2005 : WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?

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Social Psychologist; Professor, New York University Stern School of Business; Author, The Righteous Mind
Psychologist, University of Virginia

I believe, but cannot prove, that religious experience and practice is generated and structured largely by a few emotions that evolved for other reasons, particularly awe, moral elevation, disgust, and attachment-related emotions. That's not a prediction likely to raise any eyebrows in this forum.

But I further believe (and cannot prove) that hostility toward religion is an obstacle to progress in psychology. Most human beings live in a world full of magic, miracles, saints, and constant commerce with divinity. Psychology at present has little to say about these parts of life; we focus instead on a small set of topics that are fashionable, or that are particularly tractable with our favorite methods. If psychologists took religious experience seriously and tried to understand it from the inside, as anthropologists do with other cultures, I believe it would enrich our science. I have found religious texts and testimonials about purity and pollution essential for understanding the emotion of disgust.