The Religious Bias of Love and Prejudice

Many religious teachings emphasize love, kindness, and generosity as the primary cultural values. Whether or not you are religious, you have probably heard of the “Golden Rule.” It states that you should treat others as you would like to be treated. A version of this rule exists in all major world religions. Why does religious prejudice still exist?

Does religion increase moral behavior? Or, why do religious cultures explicitly or implicitly teach prejudice?

Religions encourage prosocial behavior and teach us to love each other. Religious teachings suggest people treat others with kindness, generosity, and positivity. Based on the review of many studies on religion and prosocial behavior, researchers have concluded that religious people’s faith tends to increase their prosocial behavior.

Why then don’t we always practice what we preach?

The Paradox of Religious Love

The question arises: why does religion also influence actions and viewpoints that seem to conflict with these religious principles?

Throughout history, religions have been a force behind atrocities like wars and massacres committed against people of other faiths. We know about the stories of religious crusades. We remember the French Wars of Religion in 1572 and the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

Why Religious People Can Be Prejudiced

While religion teaches prosocial behavior, research shows that when people identify themselves closely with one’s religion, this can lead to their racism and homophobia. The social psychological effect of intergroup bias can explain how religion can produce prejudiced attitudes and behaviors.

How Intergroup Bias Decreases Prosocial Behavior and Love

The intergroup bias is the human propensity to think favorably about the groups we are a part of — an “ingroup”.” Yet we think more negatively about the groups you are not a part of—”an outgroup.” While we think that outgroups violate our ingroup values, we perceive them as dangerous to our ingroup.

In light of this social psychological effect, we can understand why religious beliefs can produce both prosocial behavior and prejudice. On the one hand, people direct their prosocial behavior primarily at members of their own ingroup. On the other hand, people focus their prejudice on members of other groups, particularly those they view as threatening.

However, it is unclear whether religion boosts prejudice or if there is another factor at play. Annetta Snell and her colleagues thoroughly reviewed the findings of psychological research, which used priming techniques to explore whether religion might increase prejudice.

What the Priming Studies Are

Priming is the method of subtly encouraging someone to think about a thought or concept in such a way that they are barely conscious of this subtle influence. Researchers employ the strategy of priming to influence people’s opinions when they don’t want to be too explicit in their influence. The purpose of such priming is to increase a concept’s awareness in the brain of a person in order to detect differences in subsequent behaviors and attitudes.

In one type of priming technique, for example, people unscrambled short sentences with religious words. That was implicit religious priming. Then these participants responded to the questions that assessed their prejudice toward various religious groups.

Researchers compared the responses of these participants with those of other people, whom they primed with unreligious (neutral) words. The higher level of prejudice in the group primed with religious words than in the group primed with neutral words should provide evidence that religion causes prejudice.

What the Priming Studies of Religious Beliefs Show

Annetta Snell and her colleagues have reviewed 44 studies estimating how much this kind of priming increases prejudice. They concluded that the priming of religious thoughts increases prejudice across all target groups, such as Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. However, researchers found that this effect of religious priming is relatively small.

However, researchers found that priming religion increases prejudice toward members of sexual and gender minorities as well as towards atheists. These findings indicate that religious people tend to perceive members of sexual and gender minorities, as well as atheists, as especially threatening to their religious views. It is likely they perceive those as violating their religious values.

Thus, priming religious thoughts increases prejudice due to intergroup bias and perceptions of threat. However, it would be inadequate to excessively generalize these findings. When primed with religious thoughts, not all people show prejudice towards other groups. And religious leaders and community members can mitigate the negative social effects of religious prejudice if they explicitly oppose prejudice towards other cultural groups.

Different Love Styles in Cross-cultural Perspective

During the 1970s, Canadian sociologist John Alan Lee explored a number of different love styles that men and women practice in their romantic relationships (Lee, 1973, 1976). This theory and method have become significant contributions to the individual typology of love styles (Karandashev, 2022).

In the 1980s and 1990s, his theory of six different love styles became widely known among researchers who study love. Numerous researchers adopted this typology and examined many individual variables associated with these different love styles. Scientists also attempted to make cross-cultural comparisons of these different love styles (Karandashev, 2019).

Not many, however, were aware that John Lee theoretically justified the cultural ideologies of these different love styles. In the conclusion of his work, he suggested that cross-cultural replication of his method in a comparative perspective could yield interesting findings. Here is the summary of how Lee enlightened the cultural ideologies of different love styles.

Cultural Ideologies of Different Love Styles

Lee suggested that the preferred cultural patterns of behavior associated with different love styles may evolve over time as socially sanctioned systems of ideas. Such cultural ideologies could develop due to the influence of specific social institutions and philosophies. In certain historical periods, the social conditions and cultural ideologies of people’s lives can cause a specific love ideology (Lee, 1975).

Here are some examples.

