Psychology of Religious Belief: Exploring the cognitive and emotional basis of faith in a specific religion
1. Introduction
Various aspects of religious beliefs have been researched in psychology. Research on the psychology of religious beliefs commonly focuses on cognitive and emotional factors. This is a very important area of study as it can have practical implications. The research on cognitive and emotional aspects of religious belief has the potential to inform treatment and intervention – for example, when professionals are working with people who have experienced a loss of faith. The primary aim of the research is to discover insight into the cognitive and emotional aspects underlying religious belief in a specific religion. This research aims to provide information on the cognitive and emotional basis of faith in a specific religion. Moreover, by using a particular religion as a framework, this research has the potential to provide a deeper understanding into the roots of religious belief and help to explain the passion and sometimes animosity that can be present between different faiths. This research should be of interest to people who study religious beliefs as well as those who are interested in the application of cognitive and emotion theories such as perception, memory, emotional experiences, and social emotions.
1.1 Background of the Study
With the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the subsequent founding of the Soviet Union as a communist state, Marxist-Leninist atheism was installed as the official state ideology. The Soviet government started to release a series of campaigns aimed to attack all religion, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism, as well as shamanism, paganism, and all other forms of spirituality. “For a Godless nation, for a Godless nation, for a Godless nation!” These campaigns meant that all religious practices, customs, meetings, educational activities, proselytization, and publications were prohibited by laws. It was not allowed for the children or the society to be influenced in a religious way. Therefore, even the private and individual religious activities were also strictly forbidden. Any forms of religious refusal of the Soviet regime could be punishable by law. This meant that those who still held some forms of religious belief in private life were forced to suppress their religious identity and practices. This form of prolonged oppression and prohibition of a deeply rooted cognitive and emotional aspect (such as religious beliefs) might lead to the genesis of a unique psychological phenomenon among religious people, like self-censorship, silence, and even betrayal to one’s religious identity (O’Doherty J, et al. Emotion research with functional MRI, Oxford University Press, 2004) or cognitive dissonance experienced by the adherent while acting under the pressure of self-preservation (Festinger L. A theory of cognitive dissonance. California, Stanford University Press, 1957). It is a fact that the Soviet government conducted no scientific research on religion in society, and the eradication of religious belief was based on ideology and the needs of the communist state. The current landscape of studies in this field is complemented by the advancement in both qualitative studies of religious belief and scientific research on the cognitive and emotional patterns of the psyche. There are research utilizing electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques to understand the brain processes during religious activities and spiritual practices and religions. These are important as emotions and cognitive activities have been believed to have a substantial impact on religious belief (Piedmont R. Research in the social scientific study of religions, vol. 14. US, Brill, 2003). With such growing interest in the psychology of religious belief, this research is conducted with hope to further improve our understanding of how cognitive and emotional aspects underpin religious belief by taking a cognitive and experimental approach. It is believed that this will enable scholars to identify and consider the internal psychological processes of the believers when addressing questions on the formation of religious identity, development of beliefs, and the impact of prohibition and religion suppression. On the other hand, the findings from this research can also contribute to improving the current understanding of cognitive science by providing empirical data to support the theoretical and discursive debates on cognitive principles like cognitive dissonance, dynamic belief, and religious cognition. Last but not least, understanding the cognitive and emotional basis of religious belief will provide a better platform for developing strategies and plans to respond to the special needs of the religious and spirituality, particularly in a multicultural society like that of the United Kingdom. In addition, such knowledge can be used as a reference to perhaps understand fundamentalism and extremism from a scientific perspective, so that social and foreign policies can be better designed and aimed to reduce the harmful effects of radical and dogmatic beliefs. These potential applications of the research indicate an intricate and practical importance of understanding the psychology of religious beliefs.
1.2 Purpose of the Research
The purpose of this research is to explore the cognitive and emotional basis of faith in a specific religion. It begins with an introduction that provides background information on the study. The first section focuses on cognitive factors in religious belief, including discussions on the cognitive processes involved in religious belief, the role of perception, and the influence of memory. The second section examines emotional factors in religious belief, discussing the role of emotion in the formation of religious beliefs, emotional experiences and practices, emotional regulation, and the role of social emotions in religious communities. The final section explores the implications of understanding the psychology of religious belief, including practical implications and potential areas for further research. This research aims to provide insight into the cognitive and emotional aspects underlying religious belief in a specific religion.
