minor reason
    • 50% say change due to dissatisfaction with the local church.
    • 50% say change due to leaders struggling with each other over control.
  • Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism are missionary religions.
  • In US, half of very religious people think it is necessary to bring others into the religion.
    • For 6%, the goal is to convert the whole society, so it conforms to their beliefs and practices.
  • Conversion best seen as a process.
    • Intellectual, moral, and social conversions.
    • Intellectual: change in belief.
    • Moral: change in attitude to behavior.
    • Social: change in attitude to social environment.


  • Is conversion active or passive?
    • Active: by choice
    • Passive: by psychological processes.
  • Answer: both.


  • Are slow changes conversions?

Spiritual Transformation

  • Change in religion
  • Change to no religion
  • Change in level of commitment.
  • Change in specific element of religion.
  • Change in goals of religion.

How Meaning System Changes

  • Inputs: doubts and social influence
    • Doubts may be caused by observed hypocrisy, etc.
  • Effects: beliefs, attitudes and values, goals, purposes, self-identity and worldview, ultimate concerns.
  • Outputs: Belief change, small or big


  • Need
  • Doubt
  • Context and resources
  • Elimination of barriers
  • Implementation

Conversion Types

  • Sudden
  • Gradual
  • Religious socialization (can’t remember not believing the faith.)

Individual Factors

  • Secularizing exit: Termination of (concern with) religious belief and praxis and, eventually, disaffiliation from organized religion
  • Oppositional exit: Adopting a different system of beliefs and engaging in different ritual practices, while affiliating with a higher tension, more oppositional religious organization, which could mean, for example, conversion into a fundamentalist group
  • Religious switching: Migration to a religious organization with a similar system of beliefs and rituals and with no, or only marginal, difference in terms of integration in the surrounding culture
  • Integrating exit: Adopting a different system of beliefs and engaging in different ritual practices, while affiliating with an integrated or more accommodated religious organization
  • Privatizing exit: Disaffiliating from a religious organization, eventually including termination of membership, but continuation of private religious belief and private religious praxis
  • Heretical exit: Disaffiliating from a religious organization, eventually including termination of membership, and individual heretical appropriation of new belief system(s) or engagement in different religious praxis but without new organizational affiliation


  • Experience is private
  • Experience is interpreted to be consistent with belief.
  • Ordinary experience
  • Extraordinary experience
    • Ineffable
    • Noetic
    • Potent
    • Memorable
    • Immediacy
    • Numinous (provide sense of the presence of the holy)
    • Nonrepresentational
  • Causes and Consequences
    • Religious belief leads to experience
    • Experience leads to religious belief
    • Reciprocity

Common-Core Thesis

  • Religious experiences are the same, only interpreted differently.
  • Constructivism: experience must be mediated by language and belief.
  • Particular regions of the brain are active during religious practice.

Religion as Schema

  • Schema: packet of information available about a subject.
  • Influence perception, memory
  • Example: alcohol experiment
  • Perceptual set: beliefs and emotions that affect perception.


  • Context
  • Authority
  • Controlled experiment
    • Experiment with helmet

Religion and Well-Being

  • Good and bad ways of being religious.
  • Some religious believers exhibit strange behavior.
  • 1978: members of The People’s Church in San Francisco followed Jim Jones to Guyana and drank a poisoned drink. Over 900 died.
  • Some psychologists think all religion is bad.
  • Psychotic people often use religious language and concepts.
  • Says nothing about how they are used in normal people.

Mental Health

  • Problem of defining mental health
  • Different theories portray mental health differently.
  • Is seeing the world accurately a healthy thing?
    • Tends to be associated with mild depression.
    • Mental health may be seeing through positive illusions.
  • Converts tend to have more childhood trauma, unhappier adolescence, more personal stress in two years preceding conversion.
    • Suggests turn to religion to satisfy psychological needs.
  • Religious belief can facilitate mental disorder.
    • Example of Orthodox Jew.
    • Convert to Christianity
    • Family held funeral.
    • Became seriously mentally ill.
    • Can’t know the causal relation.

