A new analysis from the Arizona State University Department of Psychology, published in Perspectives in Psychological Science, explores whether the benefits of religion are unique to practicing religion or to being religious.
The study concludes that while religion is important, there is not strong evidence supporting that certain effects of religion are special. As the scholars point out, the findings come at a time when surveys find that fewer Americans consider themselves to be religious.
The research team is said to have examined specifically how religion affected morality, self-control, anxiety about dying, health and well-being. They then asked whether those benefits could happen in another way.
“Understanding how religion achieves outcomes is important,” Adam Cohen, professor of psychology at ASU, said in a press statement about the research. “If God is blessing you, that is something that cannot be replicated through secular means. But if what is important about some of the effects of religion is that it embeds you in a community of people who care about you, that is useful to know.”
For instance, the element of punishment for wrong behavior, has roughly the same effect as reminding individuals of the existence of a police force.
Yet, when it comes to health, the outcome may be different. The researchers said that some studies report that religious people live longer. They say that, according to their analysis, some studies have concluded that the effect of regular attendance of religious services is on par with the use of cholesterol-lowering statins.
According to ASU, the project was backed by the Department of Defense and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse.