At Trans/Missions, Diane Winston comments on an unusual and interesting new study:
Reporting in the Science section of the New York Times on Tuesday, John Tierney probes the paper’s most popular pieces. They’re not breezy bits about sex, pets, diets or relationships. Rather, they’re long, “intellectually challenging” articles that elicit an emotional sense of awe.
Jonah Berger, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who studied the Times‘ “most emailed” list, explained: “Emotion in general leads to transmission, and awe is quite a strong emotion. If I’ve just read this story that changes the way I understand myself and the world, I want to talk to others about what it means. I want to proselytize and share the feeling of awe. If you read the article and feel the same emotion, it will bring us closer together.”
Thus, Winston suggests, it would seem likely that “writing about religion would be among the paper’s most emailed stories, right?” On the contrary,
[…] nowhere in Tierney’s piece is that word even mentioned. Rather, the paper’s most widely circulated pieces come from the Science section, covering topics ranging from the science of the stars to the prehistory of humankind. Secular elites, as many Times readers are, don’t look to God or the Bible for answers about the history of the universe, human evolution or the nature of good and evil. They turn to cosmology, paleontology and social psychology for illumination. When they look to religion, they want color, conflict, scandal and sensationalism. (Or so goes conventional journalistic wisdom.)
Indeed, one side of the story is the media’s lamentable tendency to focus narrowly on religion’s more sensational and less savory aspects. The other side, however, is that modern science—charged by many theists and atheists alike with having dessicated experience and deprived it of wonder—is capable of inspiring that profound sense of awe generally associated with religious, mystical, or aesthetic experience.
Continue reading here.