The Roman Cultural Ideology of Love

The cultural ideology in the historical period of ancient Roman civilization was open and permissible to a variety of sexualities and love. The Roman culture was conducive to the art of love and seduction rather than to genuine love feelings. The cultural ideology of the time encouraged love more as a playful adventure and a game. The principles underlying entertainment, play, and games determined people’s experiences of love and expressions. (Meister, 1963; Ovid, 1939). This is why the Ludus love style was popular in the cultural climate of that time.

The Christian Cultural Ideology of Love

The Christian ideology that prevailed during the early centuries of the Christian era opposed the Ludus love ideology (cf. Nygren, 1952). Different from this, Christian religious teachings emphasized the importance of the Agape love philosophy. The Agape love cultural ideology served as the foundation for Christian conceptions of religious beliefs, practices, and marriages. According to this ideology, love should adhere to the ideals of selflessness, generosity, and concern for others.

The Feudal Cultural Ideology of Love

The feudal societies were highly structured and had a high-power distance between people of different social classes. People believed that the cultural ideology of hierarchical societies fits into the reality principle of life. Many traditional collectivistic societies have been organized this way.

This feudal cultural ideology developed into a pragmatic love ideology. The Pragma love style was well suited to that social organization. And the institution of arranged marriage became very common in these societies.

The Cultural Ideology of Courtly Love

Since the 12th century, a cultural ideology of courtly love has evolved in several European societies. The adventurous pleasure principle of this love style opposed the Christian ideology of the Agape love style as duty love. It also opposed the Feudal ideology of the Pragma style of love and arranged marriage.

The social conditions of life among medieval knights and aristocracy in the south of France, Spain, Italy, and Germany were well suited to the new adventurous style of love relationships. In the centuries that followed, it developed further into what we now know as romantic love or Mania love style.

Thus, we can see that the cultural and intellectual atmosphere of certain epochs has been more favorable to one of them than to another. Throughout history, various cultures have promoted certain ideologies of love as the ideal model.

The Individual Variation of Love Styles in a Culture

In any historical or modern culture, men and women vary in their typological differences and in the personal experience of relationships they have. Therefore, each of these different love styles has existed in all historical eras. And each of these different love styles is present in a wide variety of modern cultures.

The way a person loves and the things that come with it may depend on their personality, the personality of their partner, and their relationships. The person can act in ways that are typical of different love styles in different situations and contexts of their life. She or he can change their love style in the different stages of their relationship. For example, Mania and Eros love styles tend to be more common among young men and women, while Storge love styles tend to show up later in a relationship (Karandashev, 2019).

Prospective Use of Lee’s Method in Other Cultures

The same research methodology that Lee developed could be applied to other cultures (1975). However, as far as I’m aware, no other cultural studies of this kind have been conducted.

For many years, cross-cultural studies on love styles in other cultural samples have focused on cultural differences in love attitudes (see Karandashev, 2019 for a review). In the context of Lee’s theory and method, the concept of love styles differs from the concept of love attitudes (1973, 1976, 1977).

The love attitude is only one component of the love style, yet it is an important one. Different love styles are multifaceted and complex emotional experiences, expressions, actions, and relationships.

How People Experience and Express Emotions in Individualistic Cultures

Several cultural ideals, the norms of social life, personality traits, emotions, and behavior define the individualistic features of societies. The key attributes of an individualistic culture are

  • personal autonomy and relational independence,
  • the primacy of a person’s individuality and uniqueness,
  • the priority of individual aspirations and self-realization,
  • the primacy of a person’s self-interest and an individual’s rights,
  • the lower priority of the others’ interests and needs.

(Triandis, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988).

The individual characteristics of a person define her or his self-identity. It includes individual motivations, goals, attitudes, traits, emotions, and actions. Individuals are relatively independent in their interpersonal relationships (Karandashev, 2021).

Interesting Findings on How People in Individualistic Cultures Experience Their Emotions

These personal characteristics of people in individualistic cultures affect the contexts and situations in which they experience certain emotions. These individualistic characteristics also influence the way they feel certain emotions. The emotionality traits of people also determine the frequency and intensity with which people experience certain emotions. They also determine relatively pleasant and unpleasant emotions people experience in their lives.

According to research, people in individualistic societies experience a lower level of negative emotions and a higher level of positive emotions (Basabe et al., 2002).

Another study (Chentsova-Dutton & Tsai, 2010) found that,

  • European Americans, as the representatives of an individualistic culture, feel the amplified emotions when they pay attention to individual aspects of their self.
  • Asian Americans, as the representatives of a collectivistic culture, feel the amplified emotions when they pay attention attention to relational aspects of their self

Several studies (Kitayama et al., 2000; Kitayama et al., 2006; Uchida & Kitayama, 2009) show that people in individualistic cultures tend to experience pride, self-esteem, and frustration as the socially disengaging emotions more frequently than sympathy, respect, and friendliness as the socially engaging emotions.

How Happy Are the People in Individualistic Cultures?

