Understanding religion can help us to understand our own behaviour and that of others.
Sociologist Jonathan Dreyfuss and his colleagues have created a new kind of science, combining the latest methods of data analysis and theory with a sociological approach.
In a nutshell, they want to understand why we practice what we do.
The researchers believe that understanding religion can offer a framework to help us make sense of what we see around us.
But they also want to make it easier to understand and relate to the faith we practice.
“Religion is so complex, it’s not just about what you believe,” Dreyfluss told me.
“It’s also about the people who practice it.
We need to be able to connect the dots between those beliefs and their actions.”
A ‘culture of worship’ In the UK, for instance, some religions have a cult-like reputation.
In many countries, the concept of religion has been used to criminalise people who refuse to believe in god.
These are often organisations that use religion to pressure people into accepting harmful policies or policies that they don’t want.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) defines religion as “a belief system that encourages people to act according to an imagined authority”.
The BPS defines belief in God as “an irrational belief system” and “a strong emotional attachment to something, such as a deity, that is often expressed in a religious or mythic form”.
“People who are deeply religious are often religious because they have a strong need for power, control, prestige, or social status,” the BPS website explains.
It also says that “believing in God is linked to a range of psychological and physiological processes that affect one’s mental health and wellbeing”.
The UK government’s religion watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has also found that religion has “a pervasive effect on people’s wellbeing”.
According to its 2011 report, Religious Beliefs and Practices, religion can “have a damaging impact on people, including on their ability to make good decisions, make decisions based on evidence and make good moral choices, to make informed decisions about how to live, and to engage in meaningful social interactions”.
“There are many different ways that religion can be used as a tool to harm people and undermine their well-being,” it says.
“For example, religion often creates harmful social and environmental conditions that negatively affect people’s well-and-being.”
In the US, there’s a culture of worship.
According to the American Psychological Association, “belief in God has been linked to attitudes towards people of faith, to religious practices, and beliefs in the supernatural, supernatural influences on the world, and the belief that God has power to intervene in people’s lives and decisions.”
“It is therefore imperative that the people of the United States understand that they are not alone in their belief in or practice of religious belief.”
The British government’s “religion watchdog” also found in its 2011 study that people with “deep religious beliefs” are “likely to hold religious practices that are perceived to be harmful to others”.
The watchdog also said that people who were “deeply religious” were more likely to “believe in supernatural entities”.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) agrees that religious belief has a harmful impact on society.
“Many religious beliefs and practices are harmful to society,” said the BHA’s senior counsel Alan Saunders.
“These include belief in a god, that God can change our lives, and that belief in supernatural, quasi-divine or metaphysical entities is legitimate.”
In a recent survey of 2,000 people in the US and UK, the BHFA found that one in five respondents had “deep” religious beliefs.
“When a person thinks of religious beliefs, their thoughts often turn to God, to gods, and religious practices,” the survey found.
“They often wonder if the religious practices of others are more effective or harmful.”
“We think that the most important thing is to understand the motivations behind these beliefs and practice and that if we can understand the reasons behind them, then we can then work on developing more positive ways to understand how to make them more beneficial to people.”
Sociologist John McDermott also believes that religion is harmful.
“We’ve seen that religious beliefs lead to a lot of harmful behaviours,” he told me, noting that “a lot of what religion does is it leads people to be defensive.”
“Religious belief is a way of being very defensive, a way to say, ‘I’m right, I know what’s good for me and my group,'” he said.
“You’re not thinking about your own needs and what’s important to you and your community, what’s most important, and what would actually make the world a better place.”
And people who do not believe in a deity may be even more likely than those who do to practice harmful behaviour.
The BHA also found high levels of self-harm among people who are “deep believers”.
“If a person who is deeply religious is not doing anything to alleviate