There are tonnes of blogs and websites out there that deal with religion both from a positive and a critical perspective and during my studies I’ve read A LOT of them. I suspect most readers of this blog are likely already aware of popular anti-theist blogs, such as those ran by PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, which occasionally present themselves as providing a ‘scientific’ response to religion. However, I would have severe hesitations about recommending either of these blogs (or any similar sites) to anyone, atheist or otherwise, who wanted to develop an informed opinion about current scientific research into religion. Fortunately, there are a number of good sites out there and in this post I want to highlight three sites that I would strongly recommend and a fourth that is worth checking out:
1. Science on Religion (Connor Wood)
This is one of the most readable blogs out there addressing science & religion. It is also regularly updated and provides both stand alone articles and more nuanced coverage of research that is often breathlessly reported elsewhere. Connor is a very good writer and even when disagreeing with his points I often find myself admiring the way he has constructed his arguments. By and large, the articles here also tend to aim for a ecumenical and conciliatory tone in regards the relationship between science and religion, which reflects Connor’s own clearly stated ideological position. This approach makes for refreshing reading, especially after experiencing one too many hostile anti-theist articles, but it also does lead to it’s own issue that negative features of religious traditions are occasionally downplayed or ignored while positive attributes are emphasised. As such, I would also advise that readers consult the comments section under Connor’s articles which often contains lively debates and contrasting opinions to those found in the target article. One commentator in particle, who goes by the title of Gemli, often responds with an anti-theist take on Connor’s posts and while his comments rely primarily on personal sentiment rather than detailed research, they still provide an interesting contrast to the more positive message of the main articles.
2. Genealogy of Religion (Cris Campbell)
I stumbled upon the Genealogy of Religion blog about a year ago and have been an avid consumer of its articles since then. The tone for longer articles is a bit more academic than Science on Religion but it also features short commentary pieces in which the author, Cris, provides some personal reflections on interesting articles or books he is reading. While these are often entertaining, they also reveal the impressive range and depth of knowledge that the author commands over the research literature, particularly in regards to the ethnographic literature of hunter gatherers. I have discovered numerous useful (and obscure) references through Cris’ posts and have also come to better recognise the significant, often underappreciated, variation in hunter gatherer societies. Despite being a researcher who endorses scientific approaches to studying ‘religion’, Cris also expresses quite severe skepticism about the conceptual coherence of the term ‘religion’ in the premodern world, as well as being critical of some of the broader claims and associated methodologies employed by evolutionary psychologists. His skepticism extends a little too far for me at times, but as with Science on Religion, the arguments are always well presented and Cris is always willing to engage with criticism or counter arguments in the comments section. He also has some challenging views about the unitary nature of hunter gatherers animist worldviews which I’ve found at times to create a slight sense of an exceptionalism, if not romanticism, surrounding portrayals of non-agricultural societies. However, Cris is too much of a rationalist to over indulge in this and he is also always willing to spell out the evidential basis for any claims he presents. In short, come for the hunter gatherers but stay for the frequent thoughtful reviews and in-depth serial articles.
3. Epiphenom (Tom Rees)
Recently relocated from the Field of Science to Patheos, Epiphenom is a long running blog with a straightforward premise- present and comment on new research papers on religion- that is executed with admirable precision by Tom Rees. Tom not only tends to cover new research remarkably quickly but his accounts have often identified and discussed several key issues with a study in the amount of space it would take me to write my introduction. The concise nature of the articles means that they can be consumed quickly, while the copious and thorough referencing and links to other relevant studies encourage those that are interested to look more deeply. I’ve also found the comments on statistical methods here to often be remarkably insightful, which is probably due to Tom’s day job as a medical writer and his experience in biotech. As with the other blogs mentioned above, the comment section is remarkably free of trolls and often features thoughtful, well thought out responses.
Sam Harris is a well known New Atheist and author of popular anti-religion books. He is also generally polemical and displays a lack of interest into research when it is not seeking to expose the negative influence of religion on society. His place on this list may thus seem a little incongruous but hear me out. For a start, I think Harris is much better informed about the topic of religion than folks like Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers, that may be a low bar to overcome but I think it enables Harris to better engage with his critics. And here is the crux for why I advocate readers to follow Harris’ blog, namely it introduces debates and perspectives that are both relevant and controversial and which more academic discussions often do their best to ignore. I don’t always agree with Harris but I do find his work and his replies to critics to be engaging. Moreover, while there certainly is a clear anti-religion agenda to his blog, I happen to think that at times such an approach is not only justified but necessary- we need people who are willing and not afraid to criticise the abuses of religion worldwide and Harris certainly fits this bill. His interest in ‘spirituality’ and meditation also mark him out from the other New Atheists, and while I am not persuaded by a lot of his claims in this area, I do think it gives him a better understanding of his religious counterparts than someone like Dawkins.