Division Awards

Margaret Gorman Early Career Award Recipient

A preview of Patty Van Cappellen’s talk.
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By Patty Van Cappellen, PhD

I will present a summary of my own research that showcases the importance of studying religion as a practice in addition to a system of beliefs. First, I’ll discuss the fact that religious and spiritual practices (e.g., attending a place of worship, praying, meditating) are associated with the experience of meaningful positive emotions. To explain this association, I'll specifically focus on embodied processes showing that the very body postures adopted in worship and prayer are associated with distinct religious experiences. I’ll then turn my attention to the implications of experiencing positive emotions in religious practice describing research on well-being and spirituality. Finally, I’ll briefly describe an ongoing investigation on the psychological and biological factors that amplify the positive emotions experienced in spiritual practices with attendant consequences for sustained adherence to these practices. Together, I aim to argue for the importance of moving the study of religion beyond the mind and for taking seriously the role that positive emotions play when experienced during religious and spiritual practices.

Author Bio

Patty Van Cappellen, PhD, is the director of the Interdisciplinary Behavioral Research Center (IBRC) and PI of the Belief, Affect and Behavior Lab at Duke University. Patty earned her PhD in social psychology in 2012 from the UCLouvain, Belgium. She then moved from her home country for a postdoctoral position, with Barbara Fredrickson, and then a faculty position at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Patty is an experimental social psychologist investigating such questions as, “Why do people turn to religion or spirituality?” and “What are the psychological, contextual and biological underpinnings of religion’s best and worst outcomes?”

Currently, she is particularly interested in the study of self-transcendent positive emotions (e.g., awe, admiration) and nonverbal expressions of emotions and worship. She received a grant from the Templeton Foundation to study “The Embodiment of Worship: Relations among Postural, Psychological and Physiological Aspects of Religious Practice.” She is also investigating the mechanisms explaining religion’s link to prejudice and real antisocial behaviors. 

Van Cappellen received the Early Career Award from the International Association for the Psychology of Religion (IAPR) in 2017. She is currently associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal Archive for the Psychology of Religion.

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