How does individualism, as a cultural factor, affect the emotional experiences of people’s well-being and happiness in individualistic societies? A recent large study of 21 thousand people from 48 countries investigated how individualism as a cultural variable can affect their subjective well-being. Researchers conducted the study over three time periods from 1980 to 2000. Based on their theory, they thought that cultural characteristics of societies rather than people’s wealth would lead to their satisfaction with life and relationships (Steel, Taras, Uggerslev, & Bosco, 2018).

The Happiness of Individualistic Cultures at the Individual Level

Surprisingly, researchers revealed that individualism at the individual level predicted the lower subjective well-being of people. Individualism as an individual variable predicted less happiness people experienced in their lives and in family relationships. It was true even when wealth was taken into account.

So, the findings show that the cultural values of autonomy and individualism are not beneficial for individual well-being (Steel et al., 2008).

The Happiness of Individualistic Cultures at the National Level

Surprisingly different from this finding, happy nations are typically high in individualism at the national level. Individualism as a cultural variable predicted subjective well-being at the national level. Researchers found that besides the impact of individualism-collectivism, a country’s political and economic circumstances also predicted people’s subjective well-being. Yet, the latter effect was partially independent of individualism (Steel et al., 2008).

How Do People in Individualistic Cultures Express Their Emotions?

The cultural norms of individualistic societies also favor certain ways in which people should express their emotions. Studies have revealed several interesting findings. They found that people in individualistic cultures tend to

  • exhibit higher levels of general emotional expressiveness (van Hemert et al., 2007);
  • believe they have a right to express their emotions as important personal experiences (Markus & Kitayama, 1991);
  • prefer external displays of emotions as expressions of individuality and
  • exaggerate the intensity of the emotional experience (Matsumoto, Takeuchi, Andayani, Kouznetsova, & Krupp, 1998).

All these findings are in accord with cultural values of autonomy, separateness, and uniqueness of individuals in individualistic societies (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), which I highlighted in another article.

Cultural Values in Individualistic Cultures

Individualism and collectivism are the two opposite constructs and dimensions of culture. These dimensions have been among the most popular in cultural and cross-cultural studies of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Marsella et al., 1985; Triandis, 1995). Cross-cultural researchers have investigated how various social, economic, and psychological parameters vary depending on whether people live in individualistic or collectivistic societies. The variables of emotional experiences and expressions were among those (Karandashev, 2021).

The Examples of Individualistic Countries

Many of the most individualistic societies are in North America, Western and Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Among those typical instances are the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark (Hofstede, 1984; 2011; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Gelfand, et al., 2000; Kashima, et al., 1995; Triandis, 1995).

Individualistic Cultures vs. Collectivistic Cultures

There are two key groups of cultural phenomena that distinguish individualistic cultures from collectivistic cultures (Hofstede & Bond, 1984, p. 419). Individualistic cultures

  • emphasize individual goals, whereas collectivistic cultures emphasize group goals over individual goals.
  • expect people to look after themselves and their immediate family, whereas collectivistic cultures expect people to belong to in-groups, such as families, that look after them in exchange for their loyalty

The Values of People in Individualistic Societies

Triandis and his colleagues considered personal independence, autonomy, initiative, self-reliance, and freedom as the values associated with individualism in a culture (Triandis, 1995; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988). These cultural values of individualistic societies are the opposite of the collectivistic values of family unity, loyalty, and integrity. Individualistic cultures promote the formation of personal and specific friendships.

Here are several key features of cultural values, norms, and practices that people follow in individualistic societies. Individualistic cultures tend to appreciate

  • personal autonomy,
  • personal independence,
  • the primacy of personality uniqueness,
  • the individual’s goals and actions,
  • individual initiative and self-realization,
  • the individual’s rights rather than duties,
  • a person’s self-interest and his immediate family,
  • less concern for the needs and interests of others.

The Personal Identity of Men and Women in Individualistic Cultures

The individuality of a person and their personal characteristics constitute their self-identity. In terms of personal motivation, people prioritize individual goals over collective goals. Interpersonal connections and relationships are loose and relatively independent.

People in Individualistic Cultures Exhibit Uniform Behavior Towards Members of the In-Group and Out-Group

The cultural norms of individualistic societies encourage men and women to follow the same norms and rules of behavior in both in-group and out-group relationships and contexts. In individualistic cultures, where interpersonal independence and autonomy are highly valued, men and women commonly follow the same kinds of behavior in contact with others from their in-groups and out-groups. It is different from collectivistic cultures in which people highly value embeddedness and interdependence. They tend to differentiate their behavior toward others from their in-group versus out-group (Smith & Bond, 1999).

How People Experience Emotions in Collectivistic Cultures

People in collectivistic societies commonly have a personal identity strongly integrated into their group. Accordingly, the cultural norms of collectivistic societies assume interdependent relations with each other and with a group, such as extended family and kin. Their relational values determine how they experience and express their emotions. Interpersonal relationship harmony is a more important determinant of emotional experience than individual assertion (Karandashev, 2021). Researchers revealed that some Asian countries, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Pakistan, as well as some South American countries, such as Peru, Chile, Venezuela, and Colombia, are among the most typical collectivistic cultures in the world. The societies of African, Arab, and Eastern European countries are also collectivistic, however, to a lesser degree (Basabe & Ros, 2005).

