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Study: Curiosity About Religion Is Viewed as Morally Virtuous


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Study: Curiosity About Religion Is Viewed as Morally Virtuous

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FāVS News Brief

People from diverse religious backgrounds in the United States view curiosity about religion as morally virtuous, according to a new study published this month.

Atheists also view this curiosity as moral, although less moral than a lack of religious curiosity.

The research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, finds that people look favorably on those who show curiosity about religion and science.

“People who display curiosity – about religion or science – are viewed as possessing other moral character traits,” said lead author Cindel White, of York University in a press release. “We found that observers perceive curious people as willing to put in effort to succeed in life, and observers perceive putting in effort to learn as morally virtuous.”

White and her co-authors asked 1,891 participants to make moral judgments about people who exhibited curiosity, possessed relevant knowledge, or lacked both curiosity and knowledge about religion and science. Participants attributed greater moral goodness to those who displayed curiosity, a trend which was consistent across Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, and other Christian participants.

“Religious people in the United States can be perceived as, or associated with movements that are, anti-science and dogmatically unquestioning of religious doctrines,” White said in a statement. “However, religious participants that we surveyed typically approved of asking question about science, one’s own religious, and other people’s religions, indicating general approval of people who desire to learn more about religious and scientific questions.”

White notes that the researchers measured observers’ perceptions of people who are curious, not what predicts curiosity or how people’s levels of curiosity are associated with their actual levels of effort or moral character.

Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.




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Lynn Kaylor

What I thought was lacking in the study was whether or not the people surveyed have consistent definitions of what virtue is, or whether they had even thought about defining it at all. What’s virtuous may or may not be related to esteem they may feel for the curious and the 2 may be confused among those who perceive according to what they esteem, thinking that their esteem is enough to define virtue. Incongruity in this can render the claims of this study without any real meaning. After all, a lot of curious people turn out to be curious in different ways, some even “playing dumb” as some ministers have taught in classes in outreach, all to size up the other person so that they can launch a formidable attack, either to ferret out illogic or to supply an ad hominem attack. Is this really virtuous? If virtue be defined in Platonic terms as a mean between 2 vices, argumentum ad hominem doesn’t represent a moral virtue. Neither does it if virtue is to be defined by genuine seeking after God because it isn’t. But it’s curiosity just the same.

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