Archived project

Religious Purity, and Heretical Disgust

Goal: To examine how religious concepts are associated with concepts and feelings of purity, while rejected religious ideas (heretical ideas) are elicit feelings of disgust and contamination,

Date: 11 January 2008 - 4 April 2016

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Project log

Jesse L. Preston
added 3 research items
Disgust is an emotion that plays an important role in the maintenance and protection of physical and moral purity (Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt, 1999b). Using a repeated taste-test paradigm, the present research extends recent work on moral cognition by investigating disgust reactions to rejected religious beliefs. In Experiment 1, Christian participants rated a beverage as tasting more disgusting after writing a passage from the text of the Qur’an or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion than a control text. In Experiment 2, Christian participants rated a drink as tasting more disgusting after writing a passage from the Qur’an than a control passage, but the effect was eliminated after participants physically washed their hands. Participants writing a passage from the Bible showed the opposite effect of more disgust after washing their hands, indicating an aversive reaction to physical cleansing after contact with a source of moral purity. These results provide evidence that contact with a rejected religious belief elicits disgust and that both negative and positive moral contagions can be removed through physical cleansing. The implications of the results are discussed, including the possibility that holding true beliefs is an important component of one’s sense of moral purity, and that disgust helps protect these culturally valued truths.
Purity rituals (such as baptism, mikvah, and ablution) are an important component of many religious practices. These practices not only help protect the faithful from physical contaminants, but also bestow symbolic purity and maintain the sanctity of sacred objects. The present work examines the association between religion and cleanliness, as two representations of personal purity. Religious primes were found to activate cleanliness concepts in a word-stem completion task (Study 1), and increased the subjective value of cleaning products (Study 2). In a final study, cleaning primes increased ratings of religious value. These studies suggest a mutual association between religiousness and cleanliness, and that each may activate the other as goals for personal purity.
Immoral actions, including physical/sexual (e.g., incest) and social (e.g., unfairness) taboos, are often described as disgusting. But what about immoral thoughts, more specifically, thoughts that violate religious beliefs? Do heretical thoughts taint the purity of mind? The present research examined heretical disgust using self-report measures and facial electromyography. Religious thought violations consistently elicited both self-reported disgust and anger. Feelings of disgust also predicted harsh moral judgement, independent of anger, and were mediated by feelings of "contamination". However, religious thought violations were not associated with a disgust facial expression (i.e., levator labii muscle activity) that was elicited by physically disgusting stimuli. We conclude that people (especially more religious people) do feel disgust in response to heretical thoughts that is meaningfully distinct from anger as a moral emotion. However, heretical disgust is not embodied in a physical disgust response. Rather, disgust has a symbolic moral value that marks heretical thoughts as harmful and aversive.
Jesse L. Preston
added a project goal
To examine how religious concepts are associated with concepts and feelings of purity, while rejected religious ideas (heretical ideas) are elicit feelings of disgust and contamination,