Spirit of the Times

Kevin Lewis

June 29, 2010

Is Hanukkah Responsive to Christmas?

Ran Abramitzky, Liran Einav & Oren Rigbi
Economic Journal, June 2010, Pages 612-630

We use individual-level survey and county-level expenditure data to examine the extent to which Hanukkah celebrations among US Jews are driven by the presence of Christmas. We document that Jews with young children are more likely to celebrate Hanukkah, that this effect is greater for reform Jews and for strongly-identified Jews, and that Jewish-related expenditure on Hanukkah is higher in counties with lower shares of Jews. All these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that celebration of religious holidays is designed not only for worship and enjoyment but also to provide a counterbalance for children against competing cultural influences.


Reflecting on God: Religious Primes Can Reduce Neurophysiological Response to Errors

Michael Inzlicht & Alexa Tullett
Psychological Science, forthcoming

The world is a vast and complex place that can sometimes generate feelings of uncertainty and distress for its inhabitants. Although religion is associated with a sense of meaning and order, it remains unclear whether religious belief can actually cause people to feel less anxiety and distress. To test the anxiolytic power of religion, we conducted two experiments focusing on the error-related negativity (ERN) - a neural signal that arises from the anterior cingulate cortex and is associated with defensive responses to errors. The results indicate that for believers, conscious and nonconscious religious primes cause a decrease in ERN amplitude. In contrast, priming nonbelievers with religious concepts causes an increase in ERN amplitude. Overall, examining basic neurophysiological processes reveals the power of religion to act as a buffer against anxious reactions to self-generated, generic errors - but only for individuals who believe.


Accounting for Jewish Secularism: Is a New Cultural Identity Emerging?

Bruce Phillips
Contemporary Jewry, June 2010, Pages 63-85

Barry Kosmin, Ariela Keysar, and Egon Mayer have observed an increase taking place in the number of Jews who identified with "no religion" during the 1990s. They have proposed two explanations. Kosmin and Keysar interpret this increase as part of a larger American secularization trend. Mayer understands it to be a specific "disaffection from organized Jewish life." Implicit in both explanations is the emergence of a new secular Jewish identity that excludes identification with Judaism. As such, this new identification represents a radical departure from the American Jewish norm. American Jews have long been comfortable identifying with Judaism even though their outlook is as secular as the most secular of all Americans. Using the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey and the 2001 American Jewish Identification Survey these two hypotheses are tested and rejected because secular Jews were found to be less "ethnic" than Jews by religion both in terms of attitudes and behaviors. Instead a third explanation is explicated which attributes the increase in the number of secularly identified Jews to a compositional change in the American Jewish population. Jews with no religion are overwhelmingly of mixed ancestry; and the number of such Jews increased dramatically between 1990 and 2000 as a result of intermarriage. Two OLS regressions show that both ethnic attitudes and behaviors are influenced primarily by Jewish background experiences. Jews of mixed ancestry are less likely to have these and thus score lower. A third OLS regression shows that these background experiences strengthen ethnic attachments which in turn influence ethnic behaviors. A logistic regression demonstrates that ancestry does have a direct influence on identification as secular above and beyond Jewish background experiences. Secular Jews choose the "no religion" option because it allows them to identify as Jews without having to choose between either of their parents' two religions.


The Liberalization of Young Evangelicals: A Research Note

Buster Smith & Byron Johnson
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, June 2010, Pages 351-360

Media outlets and observers of American religion suggest that young evangelicals are retreating from the ranks of the "Christian right" and are embracing more liberal positions on controversial social issues. We test this hypothesis using the Baylor Religion Survey. We examine two separate measures of evangelical identity as well as a wide variety of political identifications and attitudes. Our study indicates that young evangelicals (1) are significantly more likely than older evangelicals to think that more should be done to protect the environment; (2) hold views similar to older evangelicals regarding abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research, marijuana use, government welfare spending, spending on the nation's health, and the war in Iraq; and (3) remain significantly more conservative than nonevangelicals on these same social issues. We find no strong evidence to support the notion that young evangelicals are retreating from traditional positions or increasingly adopting more liberal positions on hot-button or controversial social issues.