How People Feel About Themselves in Collectivistic Cultures

Men and women in collectivistic cultures are tightly embedded in so-called in-groups, such as kin and extended families. An individual’s loyalty to a group is its greatest value. People in collectivistic cultures regard their “in-group” values as more important than individual values. Individuals tend to subordinate personal motivation and emotions to group goals.

The sense of personal identity that a person has is determined by their place in a group. Personal privacy has little value and is vulnerable to the intrusion of other members of a group. Individual assertion is less important in collectivistic cultures, while interpersonal relationship harmony is more important (Noon & Lewis, 1992). The group encourages members to adhere to particular norms of emotional experience, expression, and behavior in order to facilitate mutual support and shared experiences. People rely on a group for emotional support.

Relational Emotions in Collectivistic Cultures

Cultural beliefs in collectivistic societies regard emotions as interactive rather than individual experiences. Their emotional experiences reflect people’s social context rather than their internal selves. Emotions are regarded as situational cues about interpersonal relationships.

The Collectivistic Cultural Value of Engaging Emotions

Several cultural studies show that people in collectivistic societies experience more typically socially engaging emotions such as friendliness, sympathy, and respect more frequently. On the other hand, they experience less socially disengaging emotions such as pride, frustration, and self-esteem. (Kitayama et al., 2000; Kitayama et al., 2006; Uchida & Kitayama, 2009).

The Dialectical Mixture of Emotional Experiences in Collectivistic Cultures

Cultural norms of collectivistic cultures acknowledge that positive and negative emotions naturally coexist and can occur simultaneously in our daily emotional experiences. People are used to feeling a dialectical mixture of both positive and negative emotions in their lives (Aaker, Drolet, & Griffin, 2008; Hong & Lee, 2010; Kim et al., 2014; Williams & Aaker, 2002).

Collectivistic Societies Are the Cultures of Emotional Moderation

Collectivist cultural ideals advise people to restrain or moderate their emotional experiences and expressions. The cultural norms suggest appreciating both positive and negative feelings while remaining calm, composed, and at peace. People should prefer emotions of low frequency, duration, and intensity (Bond, 1993; Tamir et al., 2016; Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006; Tsai, Miao, Seppala, Fung, &Yeung, 2007). This is why, in real life, people in collectivistic cultures typically feel their emotions with relatively low intensity (Basabe et al., 2000; Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Scherer et al., 1988; Matsumoto, 1991).

The Collectivistic Value of Emotional Control

For people living in collectivistic cultures, the external interactional aspects of emotions are essential for their emotional experience and expression. They commonly consider how one’s behavior and emotions affect others. Therefore, the cultural norms in collectivistic cultures place a high value on emotional control and cultural support for the suppression of emotions. People usually show their emotions in a limited range of situations and social contexts (Potter, 1988; van Hemert et al., 2007).

Cultural Values in Collectivistic Cultures

Collectivism and individualism were among the cultural constructs and dimensions that early cross-cultural psychologists identified and elaborated on in the 1980s and 1990s (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Marsella et al., 1985; Triandis, 1995). Since then, researchers have widely used the cultural parameters of collectivism and individualism in their cross-cultural studies. The characteristics of societies as collectivistic or individualistic have been the most popular among researchers in many social, economic, cultural, and psychological disciplines.

What Is Collectivism?

The key attributes of collectivism and individualism are

  • The normative relations between an individual and a group and
  • The degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups.

Societies are characterized as collectivistic or individualistic when these value orientations characterize the majority of their members (Hui & Triandis, 1986). People within a given society certainly vary in their personal cultural orientations, either collectivism or individualism.  The degree of collectivism and individualism can also vary across different types of interpersonal relationships. People can be more or less collectivistic and individualistic in their relationships with their kin, parents, neighbors, friends, and coworkers (Karandashev, 2021a).

What Are Collectivistic Cultures?

People in collectivist cultures are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, such as extended families. A paramount value of a collectivistic society is an individual’s loyalty to a group. The group in turn protects an individual’s interests and well-being while opposing other groups.

Collectivistic cultures prioritize in-group beliefs over individual beliefs. In terms of personal motivation, individuals subordinate their goals to group goals. Group goals take precedence over individual goals. In-group norms are higher in value than individual pleasures and personal motivation. In order to facilitate mutual support and shared experiences, the group encourages individuals to follow certain norms of emotional experience, expression, and behavior. The value of personal privacy is low and can be violated. One’s place in a group determines an individual’s sense of personal identity. People are emotionally dependent on a group.