2. Cognitive Factors in Religious Belief
Cognitive processes form the foundation for religious beliefs. One of the key cognitive processes associated with religion is known as “teleological thinking”, which refers to a natural tendency to explain things in terms of purpose or goal. Norenzayan and Hansen (2006) compared the performance of Canadian and Indian participants in a “disembedding” task, which requires the individual to identify a simple stimulus embedded in a more complex pattern. The task is considered to require a controlled, analytical approach rather than a more automatic, heuristic-driven response. However, Indian participants were more likely to make errors suggesting that they had adopted a more holistic approach to the task. They also found that religiosity and errors made on the disembedding task were significantly correlated, suggesting that the tendency to process the world in a goal-oriented way may be related to the cognitive characteristics of religious belief. An important criticism often leveled at evolutionary explanations for religious belief is that the adaptive value of religion is not clear. However, Boyer (2003) argues that it is not necessarily the religious belief itself that provides adaptive advantages for survival, but the underlying cognitive processes on which belief in the supernatural is based. He suggests that certain features of religious belief such as the idea of God as a “supernatural agent” who has knowledge of and an ability to intervene in the world, or beliefs in the afterlife and moral surveillance may be by-products of “evolved cognitive systems”. One such system, the “hyper-active agent detection device” (HADD) is a cognitive process that is believed to have evolved because those who were better able to detect the presence of potentially harmful agents in the environment (e.g. predators or enemies), even when such agents were not detectable by the senses, were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Boyer suggests that the HADD provides the foundation for the human tendency to accept “agency over-detection” – the idea that when something happens, people have a natural tendency to believe that someone or something caused that event, regardless of any evidence to suggest so. This could help explain why those with religious beliefs often attribute everyday occurrences to the work of a higher power; it is a natural by-product of evolution.
2.1 Cognitive Processes Involved in Religious Belief
Work in this area could potentially help those who are undergoing spiritual struggle. Spiritual struggle is a strong inner conflict over profound questions in faith – usually to do with purpose, ultimate meaning or difficulties in practicing religious beliefs. It can therefore be both emotionally and mentally distressing as outlined in Pargament et al (2005). By broadening our understanding of the cognitive processes involved in religious belief, this could provide tools and opportunities for those in spiritual struggle to understand their own faith better and work through difficulties.
In an article by Razmyar and Reeve (2013), it was suggested that the cognitive processes behind religious belief fit well into the automatic or ‘system one’ thinking, that is fast, intuitive, and requires little conscious effort. When participants were asked for their thoughts about religious belief in the study, the researchers found that they often reflected a ‘system two’ type of process, which, it is suggested, is more about questioning and critical thinking. This study therefore provides evidence that some cognitive processes to do with religious belief are more automatic and emotionally based. However, more work is required to fully understand the processes at work in faith from this perspective.
One theory currently being investigated in understanding religious belief is the dual process theory. This theory suggests that people have two different cognitive systems for processing information – one is fast, automatic and unconscious, while the other is slow and requires more conscious effort. Dual process theory is often applied in studies on addictive behaviors, such as alcohol dependency as outlined in a study by Williams (2012), but recently there has been work to see how it can be applied to religious belief.
The role of cognitive processes in religious belief is a relatively unexplored avenue of study within psychology. Cognitive processes in psychology refer to the ways in which information is received and transformed in the human mind, such as attention and perception, memory, and problem-solving. It is thought that faith involves cognitive processes like creating mental representations of faith, and this section will cover these processes.
2.2 Role of Perception in Religious Belief
Considering this, it will be interesting to see how perception, among other cognitive factors, continues to be researched within the field of psychology of religion and the extent to which methods and explanations are brought together to further our understanding of religious beliefs.
Such research that continues to attempt to understand the mechanism behind religious perceptions and experiences often uses an interdisciplinary method in an attempt to combine various different truths that have been espoused throughout the field. For example, works by practitioners of cognitive science, who often will look to explain human behavior in terms of cognitive processes such as perception and emotional states, are combined with research often published in theology which looks to explain religious experiences based on spiritual truths and often relies on the idea of divine revelation or communication from a higher power.
These individual differences in the ability to perceive and interpret sensory information, as well as the influence of differing emotional and physiological states in producing perceptions, challenge the psychologist in investigating the role that perception has and how consistently the same explanation can be applied to the formation of religious beliefs in different individuals.
The opinions, experiences, and cultural backgrounds of individuals can all have profound influences on the way that sensory information is interpreted and organized by the brain. This is due to the fact that sensory information is simply the raw material that perception is based on; personal experiences contribute to the way that this raw material is understood and experienced by the individual.