The Institutional Legacy of the Ottoman Empire: Islamic Rule and Financial Development in South Eastern Europe

Pauline Grosjean
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming

This paper uses a historical experiment - the occupation of South Eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire - to shed light on the persistence of financial development. Interest lending prohibition persisted under Islamic rule much longer than in the rest of Europe. The unique history and political fragmentation of the region allows investigating within-country effects, in six countries that were formerly only partly occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Former Islamic rule is consistently associated with lower contemporaneous formal financial development, both across and within countries. It is associated with a decrease in bank penetration by 10% across countries and 4% within countries. However, within country, the effect of the Ottoman Empire is confined to financial development. There is no association between former Ottoman rule, income, small and medium sized enterprise development or entrepreneurship. The effect is robust to controlling for a wide number of observable characteristics. Moreover, localities with Armenian, Jewish or Greek minorities, who were allowed to practice interest lending under Ottoman rule, have higher levels of bank penetration. By contrast, Islamic religion and trust in the financial system play no role in explaining such long-term persistence.


Religion, College Grades, and Satisfaction among Students at Elite Colleges and Universities

Margarita Mooney
Sociology of Religion, Summer 2010, Pages 197-215

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, a sample of nearly 3,924 students at 28 of the most selective college and universities in the United States, this paper tests hypotheses about religion, academic performance, and satisfaction at college. Two measures of religiosity-attending religious services every week or more and a 1 to 10 scale of observance of one's religious traditions and customs-increase the amount of hours students report spending on academic work and extracurricular activities, as well as reduce the hours students report going to parties. Even when controlling for time spent partying, studying and in extracurricular activities, regular attendance at religious services increases academic achievement. Finally, students who attend religious services weekly and those who are more observant of their religious traditions also report being more satisfied at college.


In Defense of Religion: Shared Reality Moderates the Unconscious Threat of Evolution

Michael Magee & Curtis Hardin
Social Cognition, June 2010, Pages 379-400

This research demonstrates that stability and change in self-described religiosity is regulated by the particular interpersonal relationships in which religious beliefs are shared, along lines implied by shared reality theory (e.g., Hardin & Conley, 2001). In Experiment 1, exposure to evolution-related words reduced the religiosity and anti-atheist prejudice of participants who perceived their religious experience to be unshared with their fathers, but not of participants who perceived their religious experience to be shared with their fathers. In Experiment 2, exposure to evolution-related words reduced the religiosity and anti-atheist prejudice of insecurely attached participants but not securely attached participants. Together results suggest that dynamics in religiosity and religion-related prejudice are regulated by the two key elements postulated in shared reality theory: relationship quality and the degree to which relationship-relevant experiences are perceived to be shared.


Who's Right About the Right? Comparing Competing Explanations of the Link Between White Evangelicals and Conservative Politics in the United States

Steven Brint & Seth Abrutyn
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, June 2010, Pages 328-350

Five competing explanations for why white evangelicals hold right-of-center political attitudes are examined using data from the 2000-2004 National Election Studies. Dependent variables include attitudes about abortion, homosexuality, immigration, national defense, and social spending. The five competing explanations accounting for conservative positions are: religiosity, moral standards traditionalism, gender and family ideology, class culture, and cultural geography. Moral standards traditionalism attenuated the evangelical effect on attitudes about abortion, homosexuality, and social spending. Religiosity and male-dominant gender ideology attenuated the effect on abortion and homosexuality only. In a second set of models, which include members of all major religious groups, these three variables, together with low levels of education, were significantly associated with conservative attitudes. Moral standards traditionalism demonstrated the most consistent, and generally the strongest, effects across dependent variables.


