Religion in the Context of the Nature-Nurture Debate: Is Individual Level Variation on Religious Outcomes the Result of Biological as Well as Social Forces?

Matt Bradshaw, University of Texas at Austin
Christopher G. Ellison, University of Texas at Austin

The longstanding social scientific assumption that religion is a primarily, if not entirely, social phenomenon is being called into question by recent behavioral genetics findings. These studies, which employ data that compare family members (typically twin siblings) to one another, hint at the possibility that individual variation on religious outcomes is the product of biological or genetic influences, as well as social forces. This paper, which examines a diverse assortment of religion measures that have yet to be analyzed from a behavioral genetics perspective, strongly supports the idea that religion is a “biosocial” phenomenon. These findings pose potential implications (insufficient explanatory power, uninterpretable results, confounding effects or spurious relationships) and benefits (a new method that nicely supplements existing perspectives) for the social scientific study of religion.

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Presented in Session 170: Measuring Religious Influence