"Do beliefs really have societal effects? Implications for theories of religion"

Craig T. Palmer, Ryan O. Begley, Kathryn Coe, Ryan M. Ellsworth, Lyle B. Steadman

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    It is typically assumed that religious beliefs have important societal effects, and that these effects include the promotion of cooperative behavior among people who hold the same religious beliefs. This chapter will argue that although there is indeed abundant evidence for an association between religion and cooperative behavior, the assumption that this societal effect is the result of religious beliefs is unwarranted. The chapter will first describe the problematic nature of assuming that the societal effects of religion are the result of shared religious beliefs. It will then argue that this assumption can, and should, be replaced by a focus on certain behavior, specifically talk; that is, communicating acceptance of supernatural claims. It will then describe how such talk, as a form of communication, may produce the societal effect of increased cooperation that so often is attributed to shared religious beliefs. It will then respond to criticisms of this shift from studying the societal effects of religious beliefs to the study of the societal effects of religious talk. Finally, to demonstrate the strength of this proposition, and its importance in current debates regarding religion, it will apply the theoretical issues raised in the paper to the example of asserting that the deadly societal effect of suicide bombings are caused by religious beliefs.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Title of host publicationReligion
    Subtitle of host publicationBeliefs, Theories and Societal Effects
    PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
    Number of pages17
    ISBN (Print)9781614703822
    StatePublished - Mar 1 2012


    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Arts and Humanities(all)

    Cite this

    Palmer, C. T., Begley, R. O., Coe, K., Ellsworth, R. M., & Steadman, L. B. (2012). "Do beliefs really have societal effects? Implications for theories of religion". In Religion: Beliefs, Theories and Societal Effects (pp. 55-71). Nova Science Publishers, Inc..