The Values of People in Collectivistic Societies

The key collectivistic values emphasize:

  • interpersonal bonds,
  • unity, loyalty, and integrity,
  • group harmony and solidarity,
  • family relationships and obligation,
  • awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of others,
  • emotional interdependence,
  • and a sense of interconnectedness.

(Hofstede, 1980/1984; 2011; Hui & Triandis, 1986; Gelfand, et al., 2000; Kashima, et al., 1995; Triandis, 1995 ; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988).

The central tenets of collectivist beliefs are group cooperation, a sense of obligation, duty toward the group, and in-group harmony (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002).

In-group versus Out-group Bias in Collectivistic Cultures

People in collectivistic cultures feel highly embedded in their relationships. Relationships with kin, family, and friends develop early in their lives.

People in collectivistic cultures tend to strongly differentiate their behavior toward in-group versus out-group members. They have different standards for members of their in-groups and out-groups. (Hofstede, 1980/1984; Smith&Bond, 1999).

Men and women are collectivistic in their interactions with in-group members (family, friends, etc.), but individualistic in their interactions with out-group members (strangers, people from other cultural groups).

How Romantic Was the Ancient Aryan Love?

The term “Aryan culture” refers to the ancient cultural civilizations that existed many centuries ago. The word “Aryan” was often used interchangeably with “Indo-European” to mean Indo-Iranian languages.

Here I will talk about Aryan love.

Who Were the Aryans?

In the past, the word “Aryan” was used to refer to the people who spoke the old Indo-European languages. Those prehistoric Aryans were nomad warriors who colonized northern India around 1500 BCE, 500 years after the Indus River Valley collapsed. These fair-skinned ancient people settled in Iran and northern India.

The Aryans were hunter-herders at first. When they migrated to India, they learned agriculture and built settlements and cities, beginning Aryan civilization. Literature, religion, and social structure have substantially influenced Indian culture.

The Ancient Aryan Culture Was Favorable for Love

Before the introduction of Brahminism in India in the early 1st millennium BCE, the Aryan culture was greatly different. Women were held in high regard. They had many rights and enjoyed a variety of privileges. They had opportunities for free communication and social interaction with men. The cultural conditions of the Aryan culture in that historic period entertained the ideas of “romantic love”. Nevertheless, Aryans favored monogamous marital relationships. Monogamous marriage was the typical mode of marriage and family formation.

All these cultural factors were conducive to love. At that time—about 1200 or 1500 years ago, at least some of the Indian population had experienced many of the feelings and emotions that are associated with the modern understanding of love.

Here Are the Ancient Hindoo Love Maxims

The Seven Hundred Maxims of Hala were published in India no later than in the 3rd century of our era. This collection of Aryan poetic utterances represented interesting and valuable descriptions of cultural ideas of love that educated and entertained people during those times. They are written in Prakrit, which is a language that is closely related to Sanskrit.

The structure of the words suggests that they were meant to be sung. The Bayaderes, the Indian female dancers, who were often clothed in loose Eastern costumes, presumably sang some of those maxims. Others were sung by dancing girls from Buddhist temples. Their singing appealed to emancipate women from the domestic and educational constraints placed on them. They also sought to fascinate men with their wit, love, and aesthetic accomplishments.

The majority of the maxims are feminine utterances, and often of dubious moral character. Some of these early Aryan love revelations might have an unpleasant aftertaste.

Nevertheless, they are still extremely interesting and demonstrate how “romantic love” is dependent on a woman’s freedom as well as on corresponding intellectual and aesthetic culture.

What the Hindoo Love Maxims Tell Us About The maxims of Halâ indicate that the beautiful overtones of love, joyful adoration, and poetic hyperbole depicted in its romantic expressions were present in Aryan culture of the far past. That was a unique cultural phenomenon that love scholars have not yet come across elsewhere. What can be more contemporary than these quotes?

“Although all my possessions were burnt in the village fire, yet is my heart delighted, since he took the buckets from me when they were passed from hand to hand.”

Or this one:

“O thou who art skilled in cookery, restrain thy anger! The reason why the fire refuses to burn, and only smokes, is that it may the longer drink in the breath of your mouth, fragrant as the red potato-blossoms.”

The following two examples illustrate how Aryans appreciated personal beauty:

“He sees nothing but her face, and she too is quite intoxicated by his looks. Both, satisfied with each other, act as if in the whole world there were no other women or men.”

“Other beauties likewise have in their faces beautiful, wide black eyes, with long lashes,—but no one else understands as she does how to use them.”

The following quotes illustrate how love established its monopoly in the Aryan heart and mind, leaving no room for any other thoughts:

“She stares without a (visible) object, draws a deep sigh, laughs into empty space, mutters unintelligible words—forsooth, there must be something on her heart.”

“Love departs when lovers are separated; it departs when they see too much of each other; it departs in consequence of malicious gossip; aye, it departs also without these causes.”

It appears that Aryans clearly comprehended the nature of coyness, as the lover was admonished in this way:

“My son, such is the nature of love, suddenly to get angry, to make up again in a moment, to dissemble its language, to tease immoderately.”