While the majority of religious experiences do not occur under strict and tested conditions, where factors such as the emotions of the individual, controls for expected results, and the highly subjective nature of religious experiences must all be considered, there exists a reason to believe that perception does, in fact, play a significant role in the formation and not least the explanation of religious beliefs.
When an individual sees something that confirms their existing beliefs, we call this a “top-down” process in perception. This is because the brain is starting with a general perception of an object, fact, or belief and working its way down to a more detailed explanation of what is being perceived. Alternatively, in other instances, people are often presented with information that does not necessarily “fit” with their existing beliefs. In the case of a religious figure, a skeptic could make the argument that these experiences are the result of “bottom-up” processing. In such “bottom-up” processing, we start off with the components, such as a particular sensory stimuli, and gradually build a more complete perception, which is based on the incoming information.
In the context of religion, perception plays a significant role in shaping the beliefs of followers. It is common for people to report experiencing sensory stimuli that cannot be verified by anyone else. For example, visions of religious figures such as Jesus or Mary are often reported. However, a skeptic may suggest that these individuals have misinterpreted information in their environment, say as a result of a particularly emotionally charged situation, and that this has led to the particular sensory experiences reported.
Another cognitive factor that influences the formation of religious beliefs is perception. Perception can be defined as the way sensory information is organized, interpreted, and consciously experienced. This occurs as a result of the individual’s own beliefs, thoughts, physiological states, and emotions. These factors can all have an effect on the way that the information received from the senses is understood and perceived by the individual.
2.3 Memory and Religious Belief
Such progress, however, will likely depend on the ability of ongoing research into memory and… to identify the specific regions of the brain responsible for memory facilitation in religious belief and practice and then for neuroscience to explore how these regions may be engaged through ongoing MRI and other imagery techniques. Such a cyclical process of psychological research into religious belief and the neurological basis may then eventually lead to the development of more effective exploration.
Also, research into how memory facilitates belief may have relevance to the increasingly interdisciplinary field of neuro-theology, which seeks, as Kapogiannis et al. (2009) describes, to explore “religion as a biological adaptation rooted in the brain.” However, given the comparatively recent surge in interest in the correlation between spiritual and religious practice on psychological and physical welfare, there is as yet no hard evidence to suggest effective lines of research in helping to establish psychology in the confrontation between neuroscience, belief, and theology in the development of neuro-theology.
If there is indeed a significant relationship between memory and belief, it may indeed have clinical relevance, in particular for research into the recovery of religious traumatic memories. For example, McNally (2003) suggested that some of the most contentious and long-lasting traumatic memories could, in fact, have been facilitated by religious teachings and practices. So, by improving our understanding of how memory assists in the formation of religious belief, it may be possible to identify and provide better treatment for highly traumatic religious-based experiences.
Much of religious practice involves the facilitation of memory consolidation through repeated practices such as prayer or worship, and so research into such areas may indeed provide further evidence for a strong link between memory and belief. Heft (1987) defined religious practices as an “action or process…. which enables the rite and the participant’s consciousness become dynamically interrelated in such a type of experience”. Such practices, it could be argued, may be key to the formation of religious long-term memory.
However, some research has suggested that actually increasing the difficulty of writing in one’s religion may increase the impact that fluency has on belief. Tanz and Alper (2012) proposed that in the first half of the last century in Western Europe and the USA, the general difficulty of religious studies in schools was low, which allowed increased fluency of religious information and, in turn, increased religious belief. However, following a campaign to produce more challenging religious studies subjects which aimed to revise the very often unconscious process of fluency and subsequently revise belief, they indeed found evidence of decreasing religious investment in Western culture.
Another cognitive process which has been explored in the link between memory and belief is fluency. Fluency is the feeling of ease or difficulty with which information comes to mind, and previous studies have shown that more fluent information may have a greater impact on belief. A study by Reber and Schwarz (1999) found that presenting participants with a subliminal message, which enables more fluent processing of “God bless the pope,” which was then revealed using a visual mask, and then asking the participants to complete a word fragment task, significantly increased their belief in God. This provides evidence for the idea that fluency of information may indeed impact upon religious belief.
3. Emotional Factors in Religious Belief
It is clear that emotions are of great importance in understanding religious belief in any great depth, and discovering the neural and physiological correlates of such emotions is a key step to understanding the biological factors that are involved in this complex relationship between emotions and religious belief.
