BlogBeat

Reminders of Death and Religious Belief

Reminders of Death and Religious Belief

By Tom Rees
This View of Life

There’s quite a lot of research showing that subtly reminding people of death can make them more religious. But what’s not clear is why that should be—and in particular, whether nonreligious people also become more religious.

[caption id="attachment_16985" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="PHILIPPE DE CHAMPAIGNE (1602–1674) Still-Life with a Skull, vanitas painting."][/caption]

Jonathan Jong, a new doctoral graduate from the University of Otago in New Zealand, has conducted a series of fascinating studies to investigate just this. You can find his thesis here. There’s a lot in it, but here’s two key studies that will make you think.

In the first study, Jong asked students to write either about what they thought would happen to them when they die (the death condition) or about watching TV (the control condition). Then he asked them a series of questions about religious beliefs (with a Christian slant)—the Spiritual Belief Scale.

You can see in the figure below that religious people have, as you would expect, high levels of belief in the supernatural—and this increases still further in the “death” condition versus the TV condition.

Nonreligious people had lower beliefs to start with, and they got lower still after death reminders. They become stronger in their rejection of religious beliefs.

OK, so far so good. But this is just what people are saying—and what people say and what they think instinctively are not necessarily the same.

Then Jong ran a version of the Implicit Association Test. This is basically a computerised quiz in which you have to classify words into different groups. Some classifications go against your instinctive beliefs—and these classifications will make you stumble a little, and so take you a little bit longer.

So, in this case, the subjects had to classify supernatural (angel, devil, God, heaven, soul, etc.), real (eagle, helicopter), and imaginary (Batmobile, fairy, genie, mermaid, Narnia) entities as either real or imaginary. For the nonreligious, being asked to classify supernatural and real objects together as real, and distinct from imaginary objects, is tough to do. It goes against their instincts, and so they took significantly longer to do it.

Read more on Science & Religion Today

Click to add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

BlogBeat

More in BlogBeat

circle_of_friends_1170-770x460

How Head Start protected civil rights activists

Latina ListaJuly 1, 2015
78485753

Study: Authoritarian Parenting can Lead to Anxiety and Depression Among Latino Children

Latina ListaJune 30, 2015
featured

Announcing America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2015

Latina ListaJune 29, 2015
920x920

Q&A with Political Activist Rosie Castro (Mom to Joaquín and Julián)

Latina ListaJune 25, 2015
Patricia-Cardenas-volunteer-student-771x578

About half of high schools release discipline records to colleges for admissions

Latina ListaJune 23, 2015
C!!

Study: humans causing sixth extinction event on Earth

Latina ListaJune 22, 2015
744616-e1398371335442

Report: More Latinos Earning STEM Degrees

Latina ListaJune 19, 2015
bike-helmet-child

Study: Latino children and other minorities less likely to use helmets

Latina ListaJune 17, 2015
spanish-speaking-countries-580x230

Spanish in the 21st Century

Latina ListaJune 16, 2015