The loving poet believes it necessary to tell a sweetheart that:

“By forgiving him at first sight, you foolish girl, you deprived yourself of many pleasures,—of his prostration at your feet [a trace of Gallantry], of a kiss passionately stolen.”

A voice was also given to the anguish that comes from being apart:

“As is sickness without a physician; as living with relatives when one is poor,—as the sight of an enemy’s prosperity,—so is it difficult to endure separation from you.”

Thus, one can see that many of the defining characteristics of contemporary romantic ardor can be found in ancient Aryan love.

(H. Finck, 1887/2019, p. 75).

It seems that those were the times when romantic love was real.

Surprising Findings on How Religions Affect the Expression of Emotions

Religious teachings give their followers lessons about the world, life, the mind, emotions, and behaviors. Among other important things in human life, religions teach believers the proper ways to experience and express emotions (for a review, see Karandashev, 2021a). In another article, I talked about emotional experiences. Here I’ll talk about expressions of emotions in accordance with religious cultural lessons.

As I commented elsewhere, many religious cultures teach people moderation in emotional experiences and expressions. The question remains how believers do this. Do they suppress their emotions?

Religious Cultures of Emotional Moderation

Many religious cultures believe that very strong positive and negative emotions are distracting to people and their behaviors. They especially discourage the expression of socially disruptive emotions. This is why many religions teach emotional moderation.

Religions offer spiritual justifications and techniques for coping with the disruptive nature of emotions such as guilt, despair, and anger. For example, Christian and Jewish teachings have been around for a long time telling people how to control bad feelings like anger, pride, and envy (Schimmel, 1997).

Suppression of Emotions and Sublimation in Religion

According to classical Freudian psychoanalysis, religions teach them to suppress their emotions. Religious sublimation is a defense mechanism when a person re-channels his or her unacceptable emotional urges, transforming them into productive aspirations and divine religious beliefs. Researchers looked at how people’s suppression of anger may affect the sublimation of their emotions in experimental situations (Kim, Zeppenfeld, & Cohen, 2013; Tsai & Clobert, 2019). I just want to remind readers that sublimation is a psychological defense mechanism when a person unconsciously suppresses their socially unacceptable desires, transforming their energy into socially acceptable actions or creative behaviors.

Studies of Sublimation among Christian People

For example, Kim and co-authors conducted an original experimental study, inducing in participants certain kinds of suppressed emotional experiences and measuring their creativity in the following tasks they needed to perform.

To induce the emotional experiences, they asked Protestants, Catholics, and Jewish people to relive their past emotional experiences by thinking about certain emotional events in their lives. Specifically, researchers asked participants of these three kinds of religious beliefs to experience (1) an anger-provoking incident by suppressing their thinking about it; (2) an anger-provoking incident by suppressing thinking about a neutral topic; or (3) recall a neutral event and suppress thinking about a neutral topic (Kim, Zeppenfeld, & Cohen, 2013).

Then, researchers gave those Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant participants creative assignments, such as making a sculpture, creating captions for cartoons, or making a collage. They were interested in knowing how different types of emotional suppression affect the participants’ sublimation expressed in their creativity. Expert judges of the creative assignments assessed the productivity of completed products such as sculptures, collages, or captions for cartoons.

The results of this experimental study demonstrated that emotional suppression affected the creativity of participants in certain conditions, thus demonstrating a sublimation effect. However, the specific effects and creativity of the products that people completed under suppressed emotions varied across religious denominations. The suppression of anger had little effect on creativity among Jewish and Catholic participants. Yet, the suppression of an anger-provoking emotional experience among Protestants motivated more creative and angry products of art. Thus, the effects of sublimation by emotional suppression were partially established but to a different extent by religious denomination.

The Role of Religious Values in the Suppression of Emotions among Religious People

It is widely known that Christian and Islamic beliefs affect experiences and expressions of emotions differently. Muslims tend to be more reserved and suppressed in their emotions compared to Christians. For instance, it was a cultural premise that “countries with more Protestants show lower levels of positive emotions” (van Hemert et al., 2007, p.918). Another cultural assumption was that “countries with a higher percentage of Muslims show lower levels of general emotional expression” (van Hemert et al., 2007, p.918).

However, empirical studies found no support for these cultural beliefs associated with different religious groups. They showed different cultural tendencies (e.g., van Hemert et al., 2007; Veenhoven, 1994). Contrary to theoretical expectations, a meta-analysis of many cross-cultural studies discovered that people in countries with a higher proportion of Protestants report more positive emotions (van Hemert et al., 2007, p.918). Also, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, meta-analysis found that people in countries with a higher or lower percentage of Muslims do not significantly differ in emotional expressivity (van Hemert et al., 2007, p.918).

