Does Religion Create or Address Anxiety in Your Family? Research Says…

This post is second in a series based on videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains highlights of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advise on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and  your family live better lives.

As we mentioned last week, the exercise of religious faith in a family’s culture looks quite different across religions, families, and time. “What is it about religion that helps some people be incredibly…functional and happy and seems to cause other people some serious issues?,” asked Professor David Dollahite of our School of Family Life in an October 2015 lecture. “How can [the practice of religion cause joy and harm?” Professor Dollahite has spent the last ten years delving into research that answers those questions for the American Families of Faith project, and he presented much of it at that lecture. He and fellow BYU Family Life professor Loren Marks sampled more than 190 families who identified with the following faiths: Asian Christian, Black Christian, Catholic & Orthodox Christian, Evangelical Christian, Mainline Christian, Latter-day Saint Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. They asked them how they felt about ten different “dualities,” or possible dichotomies of their religious practice. They asked, for example, about the extent to which the practice of religion in their families created and addressed anxiety, and the extent to which that practice was both transformative and conservative. In this two-minute video, watch what they found.


Featured Faculty: David Wood

With over 1 million Americans in active duty and over eight-hundred thousand in the reserves, many of us are or know one of these soldiers.  Nearly 1 in 4 of them manifest signs of a mental health disorder.  Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injury are the primary concerns military personnel struggle with. Dr. David Wood, of our Social Work department, researches mental health and help-seeking behavior in military members, as well as suicide prevention programs inside and outside the military.  Some of his research recommends improved diagnostic decision-making for psychologists. Within BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, he teaches psychopathology, program evaluation, and motivational interviewing. He is an Assistant Professor, licensed psychologist, and a group clinical psychologist.


“I am excited about the potential of influencing students in a positive way who will, in turn, go on to have a direct influence on many others,” Dr. Wood says of teaching.  “I am also humbled by the trust given to me by my students—it makes me want to improve every semester to be a better professional and teacher.”

Dr. Wood solidified his career path during his missionary service for the Mormon church: “As a missionary, I encountered many individuals with emotional, relational and psychological difficulties. I had a strong desire to help but was not prepared to assist in meaningful ways. I made a commitment at that time to pursue a PhD in psychology.”

Education is important in Dr. Wood’s family. His mother received a master’s degree in early childhood education and his father a PhD in educational psychology.  Dr. Wood studied at Utah State University, Central Washington University, University of Utah, and Arizona State University.

Hiking, spending time with family, and riding his motorcycle consume Dr. Wood’s free time.  He is a Colorado native.


Should Religious Sites be Commercialized? A Study

Every year, three to five million people visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, more than the amount of tourists at all five of Utah’s state parks combined! Clearly, religious tourism is a massive industry in the state, but what about in other parts of the world? According to the Huffington Post, there are popular religious tourist locations in India, France, and Jerusalem, to name only a few. One of the oldest travel institutions, religious tourism is growing in importance and in scope every year.salt-lake-city-1762657_960_720

The Study

This trend was actually commented on some years ago by BYU Geography professor Daniel Olsen, who noted that religious sites were being transformed into tourist sites by the marketing efforts of various promotional agencies. This process, in part, tended to change the meaning of sacred sites from that of worship and contemplation to that of leisure, in turn encouraging leisure- and education-oriented visitors and activities. Is this a good thing? What are the effects of it? Dr. Olsen says that commercialization of religious sites can lead to conflict between those who would commodify it—the tourism and government administrators—and the ecclesiastical leaders who would have it remain holy ground.

Tibet’s Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, the country’s holiest site, is a good example of this, says Simon Denyer of the Washington Post. Many Asian visitors are flocking to it, creating a tourism boom for Tibet, but many headaches for those actually attending the temple: “Some are respectful of what they are seeing,” says Denyer, but Tibetans on social media complain of cameras thrust in pilgrims’ faces and of sacred prayer flags trampled underfoot. On a recent visit, one tour guide committed a grave breach of religious etiquette by walking the wrong way around a statue of Buddha. At the landmark Potala Palace, a tourist stood beside a sign banning photographs, taking a photo, while a Tibetan tour guide expressed exasperation at how little Han tourists knew or understood.” Natives have taken to social media to gripe about the disrespect the tourism has brought: holy flags are being trampled and pilgrims are having cameras pushed in their faces. People are also taking selfies in the sacred space. Truly, “some of the temple’s magic  [has] seem[ed] to dissipate,”  says noted Tibetan writer Woser.

“Little has been done [to research] how religious groups [can] commodify themselves to both take advantage of the tourist dollar and to market authentic images of themselves as a way of maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of its adherents and secular society in general,” says Olsen. “[Religious tourism] is…an opportunity for religious groups to promote their best selves, and to help people learn more about their doctrines and beliefs.”


