Foxhole atheism, revisited: The effects of mortality salience on explicit and implicit religious belief

Jonathan Jong, Jamin Halberstadt, Matthias Bluemke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)983-989
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Belief
  • Death
  • Dual process
  • Implicit cognition
  • Religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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