On the Usefulness of Religion

Recently in the New York Times, a new article was announced for the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that presents research findings on the function of awe in human society. The researchers, who hail from the University of California, found that awe serves as a motivator for altruism. They found that, in several experiments, subjects performed more altruistic acts after an experience of awe than subjects who did not have such an experience.

In other studies, they found that awe helps to inspire altruism because it raises peoples’ awareness and gives them a sense of belonging to something vast and transcendent.

Awe is an important aspect of religious experience; it is the response one has when confronted with the Ultimate. I think that when we have such ultimate experiences, we are shown a glimpse of the Divine, and are allowed to see a larger vision of creation, if only for a short time. It may be that this larger vision is part of what ties religion and ethics together. We are shown, briefly, where we have come from, and this leads us to realize what is required of us.

These findings provide excellent support for the practice of religion, and contemplative practice especially. When done well, religious ritual and individual spiritual practice can lead one into the presence of the Ultimate, and change one’s life entirely. Specifically religious or spiritual practices are better for achieving this sense of awe because they invoke the Ultimate, while just walking in the woods or gazing at the stars does not usually involve this dimension without specifically including a religious component.

The paper presents the findings from several studies of awe and altruism, and I very much look forward to reading it. In the meantime, here is the link to the New York Times article.



Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp.  All rights reserved.


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