Collective religious rituals, not religious devotion, spur support for suicide bombings – sciencedaily

In a new study in Psychological sciences, psychologists Jeremy Ginges and Ian Hansen of the New School for Social Research and psychologist Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia conducted a series of experiments investigating the relationship between religion and supporting acts of parish altruism, including suicide bombings.

Suicide bombings are an extreme form of “parish altruism” – they combine a parish act (the aggressor killing members of other groups) with altruism (the aggressor sacrificing himself for the group).

While the relationship between religion and popular support for suicide bombings is a subject of frequent speculation, scientific study of the relationship is scarce. Researchers have found that the relationship between religion and support for suicide bombings is real but not tied to devotion to particular religious beliefs or religious belief in general. Instead, the collective religious ritual appears to facilitate parish altruism in general and support for suicide bombings in particular.

Researchers asked Palestinian Muslims about their attitudes towards religion, including how often they prayed and went to the mosque. The researchers found that devotion to Islam, measured by the frequency of prayers, was unrelated to support for suicide bombings. However, the frequency of mosque attendance predicted support for suicide attacks. In another survey of Palestinian Muslim university students, researchers again found that those who attended the mosque more than once a day were more likely to believe that Islam required suicide bombings, compared to those who attended the mosque more than once a day. students who attended the mosque less.

A similar pattern of results was found in research conducted with other religious groups. In another experiment, researchers conducted telephone surveys with Israeli Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza and asked them how often they attended synagogue or how often they prayed to God. All participants were then asked if they supported the perpetrator of a suicide bombing against Palestinians. Analysis of responses showed that 23% of those surveyed about synagogue attendance supported suicide bombings while only 6% of those asked about prayer frequency supported suicide bombings.

In the latest experiment, psychologists interviewed members of six religious majorities in six nations (Mexican Catholics, Indonesian Muslims, Israeli Jews, Russian Orthodox in Russia, British Protestants, and Indian Hindus) to see if the relationship between attending services religious and supportive acts of parish altruism takes place in a variety of political and cultural contexts. These results also showed that support for parish altruism was related to attendance at church services, but unrelated to regular prayer.

This study indicates that religious devotion does not elicit support for suicide bombings or other forms of parish altruism. However, the results suggest that regular attendance at religious services may make individuals more inclined to support acts of parish altruism. The researchers hypothesize that collective religious rituals and services create a sense of community among participants and reinforce positive attitudes towards altruistic parish acts such as suicide bombings. Although, the researchers note, a greater sense of community, developed through church services, can have many positive consequences. They observe: “It is only in particular geopolitical contexts that parochial altruism associated with such engagements translates into something like suicide bombings.”

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Ruth R. Culp