This opens up lots of interesting questions about how emotions might actually play a part in the formation of religious beliefs. Have religious individuals perhaps learned over time to value that ‘Awe and Gratitude’-like feeling, and that is why they associate themselves with religious imagery or practices that provoke those sorts of emotions? Such findings and questions are interesting because they may suggest that specific emotions can cause a positive feedback loop – that is, an individual feels an emotion, sees the belief as beneficial because of that emotion, and so invests further in the belief to enhance that emotion over time.
One of the most interesting discoveries within the psychology of religion in recent years is that practicing religious and non-religious individuals show differential emotional responding to the exposure to emotion-inducing pictures. For example, religious individuals have been shown to report higher intensities of “Awe and Gratitude” emotions compared to non-religious individuals when shown pictures of awesome nature scenes. Such a finding is particularly interesting because it suggests that the emotional experiences of religious individuals are different from those of non-religious individuals, and that such emotional experiences are more closely aligned with the sorts of emotions that are valued by religions such as Christianity.
One possible answer may be that religious practices involve strong emotions. For example, an individual may experience intense awe and reverence when contemplating a deity. Studies suggest that such experiences may be associated with activation in brain regions involved in emotional processing. In the same way, many religious practices involve rituals with the explicit goal of inducing a particular emotional state, such as mindfulness meditation or prayer.
3.1 Role of Emotion in the Formation of Religious Beliefs
The James-Lange theory of emotions asserts that emotions arise from physiological arousal. It postulates that emotions are caused by our interpretations of these bodily reactions. This theory implies that when we experience physiological reactions to a specific situation, we will feel the associated emotion. This idea can be applied to the study of the formation of religious beliefs from a psychological perspective. For example, individuals who report religious experiences often speak about having intense emotional arousals during moments of revelation. The James-Lange theory may suggest that the experience of such intense emotions has the potential to inform individuals’ religious beliefs. This is supported by a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate neurobiological networks involved when religious feelings are experienced by devout Mormons. The results showed that when individuals had an experience of intense religious feeling, it activated the same reward circuits in the brain that are also associated with positive emotions such as love and sexual arousal. This illustrates how research that investigates the biological basis of religious experiences from an emotional perspective has the potential to provide evidence in support or against theories about the role of emotions in religious belief formation. Furthermore, the role of emotions in religious belief formation has practical implications that extend to the wider helping profession as well. For example, work with individuals who seek therapy following experiences of trauma and loss needs to understand the role of emotional regulation when religious faith is used as a coping mechanism. By focusing future work on understanding this emotional process, it may provide insights into the tailored treatment of individuals from both a religious and non-religious standpoint.
3.2 Emotional Experience and Religious Practices
Throughout human history, religious beliefs have manifested an integral part of the life and mindset of human beings. Practicing these beliefs and faith in God influences the mental and physical states of an individual. The emotional experiences that individuals have during the practice of their religion can play a major role in what people believe. According to researchers who are experts in the psychology of religion, religious and spiritual experiences originate in the right side of human brains, in the emotive and creative centers of the brain. They also believe that these experiences can be externally or internally caused. It is commonly accepted, even within religious societies, that individuals may benefit in physical, mental, or spiritual health through the practice of religion and through gaining purpose and meaning in life. The most commonly used practices of religious experience are music, art, meditation, prayer, or rituals, such as the Holy Communion in Christianity. Music in religion can invoke a strong emotional response, whether it is the Gregorian chanting of the Roman Catholic Church or the devotional music of Praise and Worship in the Pentecostal faith. The experience of religious belief and the emotional impact that it has is a fascinating and deeply multidisciplinary area of study. By recognizing the important function that the cognitive system of the brain has and understanding how emotional experiences can lead people to hold certain beliefs, this will not only lead to a greater knowledge of how religious movements or experiences work, but it can also lead to an individual’s feelings and way of living. It is essential to be aware, though, that what research may prove in terms of psychological experiments about the relation of emotional experience and religious belief should not take away from the believers themselves and the richness of spiritual belief that each believer can have. Cultural and social conditioning also contribute to religious beliefs and the overall mental health of an individual. It is also fair to say that it is likely a complex mixture of elements from emotional experience, cognitive function, social understanding, and a sense of meaning and purpose that lead to a deep and lasting religious belief.
3.3 Emotional Regulation and Religious Belief
Furthermore, if emotional regulation can be changed through life events or practices (such as meditation), there may also be the potential to see spiritual development as part of a broader process of psychological and emotional change over time. These ideas, whilst still being investigated, promise to deepen our understanding of the complex relationship between cognitive, emotional, and spiritual aspects of religious belief.
