When we think about our own death, do we become more open to religious ideas?

Do we become more religious when we think about our own death. Or at least, less religiously skeptical? In this episode, I talk with Dr. Jonathan Jong, currently a Research Fellow at Coventry University, and Deputy Director of the Brain, Belief and Behaviour group there. He is also the Research Coordinator of the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford. In this conversation, we focus on Jonathan’s PhD work – in New Zealand – on understanding the link between death anxiety and religious belief.

Here is the link to the paper we talk about in this week’s show:

Here is the abstract for some context:

Although fear of death features prominently in many historical and contemporary theories as a major motivational factor in religious belief, the empirical evidence available is ambivalent, and limited, we argue, by imprecise measures of belief and insufficient attention to the distinction between implicit and explicit aspects of cognition. The present research used both explicit (questionnaire) and implicit (single-target implicit association test; property verification) measurement techniques to examine how thoughts of death influence, specifically, belief in religious supernatural agents. When primed with death, participants explicitly defended their own religious worldview, such that self-described Christians were more confident that supernatural religious entities exist, while non-religious participants were more confident that they do not. However, when belief was measured implicitly, death priming increased all participants’ beliefs in religious supernatural entities, regardless of their prior religious commitments. The results are interpreted in terms of a dual-process model of religious cognition, which can be used to resolve conflicting prior data, as well as to help explain the perplexing durability of religious belief.

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