Higher orthodoxy in religion also makes many people reserved and suppressed in their expressions of emotions. Several studies have shown the importance of religious values in emotional experience and expression (Karandashev, 2021a). However, the meta-analysis of many cross-cultural studies did not support the hypothetical expectation that “countries with higher levels of religiosity may be more restrictive in their expression of emotions” (van Hemert et al., 2007, p.918). Contrary to some previous opinions, the findings of meta-analysis demonstrated that “expression of emotions and particularly positive emotions, was higher in more religious countries” (van Hemert et al., 2007, p.933). Based on these controversial results, more studies are needed to investigate the effect of religions on emotional expressivity of people.

The Measurement Pitfalls of Research Designs in Cultural Studies of Religions

Cross-cultural comparability and generalizability are the problems that come up in religious studies and need to be solved for scientific progress (Karandashev, 2021a; Karandashev et al., 2022; Fischer, 2022). When studying behavioral and social phenomena in various populations and religious contexts, culture matters. In this regard, the lead article by Ronald Fischer (2022) in the recent issue of the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior is particularly useful. The author of that article shares personal reflections on the study that their team reported on during their exploratory journey. Here is a summary of one of the two points covered in his commentary “Cultural lessons missed and learned about religion and culture.” It is about “how important cultural context is for thinking about, and researching, religion, morality, and evolution.”

The Typical Mistakes and Their Effective Solutions to Studying Religions from a Cross-Cultural Perspective

The study’s goal was to investigate the universality and evolutionary perspective of religious concepts. Researchers considered cultural dynamics throughout the process, including the specification of key variables, variable operationalization, measurement context, and result interpretation. Researchers summarized the new efficient translation methods (Harkness et al., 2003). They proposed the updated checklists for use by cultural researchers (Hambleton & Zenisky, 2010; Harkness et al., 2003, 2010; Hernández et al., 2020).

In this lead article, Ronald Fischer (2022) addressed two groups of methodological issues:

The first one is the problems of cross-cultural universality of the concepts under study, their conceptual equivalency, the selection of major variables, and their conceptual descriptions and operationalization. These questions are summarized in another article.

The second one is the problems such as cultural contexts of measurement, technical procedures of measurement, cultural biases in measurements, measurement invariance across cultural samples, and culturally sensitive interpretation of results. These questions are summarized in this article.

Confounding Cultural Variables in the Studies of Religions

In complex cross-cultural research, the design itself may create confounding factors. Who is a local co-religionist as opposed to a remote one in a religious context? Religions frequently make fine distinctions in group membership. In the cultural context of Candomblé religion, this includes questions about

  • who went through the initial initiation (“bori”) with you,
  • who is a member of the same “terreiro,” house of worship, typically organized around extended family ties),
  • who has the same sitting “orixá.”

Without knowledge of these regionally relevant group distinctions, the research design of a cultural study lacks these essential local details.

In addition, classic cross-cultural research has demonstrated that both familiarity and theoretically irrelevant features can influence

  • behavioral and cognitive responses (Serpell, 1979),
  • social expectation or experimenter effects that can be difficult to identify or avoid (Smith et al., 2013).

The Cultural Biases in Religious Studies

Typically referred to as technique biases, these difficulties involve

  • how tests are conducted,
  • by whom, and in what (implicit or explicit) context.

Humans are sociable experts. They try to predict what others want from them. These attempts may lead to an array of behavioral adaptations with the intentions

  • to make favorable impressions,
  • form alliances, or
  • gain tiny advantages over local competitors or
  • trade favors with outside visitors.

Depending on how the participants interpret the testing circumstances, these motivations can reverse the expected behavioral responses.

This is another challenge for cultural research. Individuals in small-scale societies converse and make assumptions as to why someone may or may not have received the money. The questions arise

“Does the payout matrix align with the implicit group lineages that participants construct while participating in the experiment?

Does the knowledge of pay-outs affect the next participant’s strategy of playing? ” (Fischer, 2022, p. 214)

In environments with greater interdependence, individuals are likely to respond depending on who has already been tested or how many individuals remain to be evaluated (Yamagishi et al., 2008). These different techniques’ biases provide considerable obstacles for evaluating the outcomes of money distribution and frequently necessitate ingenious and observant researchers conversant with local cultures and standards.

The Pitfalls of Priming Research Designs in Cultural and Religious Studies The research with priming tasks poses other questions. The procedure of priming requires locally salient categories regardless of the question of replicability concerns with priming. This brings scientists back to the principles of functional and structural equivalence, which we talked about above.

“What is a moralistic god vs. a local god?”

(Fischer, 2022, p. 214).

The Christian “God,” which is not part of the Candomblé religion, and Ogum, a particular orixá linked with ironwork and war, are very different planes of existence. Therefore, a contrast between those two may not convey what the researchers intended.

For Candomblé believers, the Christian “God” is familiar. It is simple to identify and acknowledge this deity’s significance in the larger community. However, it is not necessarily an entity with personal meaning for a Candomblé devotee. In the same vein, depending on the context, Ogum may be appropriate for particular goals or for particular individuals.