Religion and Emotions

  • If you take your religion seriously, it will affect your emotional functioning and sense of well-being.
  • Positive:
    • Wholeness, relief, gratitude
    • Meaning, purpose, values
    • People with mental illness tend to have a low sense of meaning.
    • Highly religious people tend to have high sense of meaning.
    • People who value pleasure, excitement, and comfort have low sense of meaning.
    • Suggests that the life of a religious person is purposeful.
  • Negative
    • Struggle, anger, guilt
      • Problem of suffering
      • Two responses
        • Anger at God, leave the faith.
        • Conclude that the bad thing is really good in God’s perspective.
      • Struggle over our own lack of goodness
    • Emptiness, distance, alienation

Religion and Psychological Disorders

  • Anxiety
    • More people attend worship, the less likely they are to suffer from panic disorder.
    • Higher reported spirituality, more likely to suffer panic attacks.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
    • Higher attendance = lower lifetime depression
  • PTSD
    • More religious = fewer PTSD symptoms (Study in Iran)
    • Study in US
      • People who pray for help, calm, and focus had lower PTSD
      • People who prayed for the problem to be taken away had more.
  • Psychoses
    • Report that religion gives a sense of meaning that helps them accept their illness as part of life.
      • Decreased suicide and substance abusen

Religion and Coping

  • Degree to which you let your religion be part of the process of dealing with life events.
    • Key is not how much, but how
      • Who is doing what, when and where and why.

Religion and Health-Related Issues

  • If prayer worked the way many people believe it does, then no one would ever die. — Rabbi Harold Kushner
  • Religions that do not believe in medical care.
  • Is there a relationship between religion and health?
  • Does it apply to all religion or only certain ones?
  • Does prayer help?
  • Does knowing you are being prayed for help?
  • Should a parent have the right to withhold medical care from a child?


  • Research shows regular church participation associated with good health and later death.
    • Studies involving more than 125,000 people
    • People who attend church more than once a week lived 7 years longer than those who never attended.
      • 14 years for African Americans
      • The healthier you are, the more you can be involved in church. The more involved you become, the healthier you are.


  • Women who never attended church were 7 times more likely to get cancer.
    • Believers had lower rates of cancer risk factors, e.g. smoking, etc.
  • Responding to diagnosis seemed to require religious experiences more than church attendance. High rate of religious struggle associated with refusal to follow doctor’s advice.

Heart Disease

  • People who never attend church are 1.5 times more likely to die of heart disease than frequent attenders.

Substance Abuse

  • Christianity is accepting, then more likely to overcome addiction.
  • If Christianity is negative and judgmental then more likely to continue in addiction.

Fear of Death

  • 23 of studies show decreased fear of death in religious believers.
  • 13 show no relation or increased fear.


  • Greater score on the well-being scale does not result in less illness, but less pain and anxiety.


  • 1998 study of 400 patients showed significant difference in group that was prayed for and group that was not.
  • Study of 1,800 showed no difference.

Religion, Social Attitudes, and Behavior

I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord. — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

  • Pragmatism: proof of belief is action.
  • The acid test: what difference does a specific religion make in how people treat each other?

Social Influence

  • Asch conformity experiment.
  • Milgram’s obedience experimentn

Asch’s Conformity Study (1950’s)

  • People seated in a semicircle around a table — asked in turn: Which line matches A?
  • Confederates (accomplices of experimenter) give some (obviously) wrong answers
  • About 13 of time the subjects went along with incorrect response
  • 50% – 80% of the subjects went along at least once (several conditions run)
  • With even one dissenter, the subject conformed much less
  • So dissent very important
  • Dark side: Ash got a lot of conformity even though
  • Correct answer was obvious
  • The subject didn’t know others in the group

Obedience (The Milgram Experiments)

  • Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Studies
    • Yale 1960–1963
    • Subjects arrive two at a time – told part of a study on learning
    • Object to memorize series of word pairs: fat-neck, boy-tall, etc.
    • One will be Teacher
    • Other will be Learner
      • One a confederate
      • Drawing is rigged:
      • Confederate always the learner
      • Real subject always the teacher
    • Teacher and learner in separate rooms
    • Communicate over intercom
    • Teacher to administer a shock for each error
    • Each time shock increases by 15 volts
  • Obedience: The Experimenter’s Lines
    • He reads each in turn until subject continues
      • Please Continue (or Please go on)
      • The experiment requires that you continue
      • It is absolutely essential that you continue
      • You have no other choice, you must go on
    • If subject refuses after all 4 lines read, session over
  • Obedience: The Results
    • Everyone predicted people would only administer a few shocks and quit
    • The results very different – in basic condition
    • 63% went all the way to 405 volts
    • No one quit before 300 volts
  • Obedience
    • Amount of compliance in Milgram’s studies varied under different conditions.
    • The closer proximity to victim, the less obedience.
    • Easier to bomb village than to burn it on the ground?
    • If several subjects and one disobeyed, easier for others to.
    • As with Ash, the importance of dissent

