Elevation and Disgust
Haidt has an interesting theory about the emotions involved in religion. Religion fosters experience along a dimension he calls "divinity." If I understand him right, his view is that the "divine" and the "disgusting" are opposite ends of a single continuum. In fact, religion deals with both ends--its job is to keep the disgusting at bay, and cultivate the experience of divinity.
Anybody, religious or not, can experience divinity. It involves having a sense of elevation--possible within religious settings, and also outside of them. In fact, one study of elevation focused on subjects (lactating women, actually) watching people express gratitude on the Oprah show. The study showed that the emotion of elevation correlates strongly with surging oxytocin. It's not really surprising that elevation has a hormonal basis, since it has lots of physical manifestations--goose bumps, spine tingling pleasure, tears of joy.
At the service, I was on the look out for feelings of elevation. Do I have them, despite being a total skeptic? I do indeed. Starting about 10 years ago, when my kids were going to the temple's pre-school, I started attending kiddie services with them. I was practically dragged kicking and screaming, so I wasn't looking for elevation. I was actually looking to guard them against indoctrination. Surprise, surprise. I loved these services. I think Haidt captures what I felt and still feel: elevation. What are the the triggers? I think it's the sheer feeling of being part of a group, but also perceived virtues in the group--like perseverance, reverence, and humility.
At the opposite end of the spectrum (says Haidt) there's disgust. Conservative religions imagine there's a lot to be disgusted by--menstruating women, mixing meat and milk, homosexuality, etc. Liberal religion is "all elevation, no disgust." Or rather, just ordinary disgust. I was amused to find out what my students find disgusting (top secret!), but one example of mine is being seated right next to the bathroom in a restaurant. Let's do keep eating separate from excreting.
What I'm trying to figure out is why we ought to think the very same psychological system outputs both feelings of disgust and feelings of elevation. Why see it that way? What sort of evidence would show it was one system, not two? Is it really?