The cultural and cognitive origins of religion

Many people around the world believe in supernatural forces operating in their daily life, but the shape of these beliefs varies greatly across individuals and cultures.  My research investigates the cultural, evolutionary, and cognitive foundations of diverse religious beliefs, with a focus on beliefs about karma and gods.

Reasoning about supernatural justice and interpersonal justice

I am interested in the similarities and differences between how people think about cases of interpersonal justice (secular institutions, fair treatment from others, and third-party punishment) and supernatural justice (attributed to the intervention of karma or God).

Religion, morality, and prosocial behaviour

The belief that supernatural entities monitor and respond to people’s moral behaviour is central to many religious beliefs.  I investigate how beliefs about karma and God affect how people make moral judgments, whether they behave prosocially towards strangers and outgroup members, and how they respond to victims of misfortune.

Mind attribution, social norms, and moral judgments

I am also interested in how interpersonal moral judgments (outside of religious contexts) are related to mind perception, social norms, and evolutionary pressures.  In this line of research, I am studying how fundamental processes of moral judgment – inferences about transgressors' responsibility, mental capabilities, moral character, and appropriate punishment – depend on whether the transgressor is an adult or a child, consistent with the different adaptive problems posed by relationships with adults and children. 

© 2019 by Cindel White.

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