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Genetic Linkage

In Search of a Religiosity Gene

Do our genes predispose us to follow a religion? I searched Google Scholar for reports on the inheritance of religiosity.


I sought something scientific – does being religious favor the survival-to-reproduce that fuels natural selection of an adaptive inherited trait?


I skipped regular Google and mainstream media, seeking data and not opinions, and included "inheritance" and "religiosity" in my search. To me inheritance means genes that encode proteins that affect the phenotype (trait or illness). But inheritance also means passing something from parents to offspring – such as money, property, possessions, or ideals.


Surely someone had done a genome-wide association study for "religiosity." A "GWAS" is a survey of single-DNA-base positions (SNPs) in a genome where individuals vary, having any of the four DNA bases. These studies have been around for two decades, seeking evidence for genetic underpinnings of such traits as antisocial behavior, loneliness, and even political ideologies.


Today researchers use an abbreviated "polygenic risk score" to describe so-called complex traits – those influenced by several genes as well as environmental factors. In contrast to an either-or diagnosis like cystic fibrosis, a PRS tallies variants of many genes that contribute to a trait or illness.

The investigations that Google Scholar returned came more from the social sciences, using language with which I am admittedly unfamiliar. Here's a brief chronology of five studies that probed whether religiosity is in our genes.


To continue reading, go to DNA Science, where this post was first published. 

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