HOT OFF THE PRESS! (3 Oct 2008)
The very latest issue of the Science journal has published a review of religious prosociality.
This is an issue that has an indirect connection with my recent Masters thesis. What a pity this wasn't published a little earlier, as I could have incorporated some of this data into my thesis.
But never mind, I'll read this review and criticise it here soon.
In plain English (as per the abstract): This review examines the evidence for religious prosociality, in other words, the extent to which religion goes in ensuring you're a "good guy". Do you help people and do favours for them because of your natural niceness, or because your religion tells you to? While surveys find a correlation between religiosity and helpful behaviour, experiments have found that this correlation occurs mainly in context where the reputation of the 'helper' is enhanced. In other words, religiously-motivated helpers want to do good and be seen doing good. Other experiments find that religious thoughts reduce the inclination to cheat and increase helpful behaviour towards random strangers.
I don't know what the rest of it means (re devotion and trust, morally concerned deities, etc) as I'll have to read it to find out. But this is a taste!