No Atheists in Foxholes: Motivated Reasoning and Religious Ideology

Robb Willer
Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification
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Recent research has focused on the motivational bases of political ideology. It is plausible that similar factors may drive the formation of religious ideology. Although explanations of the existence of religious beliefs in terms of their satisfaction of psychological needs date back centuries, limited empirical research links motivated reasoning to religious belief. This chapter reviews existing research on the role of motivation in the formation of religious belief systems, specifically research on the relationship between fear of death and afterlife belief. The results of two original, experimental studies are presented, investigating the hypothesis that fear of death leads to greater religious belief. The results of these studies suggest that a more parsimonious motivated reasoning account may explain the relationship between fear of death and afterlife belief better than one based on terror management theory. Taken together, findings support the notion that some religious beliefs can be usefully explained in motivational terms.