Religious Restrictions Rising (Pew)

A recent Pew study shows that religious restrictions have risen for over 1/3 of the world’s population between 2006-2009. More than 2.2 billion people – nearly a third (32%) of the world’s total population of 6.9 billion are facing greater religious restrictions. See Executive Summary for more details.


Among the five geographic regions covered in this report, the Middle East-North Africa had the highest government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas were the least restrictive region on both measures. The Middle East-North Africa region also had the greatest number of countries where government restrictions on religion increased from mid-2006 to mid-2009, with about a third of the region’s countries (30%) imposing greater restrictions. In contrast, no country in the Americas registered a substantial increase on either index.

In China, there was no change in the level of government restrictions on religion, which remained very high. But social hostilities involving religion, which had been relatively low, increased substantially from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

Cognitive and neural foundations of religious beliefs; what an MRI might tell you about your beliefs in God.

There’s a new study out that studies brain activity and religious beliefs – abstract and links.  PDF here (only six pages including pictures). A related article in the Independent gives the bottom line:

. . . people of different religious persuasions and beliefs, as well as atheists, all tended to use the same electrical circuits in the brain to solve a perceived moral conundrum – and the same circuits were used when religiously-inclined people dealt with issues related to God. The study found that several areas of the brain are involved in religious belief.

. . . “There is nothing unique about religious belief in these brain structures. Religion doesn’t have a ‘God spot’ as such, instead it’s embedded in a whole range of other belief systems in the brain that we use everyday,” Professor Grafman said.

Page 1 from the published study results:

Religious belief and behavior are a hallmark of human life, with no accepted animal equivalent, and found in all cultures (1). The biological basis of religion, though, is fiercely debated in fields as diverse as evolutionary psychology, anthropology, genetics, and cosmology. Contemporary psychological theories consider religious belief and behavior as complex brain-based phenomena that may have co-emerged in our species with novel cognitive processes for social cognition, such as Theory of Mind (ToM), and successfully engaged fundamental cognitive mechanisms, such as memory (2–4).


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