To Believe is Not to Think: A Cross-Cultural Finding

Open Mind 5:91-99 (2021)
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Are religious beliefs psychologically different from matter-of-fact beliefs? Many scholars say no: that religious people, in a matter-of-fact way, simply think their deities exist. Others say yes: that religious beliefs are more compartmentalized, less certain, and less responsive to evidence. Little research to date has explored whether lay people themselves recognize such a difference. We addressed this question in a series of sentence completion tasks, conducted in five settings that differed both in religious traditions and in language: the US, Ghana, Thailand, China, and Vanuatu. Participants everywhere routinely used different verbs to describe religious versus matter-of-fact beliefs, and they did so even when the ascribed belief contents were held constant and only the surrounding context varied. These findings support the view that people from diverse cultures and language communities recognize a difference in attitude type between religious belief and everyday matter-of-fact belief.
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First archival date: 2021-07-28
Latest version: 2 (2021-09-24)
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