Terror Management Theory and Religious Belief

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Contribution to Books

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Publication Title

Handbook of Terror Management Theory


© 2019 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. Religious belief has been a stable and wide-reaching force in human culture. To sufficiently understand why, this chapter considers the role of religious beliefs in human motivation to manage the uniquely human awareness of death. Rather than viewing religion as a nonfunctional by-product of other processes, terror management theory views religion as offering a particularly powerful means of addressing the problem of humans’ natural, physical limitations. Terror management processes fuel the dualistic belief that the self is an immortal soul, separate from the mortal body, and motivates religious faith in the spiritual purity of sacred religious figures and in the power of souls to conquer the limits of the natural world. Similarly, the awareness of death fuels faith in supernatural immortality (e.g., afterlife), supporting myths about supernatural agency (gods, spirits, creation), and a variety of social behaviors designed to bolster and protect the perceived legitimacy of such religious beliefs.