What is an adequate and comparable indication of the idea of interest within the local cultural context? Questions like this are very important in the context of structural equivalence, specifically the issue of conceptual domain representation.

The Importance of Local Context in Cultural Research In conclusion, Ronald Fischer (2022) encourages cultural researchers to pay more attention to the local cultural context of their studies. He suggests learning the lessons from researchers of previous generations who made progress through these challenging paths.

Religions in Cultural Perspectives

How Are Religious Cultures Different from National Cultures?

Religious cultures are similar to national cultures yet differ in several ways. Religion, like national and ethnic cultures, can be thought of as a type of culture and a cultural system (Cohen, 2009; Saroglou & Cohen, 2013).

Religious parameters of culture can strongly correlate with other cultural dimensions of the country. Such a correlation between the religious elements of culture and other cultural characteristics makes it difficult to disentangle the unique function of religion from that of other aspects of cultural life. Nevertheless, I argued in another article that the main reasons why religions should be considered as cultures with their own sets of cultural meanings, values, norms, and practices.

Cultural experts believe that religion has a considerable impact on the cultural characteristics of societies, but cross-cultural researchers overlook this factor (e.g., Cohen, 2009; McCutcheon, 1995, see review Karandashev, 2021a).

Four major cultural dimensions of religions

Researchers identified four major dimensions of religious cultures, which are present in many religions and denominations with some cultural variation (see Saroglou & Cohen, 2013 for a detailed review). These are

  1. Fundamentalist (orthodox) expression vs. questing expressions of religious beliefs and practices.
  2. Intrinsic vs. extrinsic reli­gious orientations.
  3. Traditional reli­giousness vs. modern spirituality.
  4. Mystical dimension of religion, focusing on the spirituality of the mystics

For example, the distinctions between fundamentalist and questing expressions of religious beliefs and practices are identified among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. The differences between intrinsic and extrinsic religious orientations are found among Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Variations in the dimension of organized traditional reli­giousness vs. modern individual spirituality are discovered in many religious cultural contexts. The mystical dimension of religion, centered on the spirituality of the mystics, appeared to be common to many religions. In particular, it was found that mystic experiences are similar among Iranian Muslims and American Christians. They are also similar in religiousness among Indian Hindus, Tibetan Buddhists, and Israeli Jews (see for a detailed review, Saroglou & Cohen, 2013).

How Do Religious Cultures Influence National Cultures?

National cultures are the sets of cultural meanings, values, norms, and practices that have evolved due to the impact of various cultural factors, such as ecological, ethnic, social, political, and religious ones. All those variables, in a historical perspective, merged to form specific national cultures. On a daily basis, religions interact with other cultural factors, affecting people’s emotional and cultural lives.

Religious cultures have profound ties with national and ethnic cultures. Religions and religious cultural variables are among the strong factors that determine the national cultures of countries. So, countries with similar Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist religious cultures can have a lot in common with each other culturally.

Religions have historically shaped the cultural patterns of nations. However, the opposite effects have also occurred when a country’s culture influenced religious development in some ways (Norris & Inglehart, 2004). Religious culture comes into the national culture being modified and transformed.

For example, according to anthropological studies, Islam in different countries advocates different cultural values. The Muslim populations of Egypt and Bali maintain different cultural traditions, despite sharing the same faith and adhering to the same Islamic principles (Wikan, 1988).

The Ways How Religious Cultures Shaped Eastern and Western Civilizations Let’s look at how cultural differences between the West and the East have evolved and persisted for hundreds of years, in part because of their shared religious history.

The difference between individualistic Western societies and collectivist Eastern societies is the most well-known cultural difference between the West and the East.

Eastern societies tend to be largely collectivistic cultures, while Western societies are mostly individualistic.

The Buddhist religion is quite collectivistic in many respects. This can explain why Japanese culture tends to be a collectivistic culture. And generally, collectivistic cultural values and beliefs are commonly associated with Eastern religions. The cultural worldviews, social perspectives, and schools of thought of Eastern societies are substantially determined by their religions. Confucianist societies tend to be collectivistic, while Islamic societies are frequently hierarchical. On the other hand, Christianity, and Protestantism in particular, is strongly related to individualistic values and beliefs. This can explain why many Western European and European American societies are individualistic cultures. For instance, Protestant societies are often individualistic and egalitarian. Many aspects of Western national cultures and their worldview biases are substantially shaped by Christianity. Their scholarly, social, cultural, and political approaches to the modern world are Western and Christian-centric (Basabe & Ros, 2005).

The Religious Cultural Values of Interdependence and Independence There are several ways in which religious values can predispose people to think and feel in certain ways. For instance, in general, religious people are more interdependent than those who are not religious (Cohen & Rozin, 2001; Cukur, de Guzman & Carlo, 2004, Triandis, 1995). Religions differ in their values of interdependence. Those who are monotheistic are more self-sufficient, while non-theistic are more interdependent (Basabe & Ros, 2005).