Religiosity and the political economy of the Salem witch trials

Ernest King & Franklin Mixon
Social Science Journal, forthcoming

Salem Village, both before and through the witchcraft trials, was a religion-based community, allowing its minister to exert a level of political-economic control over its citizens. During the height of the witchcraft episode, there was an increased demand for ministerial services (salvation) in the Salem area. Recent research has argued that the minister used the witchcraft episode to maintain and build upon personal and corporate wealth. In the years after the witchcraft trials changes were made in the business and legal environment of the surrounding New England region. By transitioning to a more neutral rules system with a larger area of consensus for the system, Salem and the rest of the New England transitioned from the 17th Century traditional, religion-based community to a more rules-based, pro-business one in the 18th Century.


Divine Justice: The Relationship Between Images of God and Attitudes Toward Criminal Punishment

Christopher Bader, Scott Desmond, Carson Mencken & Byron Johnson
Criminal Justice Review, March 2010, Pages 90-106

Some have argued that moralistic considerations trump other factors in determining attitudes toward criminal punishment. Consequently, recent research has examined how views of God influence sentiments regarding criminal punishment. Using the Baylor Religion Survey (BRS) 2005, we find that (a) angry and judgmental images of God are significant predictors of punitive attitudes regarding criminal punishment and the death penalty and (b) images of God as loving and engaged in the world are not consistently significant predictors of attitudes toward criminal punishment, once measures of God's perceived anger and judgment are considered.


Secular Americans and Secular Jewish Americans: Similarities and Differences

Ariela Keysar
Contemporary Jewry, June 2010, Pages 29-44

This paper explores similarities and differences between Americans of Jewish heritage who profess no religion and the general population of Americans who profess no religion. The "no religion" group may be the vanguard of secularism. In degree of secularization, Jews and non-Jews of no religion come from different starting points and are on different trajectories. Data sources are the American Jewish Identity Survey (AJIS) 2001 for the Jewish population and the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2001 for the general population. While the socio-demographic profile of a person who professes no religion in the general population is quite distinct (a young, single male who resides in the West or the Northeast), the no-religion segment of Jews is demographically much like the religious segment. One explanation might be the relatively larger share of "no religion" Jews in the total Jewish population so Jews professing no religion are not a fringe group. Another is American Jews' unique social history and greater exposure to secularism.


The Influence of Religiosity and Ethnic Identification on Media Use Among Muslims and Non-Muslims in France and Britain

Stephen Croucher, Deepa Oommen, Ian Borton, Samara Anarbaeva & Jacob Turner
Mass Communication and Society, July 2010, Pages 314-334

This is an examination of the ethnic media use of French and British Muslims. A total of 677 Muslims participated in the study. Analysis reveals being an immigrant or a native of a nation does not significantly influence ethnic media use in France but does in Britain. Ethnic identification was also revealed as an influential predictor of ethnic media use among Muslims in France but not in Britain. Religiosity significantly predicted ethnic media use among British Muslims. The article argues religiosity and ethnic identification should be included in studies examining media use among ethnic groups.


Secularism, Fundamentalism, or Catholicism? The Religious Composition of the United States to 2043

Vegard Skirbekk, Eric Kaufmann & Anne Goujon
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, June 2010, Pages 293-310

We provide a cohort-component projection of the religious composition of the United States, considering differences in fertility, migration, intergenerational religious transmission, and switching among 11 ethnoreligious groups. If fertility and migration trends continue, Hispanic Catholics will experience rapid growth and expand from 10 to 18 percent of the American population between 2003 and 2043. Protestants are projected to decrease from 47 to 39 percent over the same period, while Catholicism emerges as the largest religion among the youngest age cohorts. Liberal Protestants decline relative to other groups due to low fertility and losses from religious switching. Immigration drives growth among Hindus and Muslims, while low fertility and a mature age structure causes Jewish decline. The low fertility of secular Americans and the religiosity of immigrants provide a countervailing force to secularization, causing the nonreligious population share to peak before 2043.


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