The Parliament Blog

The Surprising Effect of Religious Devotion on Suicide Attacks

From The Huffington Post

We all have our personal “theories” about what motivates religious terrorists. To go from personal theories to real ones, we need to study the issue scientifically. One recent study draws the provocative conclusion that ritual participation more than religious belief may be behind suicide attacks.

From a scientific standpoint a suicide attack represents an extreme form of parochial altruism — a self-sacrificial act made on behalf of one’s in-group, involving aggression against an out-group. Religious belief, some have argued, is the prime motivator for such an attack. The attacker believes that his or her sacrifice will lead to a glorious reward in the afterlife (e.g., Islam’s famous 70-some-odd virgins-awaiting). This explanation can be called the “belief hypothesis,” and it would predict that those who demonstrate increased devotion to religious beliefs or deities would be more supportive of suicide attacks. In the context of a recent study (Ginges et al., Psychological Science, 20, p. 224), devotion was measured by prayer frequency. Thus, those who prayed more were assumed to be more devoted, and some preliminary analyses confirmed that this was indeed the case.

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