Exit Menu

'A Cross-Cultural Psychology of Religion' (Dr Jonathan Jong)

'The Promises and Perils of a Cross-Cultural Psychology of Religion'

Recent cognitive and evolutionary theories of religion posit that religious belief—the belief in supernatural agents—is a human universal, while admitting that there is much diversity in the cultural manifestations of whatever pan-human cognitive tendencies exist. This state of affairs raises a series of methodological and theoretical challenges for us. Among our methodological challenges is that of measurement: given diverse theologies, how might we measure general tendencies toward supernatural belief? Among our theoretical challenges is Galton's problem, distinguishing among convergent cultural evolution, common descent, and borrowing. Until remarkably recently, the psychology of religion was more appropriately called the psychology of American Protestantism. The rapid increase in efforts to collect cross-cultural data—especially from so-called nonWEIRD samples—is welcome. However, much caution is required when making inferences from this new data. In this talk, Jonathan Jong will discuss issues in measurement and theory testing, drawing from his recent and continuing work on the role of emotion in religious belief, the relationship between religion and morality, and the psychology of atheism.


Dr. Jonathan Jong is Deputy Director of the Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab at Coventry University and Research Coordinator of the Centre of Anthropology and Mind's AnthroLab at the University of Oxford. He started his career working on facial attractiveness judgements and humour appreciation, and eventually found his way to the role of death anxiety in religious belief. His book Death Anxiety and Religious Belief: An Existential Psychology of Religion was published by Bloomsbury in August 2016. Besides his mild obsession with the morbid, Jonathan is currently working on projects on the cognitive and cultural foundations of religion and morality, and cross-cultural approaches to the study of religious nonbelief. ​