The Nontheistic Sacred: The Psychological Functions of Metal Music and Artefacts

Kyle Messick, Jonathan Jong, Valerie van Mulukom, Miguel Farias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The psychological functions of the nontheistic sacred in a secular context (metal music culture) were examined for their consistency with previous studies of the sacred in religious contexts using two studies. The first experiment examined music as a form of nontheistic sacred through a comparison of death metal fans (n=89) listening to death metal or hard rock. The second experiment examined how some metal cultural artefacts were perceived as sacred by metal fans (n=52), and how their loss or defilement was experienced when compared to non-sacred artefacts. The first experiment found that the death metal music was perceived as more sacred than hard rock music to the metal community, it promoted higher levels of positive affect, and it was associated with significantly higher levels of prosocial behavioural intentions, social relatedness, mood maintenance, and self-awareness, with no differences in empathy and negative affect. The second experiment found that acts of desecration of sacred items, when compared to non-sacred items, led to a higher state of anger and the loss of the items led to significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety. The two experiments present evidence that the nontheistic sacred is experienced within the secular context of metal music in terms of functions and effects consistent with previous literature exploring the sacred in religious contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)198-213
Number of pages16
JournalThe International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
Issue number3
Early online date24 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • sacred
  • nontheistic
  • sacred loss
  • desecration
  • sanctification
  • psychological functions
  • heavy metal
  • death metal
  • music culture
  • secular
  • secularity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Psychology(all)


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