The Religiosity and Reflection Research Project logo: Two letter Rs in front of a globe.

Religiosity & Reflection Research

Welcome to the Religiosity & Reflection Across Cultures project. Our goal is to resolve an ongoing debate about the link between reasoning and religiosity. In an unprecedentedly large, cross-cultural, and nuanced empirical investigation, we will determine whether and how differences in reasoning performance can meaningfully explain differences in religiosity.

Nick Byrd, Steve Stich, and Justin Sytsma (left to right, alphabetical by surname).

Dozens of studies find that reflective reasoning correlates with atheism—the so-called analytic atheism effect (e.g., Norenzayan & Gervais, 2013). Some data even exhibit an analytic atheism effect among philosophers (e.g., Byrd, under review). However, this correlation between reflection and atheism is not detected in some countries (e.g., Gervais et al., 2018). Moreover, some attempts to experimentally encourage reflection have resulted in some non-believers becoming less confident in their disbelief in God (e.g., Yilmaz & Isler, 2019). Also, emerging evidence suggests that people employ different epistemic standards for beliefs about religion than they do for other domains such as science (e.g., McPhetres & Zuckerman, 2017; Liquid, Metz & Lombrozo, 2020). These exceptions, unexpected findings, and background data provide potential hypotheses about why analytic atheism effects may differ in various contexts. For example, reflection’s relationship to theism may interact with differences in education, culture, epistemology, and other factors. Further, factors besides reflection may explain tendencies toward theism and atheism better than reflection itself.

We have the largest dataset about religiosity and reflection from people around the world to date. These data suggest that the analytic atheism effect is not only undetected in some countries, but it reverses among some religious groups, suggesting that factors other than reflection may independently (or even better) explain differences in religiosity. However, since collecting this data, we and our colleagues have developed better measures of reasoning, religiosity, and other confounding factors. So there remains a new opportunity to not only clarify our initial findings but provide a more compelling investigation of the factors that can and cannot explain variation in religious beliefs and practices around the world.

By employing state of the art empirical methods, consulting with philosophers of religion, and recruiting large samples of religious groups from around the world, we will provide the most scientifically sound, philosophically rigorous, and statistically powerful answers to the hitherto unanswered questions about the factors that explain differences in religiosity. We will not only clarify why religious tendencies might imperfectly correlate with differences in reflective reasoning; we will do so with a more nuanced treatment of religion and the philosophy thereof. So this project has the potential to overcome not only academic debates but also stereotypes about both religion and philosophy. 

Nick Byrd (Stevens Institute of Technology)
Steve Stich (Rutgers University)
Justin Sytsma (Victoria University of Wellington)