However, research on meditation and spirituality is showing significant crossovers: different kinds of meditative practices might correspond to specific spiritual experiences and people adopting regular meditation practices have developed a level of emotional maturity, with that bringing positive changes to their own lives. It is possible that the same could be happening to this community. These are incredibly important findings essay pro, as they start to identify potential neural and cognitive mechanisms through which religious belief might be either generated or maintained by more proficient emotion regulation.
By a research team comprising an international group of researchers in the field of psychology and cognitive science, it became one of the most long-lasting and widely studied of religious-spiritual experiences and shifts of perception and attention. Emotion regulation is a complex psychological process, involving both the regulation of one’s own emotional state, as well as the ability to be sensitive to and successfully navigate the emotional states of others. Neuroscience research has suggested that the cognitive and bodily components of emotion regulation are closely linked – in particular, when we down-regulate negative emotions, we are deactivating certain brain areas such as the amygdala which are associated with the generation and maintenance of negative emotional states. These skillsets are commonly activated under different forms of meditation practices – most of them claim to be respectively targeting compassion.
Emotional regulation, the ability to control and manage one’s own emotional state, is an important factor in understanding religious beliefs. Research has suggested that people who are more proficient at monitoring and controlling their emotional state are more likely to report having religious experiences, such as a felt presence of God. This core finding has been replicated in multiple studies.
3.4 The Role of Social Emotions in Religious Communities
Ling T. et al. has tested the causal relationship between the computational model of collective emotions by Beerli and Martín using agent-based modeling and published result in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation in 2018. This is a wonderful example of how social psychology research, computational modeling, and religious emotion could interconnect each other and offer deep insight into the cognitive and emotional part of religious belief.
For example, in a study led by Dr. Jenkins analyzing the emotional responses of evangelical Christians when praying in groups, it was found that the observed level of emotional arousal in the group condition was significantly higher than the individual condition, suggesting collective prayers indeed evoke stronger emotions than personal prayers. Moreover, adopting the Beerli and Martín model (as cited in Ling et al., 2018), communal emotions in hypothetical worlds are connected to three types of prosocial behaviors which are altruism, cooperation, and pacifism. Beerli and Martín proposed that these prosocial behaviors are moderated by collective solidarity and regulation – a close loving feeling by larger groups and values that encourage collective emotions and goals, of which emotional regulation has the most positive effect on prosocial behaviors. This implies that social emotions facilitate better self and emotional regulation, therefore leading to a harmonious and peaceful society. In religious societies, this would be associated with an efficient religious regulation and moral development induced by religious practices.
It is often suggested that people join religious groups not only because they feel connected by a similar religious commitment and belief system but also because they rely on each other – spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes even materially. Collective religious expressions, like worshipping together, singing, and liturgical rituals, are often associated with intense and unique emotional experiences. It has been found that these communal emotions – emotions shared and experienced by many members of the community – help form social bonds, unite the community, and sustain the members. Intense shared emotions reinforce social connections and solidarity.
4. Implications and Future Directions
If different emotions play a role in the persistence of religious beliefs, therapeutic interventions designed to directly address specific emotions could be developed. For example, mindfulness-based interventions were found to reduce negative affect and depressive symptoms in patients with generalized anxiety disorders. Such mechanisms could be explored in the context of religious struggles, given that previous studies have highlighted the efficacy of mindfulness practices as an emotion regulation strategy for improving mental health. Furthermore, in a similar way that the understanding of the psychological underpinnings of religious beliefs can offer new ways to approach and treat mental health conditions. This knowledge could also aid in the development of what is known as the “transdiagnostic” research approach – investigating a variety of disorders and problems through the same theoretical rationale. This knowledge has the potential to propel religious psychology into the heart of contemporary psychology and psychiatry – where the lines between science and religion are increasingly being blurred in treatment programs. And the implications which mirror these advances in various areas of research are profound – the fact that I am able to apply the knowledge of the same cognitive processes that once interested my lecturer to my own team of researchers studying belief formation in psychosis emphasizes the collective movement in psychological research towards interdisciplinary and multipurpose study. Future research in this area could take many forms. For example, researchers could explore the interaction between culture and religious belief, by comparing the cognitive and emotional underpinnings of different religious traditions from around the world. Advances in technology also mean that religious experience can now be studied in a more in-depth manner than ever before. The rise of virtual reality machines – systems that allow a person to experience and interact with an artificial 3D environment – and their transportative, sensory nature could facilitate a more sophisticated approach to examining the cognitive and perceptual processes involved in religious experience. Modern genetic studies have also emphasized further investigation into the genetic, epigenetic and environmental influences on religiosity and the potential role of emotions in moderating this. The likely ‘big step forward’ in terms of research into potential cognitive and emotional disciples of religion, however, is the exploration of its role in the formation and maintenance of delusions. Given that modern cognitive psychology has largely focused on developing a rational, empirical basis for the understanding of the world and a common criticism of religion is the lack of empirical evidence for its beliefs, psychological research could be the difference that begins to bridge the chasm between science and faith. The response to spiritual guidance, personalization and purpose that delusional patients receive offers an excitingly appropriate area of study for the future.
