Book Review: How God Works: the science behind the benefits of religion

Book Review: How God Works: the science behind the benefits of religion

Cover image of How God Works by David DeSteno

Several of my favorite fantasy and science fiction authors have opted not to include religions in the world building for their stories. While I spent time crafting everything from distinct social structures to gestures—not to mention a system of skills and powers—for Cor’s world of Kuyen, it has no gods or religions.

I still found How God Works to be an interesting read on its own terms as well as fascinating for world building.

DeSteno approaches the topic of religion from the standpoint of a research psychologist, focusing on the ways that religious practices and rituals have developed to meet the needs of their followers. While scientific studies have revealed ways in which meditation reduces stress or cradling your newborn in your arms increases the bonding hormone oxytocin, religion has been finding ways to unlock such benefits for thousands of years.

DeSteno focuses especially on rituals surrounding transitions of life, such as welcoming a new baby or the changes in focus that accompany midlife milestones. Though he pulls examples from religions around the world, he makes it clear that nonbelievers can reap similar benefits outside of any religious practice. From a world building standpoint, I found it useful to consider how people in my invented cultures might mark the transition points in their lives, what secular or cultural rituals they might have developed to direct and support community members through common life events. I took away a few interesting details that will hopefully make it into future worlds I write.

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