Pilgrims at Jokhang Temple courtesy of Flikr

The Solution

Dr. Olsen offers a solution: “Really, what I want to see happen is stakeholders in the tourism industry engage with religious site managers and leaders of religious faiths and make them important stakeholders in the decision-making process when it comes to tourism marketing and promotion as well as the development of tourist experiences at a destination.” By doing this, religions would be able to promote themselves in their desired manner and the economy would be bolstered. Presenting their faith in a respectful atmosphere would be a win-win for all parties involved.

Dr. Olsen will, in fact, publish a book on the subject, titled Religious Pilgrimage Routes and Trails, co-authored with A. Trono, in 2017. Have You Ever Visited a Religious Site?


Talking Religion With Your Child: Should it be Child-Centered or Parent-Centered?

This post is the first in a series based on videos available in our new BYU Social Sciences YouTube channel! The channel contains highlights of many of our most popular lectures and useful, succinct, research-backed advise on relationship, political, religious, media, and financial issues. Follow us there to stay up-to-date on wisdom that will help you and  your family live better lives.

The question of the prominence of faith in a family’s culture is a very personal one, and the evidence of the answer to that question can look quite different across religions, families, and time. But some things are universal. All families have parents or guardians who love and/or care for children, and by virtue of their experiences or age or parental position, strongly hope to influence, if not determine, their progeny’s religious behaviors. Most do it through multiple conversations and activities throughout the formative lives of their children. How effective those conversations are can depend on a lot of different factors. David Dollahite, a professor of Family Life who has conducted much research on the topic and advises parents to make sure those conversations are “child-centered.” What exactly does that mean? Watch this short video to find out:


Upcoming Event on Religious Freedom

If you’ve been listening to leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently, chances are high you’ve heard them talk about religious freedom. This issue is a growing concern to a church trying to find their way in an increasingly secular world. As the primary school owned and operated by the LDS Church, BYU is also heavily involved in the fight for religious freedom, not only for its own sake, but for the sake of practitioners of other religions as well. At 4:00 p.m. on January 17th, Dr. Daniel Mark will deliver an address on BYU’s campus regarding on this issue, one that has been recognized as universal but which has also proven to be, over the course of human history, one of the most difficult to define and uphold.

This forum, hosted by BYU’s Wheatley Institution, will be particularly useful to individuals interested in issues of religious freedom, contemporary politics, philosophy, family and marriage, and family law. As a political scientist, Dr. Mark researches heavily the role of religious freedom in America, and his forum address will contextualize and deepen our understanding of the realities of current religious freedoms and trends. Attendees will be able to educate themselves on what religious freedom means and does not mean for them.

Dr. Mark, an assistant professor of political science and a faculty associate of the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, holds the rank of Battalion Professor and serves as the university representative to the performance review board for Villanova’s Navy Reserve Officers’ Training Corps unit and is a mentor in the university’s Faith and Learning Scholars Program. Dr. Mark holds a BA, MA, and Ph.D. from the Department of Politics at Princeton University.

BYU’s Wheatley Institution’s mission is to “enhance the academic climate and scholarly reputation of BYU, and to enrich faculty and student experiences, by contributing recognized scholarship that lifts society by preserving and strengthening its core institutions.


Note: featured image provided by Flickr Creative Commons.

BYU Helps: Cell Phones in Tanzania

It can be difficult to even imagine modern life without a cell phone, and it’s even harder to believe that just fifteen years ago, having the world at your fingertips wasn’t a common experience. Of course, in some parts of the globe, it still isn’t. To citizens of many underdeveloped countries, the prospect of owning a cell phone is the last thing on their minds. However, even the harshest of conditions can be vastly improved by access to this modern technology–and that’s why a BYU professor and his students are trying to help. Professor Daniel Nelson of BYU’s Department of Political Science recently accompanied seven students to the African nation of Tanzania, where they conducted mentored research on the effects of cell phone usage in poor Tanzanian communities. Specifically, the study focused on how access to cell phones might make a meaningful difference in the Tanzanian women’s lives.


Similar to the type of study in which certain subjects are given a medicine and compared with a control group that does not receive the medicine, this study analyzed the effects of cell phone usage on these women’s lives the same way. In Professor Nelson’s study, the researchers randomly assigned a bequest of free cell phones, smart phones, and other technological devices to Tanzanian women in order to gauge their effects on their welfare and the welfare of the communities generally. Some positive benefits were expected, but even Professor Nelson was encouraged by the level of difference the cell phones made to the women. “We thought the cell phones might be transformative,” he said, “but we were surprised at the magnitude of the effects. Compared to the wait-list control group, women with phones had much better pricing information for their small businesses, were able to recruit more customers, and made significantly greater use of mobile money.”

nielson-daniel“Critically, women in the phone group reported roughly double the incomes of women in the wait-list control,” Professor Nelson continued. He hopes to replicate those dramatic effects in a larger, third phase of the study, to drive home the importance of the findings and their big implications for international business, policymaking, and scholarship. Though the main project was funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the money for mentored student research came from donors to Brigham Young University.