Understanding the Psychological, Behavioral, and Social Outcomes of the Ramadan Fast
September 1, 2022 - August 31, 2025
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Director: Mostafa Salari RadInstitution: The New School
During Ramadan, which marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, healthy Muslim adults (with some exemptions) refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity from dawn to sunset. Fasters are also encouraged to self-reflect, pray, give alms, and share their resources with less fortunate others. For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for drawing closer to God.
Led by Mostafa Salari Rad at The New School, this project aims to investigate the impact of the Ramadan fast on physical and mental health; social relationships; sense of fulfillment; life satisfaction; spirituality; and meaning and purpose in life.
The team will first examine Ramadan as a rigorous exercise in self-control that enhances general self-regulatory abilities over an extended period of time. Research on improving self-control via practice is mixed, and often focuses on hypothetical or experimental goals, or relies on brief and artificial practice routines. The Ramadan fast, however, combines a set of strict and universal guidelines with religious and social motives that intertwine with personal ones. If general self-control improves by practicing self-inhibition rituals, the team posits that it’s likely to improve in Ramadan fasters over the course of the month. This research asks whether and how this shift occurs, how long it lasts, and to what extent it depends on context and motives.
For the second part of their study, the team will examine whether the interaction of a self-deprivation practice with engagement in the religious community increases prosociality and by extension flourishing-related outcomes. The researchers hypothesize that Ramadan fasting may be seen as a way to cultivate norms of sharing and care. This would promote virtues of generosity, gratitude, and honesty, and thereby increase the likelihood of flourishing-related outcomes.
The project will use a series of mixed-method studies in its investigation. These include tracking fasters on different indices of wellbeing before, during, and after Ramadan; experimental research with fasters and non-fasters; interviews to obtain expert and lay wisdom on fasting; analysis of public data on the social and economic impacts of Ramadan; a systematic review of self-deprivation exercises across time and cultures; and the development of interventions informed by lessons from these studies.
By making the results of these studies available online, the project hopes to create a platform for people to discuss and share their experiences with Ramadan, religious or intermittent fasting, or other self-deprivation exercises. Key impacts expected of this project include informing practitioners on the benefits and risks of fasting, dispelling misconceptions, and stimulating research on this practice by demystifying it for scientists and policy-makers.
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