The Paradoxical Effects of Religious Fasting on Prosociality and Flourishing
TWCF Number
Project Duration
September 1 / 2022
- August 31 / 2024
Core Funding Area
Big Questions
North America
Amount Awarded

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Jordan Moon
Institution Arizona State University

Michael Barlev
Institution Arizona State University

The spiritual exercise of fasting exists in many different religious traditions. Yet physical hunger appears to be associated with some antisocial aspects of human nature – evidence suggests that hunger is associated with more interpersonal competition, manipulativeness, and anger and aggression. Why then would religious traditions recommend fasting as a spiritual discipline? This project, directed by Jordan Moon and Michael Barlev at Arizona State University, explores the paradoxical nature of hunger and religious fasting using four studies.

The first study will explore the relationship between fasting and flourishing using archival data, and will test the effects of religious fasting on measures of flourishing and indicators of charitable giving in five religions: Jews, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Latter-day Saints (LDS). The second study will explore a number of mechanisms that may underlie these effects, such as dependence on social relationships; empathy toward those less fortunate; self-control; and perceptions of divine monitoring. The study will also explore whether any observed effects are stronger toward people of the same religious group, and whether they are stronger in religiously homogeneous areas. The third study will involve field experiments in LDS-majority counties in Utah and Idaho to replicate these effects and test religious parochialism as a candidate moderator variable. The fourth study will involve laboratory experiments to clarify and confirm mediators identified in earlier studies, and to examine whether adopting the mindset of religious fasting versus focusing on the personal health benefits of fasting will lead to greater benefits on prosociality and flourishing-related outcomes. 

Understanding the effects of fasting on flourishing and the mechanisms through which fasting achieves these effects will address key challenges faced by faith communities: it promises to reinvigorate engagement with the practice of fasting and to facilitate more meaningful and personally transformative periods of fasting for religious adherents and beyond.

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