The role of mental state reasoning in supernatural thought: What are the foundations of supernatural thought? People in all cultures all around the world have superstitious and supernatural beliefs and in most places these have developed into full-fledged religious traditions. I am interested in what causes humans, on a cognitive level, to look out at the world and see ghosts and gods. I am particularly interested in how the tendency to attribute human-like mental states to non-human entities, objects and even events underlies supernatural thinking.
Supernatural causal reasoning: How does causal reasoning relate to supernatural thought? When people talk about karma, or witchcraft or even luck they are relaying the idea that some type of supernatural force is responsible for the good and bad events in their lives. I am interested in the contexts that trigger supernatural causal reasoning across cultures and why it is used. I think this tendency, though it goes by many different names, is a cultural universal and will be found in all cultures. I am currently collaborating on a project that looks at supernatural causal reasoning in the enforcement of normative behavior in a number of different cultures.
The “spiritual but not religious' and religious decline: Why are religions declining in some parts of the world and not others? Parts of Europe have seen rapid decline in religiosity over the past century leaving pockets of largely atheistic societies, yet other parts remain highly religious. I am interested in the cultural and cognitive basis of religious decline and whether this decline represents a movement away from supernatural belief or just the movement away from traditional religions in favour of other alternative belief systems. According to Pew research and my own data, the spiritual but not religious make up about 30% of the population of North America, yet very little research is conducted on this group. I am interested it who makes up this growing community and how this group relates to the decline in religion in the west by offering a wider variety of non-traditional supernatural beliefs. I have also conducted work on these ideas in the Czech and Slovak Republics. Though the population of the Czech Republic made up of mostly atheists, Slovakia remains quite religious. This makes an excellent natural experiment in the causes of religious decline.
Religion and morality: How does religion relate to morality and living in large groups? I am involved in ongoing cross-cultural research through the Culture, Evolution, and Religion Consortium (CERC) exploring how religions relate to moral behavior. These projects look at how morally concerned gods and punishing gods help maintain rules of good behavior in a culture. For more about this project and its broader goals see www.hecc.ubc.ca/cerc/