The Grand Paradox

  • In the US, in the 1940’s and 50’s, initial study revealed people who went to church tended to have higher rates of racial and ethnic prejudice.
  • Later study showed some complexity.
    • Not all church attendees were prejudiced.
    • Some had the highest rates of prejudice of all the groups
    • Others had the lowest.
    • Both extremes were in the church.
    • High attenders had low prejudice.
    • Inconsistent attenders had high prejudice.
    • Curved graph, high in the middle.
  • Intrinsic and Extrinsic
    • 300 subjects, Catholic, Lutheran, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist
    • Intrinsic (I): “My religious beliefs are what lie behind my whole approach to life.”
    • Extrinsic (E): “Although I am a religious person, I refuse to let my religion influence my everyday affairs.”
    • Indiscriminately Pro-Religious (I-Pro) answered yest to both.
    • I’s had least prejudice and highest church attendance.
  • Possible explanations
    • E’s need security, comfort, and status. Prejudicial attitudes serve these needs.
    • I-Pro’s tend to use blanket, stereotype thinking.
      • “All these people are good, all others are bad.”
  • Distinctions were important not just for prejudice, but for attitudes toward war, sexual behavior, politics, economics, etc.
  • People don’t tend to begin with a study the teachings of their religious group.
  • The begin with an idea of what God’s will is, then they consult the teachings of the religion.
    • Not surprising that they find their own ideas in the religious teachings.


  • Two kinds of fundamentalism
    • People who believe in the fundamentals, but are not confrontational, defensive, etc.
      • Amish, 2006 shooting of 10 girls, killing five.
      • Community reached out to family of murderer, forgave the murderer.
      • Said it was what the Bible said they should do.
    • Authoritarian fundamentalism
      • Wants freedom of religion for themselves, but no one else.
  • Inconsistency
    • Asked about law requiring teaching of Christian religion in public schools, learn 10 commandments, the Bible, be encouraged to accept Christ, and pray.
      • Authoritarian Fundamentalists said they would support it.
      • When asked about Muslims in America, they replied the Muslims should leave or go to private schools because US is a Christian country.
    • When asked if the lived in a Muslim country that taught the Koran in school, etc., they said the law there would be wrong.
  • Top reason people give for leaving the church is hypocritical behavior.


  • Stair-step model
  • Lower floors are wide, representing possible choices.
  • Upper floors are narrow, choices become more limited.

Model is on a scale of perception of external threat.

  1. Threatened collective identity
  2. Frustration
  3. Displacement
  4. Disengagement from mainstream morality
  5. Binary morality
  6. Violence

Key Steps:

  • Religious fundamentalists feel particularly threatened.
  • Group identity seen as positive
  • General anxiety, no fixed enemy
  • Perceived injustice of systems
  • High inequality of social groups
  • Clear enemy identified
  • No freedom to exit the group, high conformity
  • No moral ambiguity, us and them, good and evil
  • Dehumanization of out-groups
  • Inhibitory mechanisms sidestepped
  • Violence seen as only option


  • Armenians in the Ottoman Empire
  • Jews in Nazi Europe
  • Attributes
    • Willingness to take risks
    • Social marginality
    • Moral identification with parents
    • Most important: history of small sacrificial behavior

Randy Ridenour

About Me

I am an associate professor of philosophy at Oklahoma Baptist University. As one of only three people in the department, I teach a number of different courses. Courses that I teach regularly are Introduction to Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Metaphysics, and Aesthetics. My past research has been on the nature and justification of religious belief, the relation of religious belief to ethics, the role of mystery in religious belief, and the problem of religious tolerance. My most recent work is on the effects of social media on community.

I am also a chaplain in the United States Army Reserve. My service includes tours at Ft. Hood, Texas, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, a deployment to Iraq in 2007, and a deployment to Afghanistan in 2013.

I enjoy experimenting with technology, spending more time trying out text editors than writing. Currently, I use a combination of Emacs and Sublime Text, and do my writing in LaTeX.

This blog will feature posts from all of my interests—religion, philosophy, and technology.

I live in Norman, Oklahoma, with my wife, Sheri. We have one daughter, Rachael, who is married to her husband, Josh.