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Posted: September 6th, 2023

Jonathan Haidt on Religion

Jonathan Haidt on Religion

Watch: TED Talk: Jonathan Haidt “Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence”

Write an essay answering the following prompt:

1. Jonathan Haidt suggests that religion has a particular impact on individuals. Identify what he says this impact is, and then comment on the extent to which you agree with him.

(20 points)

In his TED Talk “Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self-Transcendence,” Jonathan Haidt argues that religion has a unique ability to provide individuals with a sense of purpose and meaning, to foster a sense of community, and to offer experiences of self-transcendence. Haidt suggests that these impacts of religion are crucial for human flourishing and that they cannot be replicated by other secular institutions. In this essay, I will discuss Haidt’s argument and offer my own assessment of its merits.

Haidt begins his talk by discussing the importance of religion for human societies throughout history. He notes that religion has been a central feature of human life since the earliest civilizations, and that it has provided people with a sense of purpose and meaning that goes beyond individual desires and needs. Haidt argues that religion is uniquely capable of providing this sense of purpose and meaning because it is based on transcendent values that go beyond the individual self. Religious beliefs and practices encourage individuals to focus on something greater than themselves, such as a higher power, and to orient their lives around these values.

Haidt also emphasizes the importance of community in religion. Religious institutions provide people with a sense of belonging and connection to others who share their beliefs and values. He argues that this sense of community is crucial for human well-being and cannot be replicated by secular institutions. Religious communities also offer support and comfort in times of need, such as during illness or bereavement.

Finally, Haidt discusses the experiences of self-transcendence that are often associated with religion. He notes that many religious practices, such as prayer, meditation, and communal rituals, can lead to experiences of transcendence, where individuals feel connected to something greater than themselves. Haidt argues that these experiences of self-transcendence can be transformative, leading to a sense of inner peace and fulfillment.

Overall, I find Haidt’s argument compelling. Religion has played a significant role in human societies throughout history, and its impact on individuals cannot be ignored. The sense of purpose and meaning that religion provides, as well as the sense of community and experiences of self-transcendence, are all important for human flourishing.

However, it is important to note that not all individuals find meaning and purpose through religion, and not all religious institutions foster a sense of community and self-transcendence. Additionally, some secular institutions, such as philosophical or ethical frameworks, can also provide individuals with a sense of purpose and meaning.

In conclusion, Jonathan Haidt’s argument that religion has a unique impact on individuals by providing a sense of purpose and meaning, fostering a sense of community, and offering experiences of self-transcendence is compelling. While there are certainly limitations to this argument, religion has undoubtedly played an important role in human societies throughout history, and its impact on individuals cannot be ignored.

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