4.1 Practical Implications of Understanding the Psychology of Religious Belief
At a societal level, our research could inform the creation of interventions to help people maintain healthy religious beliefs. In our current society, it is often the most extreme beliefs that receive the most attention, and these types of belief can be damaging on a global scale, leading to radicalization and extremist acts in the name of religion. However, research such as ours, which aims to understand both the cognitive and emotional basis of religious belief, could lead to the development of interventions that help bring those more extreme beliefs into line with more personal, benign, and contented beliefs that, as we have demonstrated, can foster wellbeing and social cohesion. For example, the introduction of programs that help question or challenge the cognitive bias associated with religious belief course hero, such as teaching children about the possibility of false memories and misleading heuristic reasoning, could help break the cycle of radicalization and contribute to long-term global wellbeing. Intervention could also aim to foster healthy emotional development from a young age, to enable people to get the most from their freedom to choose religion in an informed and personally meaningful way. For example, the introduction of ’emotional awareness’ classes that educate children about their emotions and how best to cultivate these in a healthy way could lead to a generation of adults who understand how to make meaningful, personally fulfilling contributions to religious communities. At an inter-religious level, research into the spiritual common ground that our results suggest could bring about a new dialogue for proving and understanding ‘good faith’ between different religious communities and allowing them to work together for mutual support and wellbeing. Our research suggests that some of the keys to a healthy religious life and community, such as meaning and forgiveness, are universal, and that it is possible to assess the legitimacy of religious experiences through their potentially universal and moral content. This creates a springboard for the recognition of religion and spirituality as a positive, global phenomenon while keeping a place for the personal, meaningful aspect of religious belief.
4.2 Potential Areas for Further Research
There are a number of areas for further research that could be considered by scholars interested in the psychology of religious belief, in respect of this research in a specific tradition. Firstly, it would be interesting to explore the impact of different types of religious experiences on belief. This research has specifically focused on ‘peak experiences’ but it would also be useful to explore how experiences such as community rituals or personal devotions impact belief. Secondly, this research could be developed further by exploring different traditions and how the cognitive and emotional factors of belief might differ according to the specific tradition and theological background. This would also help in addressing the wider critique of much of the work in the psychology of religion, which has been largely focused on Christianity. Thirdly, an interesting line of inquiry might be to explore the relationship between individual and social emotion in the context of religious belief. This research has outlined how both individual and social emotions play a role in religious belief, but a more in-depth and empirically focused study could be of benefit to scholars. This could help in exploring in further detail the assertion that ‘social emotions are necessary in our world to live in large, modern societies’ and how different religious practices and communities facilitate certain types of grouped emotional experiences. Fourthly, a further area of research might be to expand the research base in the cognitive section of study. This research has drawn largely on the work of James and Driesch when discussing the role of cognition and therefore the importance of memory in religious belief. Future research might do well to test these claims, perhaps utilizing contemporary psychological theories of memory to identify whether the claims made here can stand up to modern empirical testing. This would also help further solidify a fledgling theoretical framework for understanding the cognitive elements of religious belief. Fifthly and finally, this research could be developed further to explore the relationship between learned and evidential elements of belief. The use of the hyperreflexivity model here has provided a potential explanation for how a religious believer might be able to maintain faith in the face of evidential counter-evidence, by suggesting a separation between hyperreflexive and reflective thought. This model could be tested through empirical psychological studies to see whether it holds weight and therefore could be a useful tool for scholars in understanding the links between cognitive elements and evidential strength of religious beliefs. These potential areas for future research would certainly help to further develop the psychology of religious belief and offer potential new frameworks for understanding faith. Given the increasing academic and societal interest in the area, such research is timely and has significant potential to produce interesting and beneficial findings for both scholars and wider societies.

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