The religious correlates of death anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Jonathan Jong, Robert Ross, Tristan Philip, Si Hua Chang, Naomi Simons, Jamin Halberstadt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)
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Various theories of religion hypothesize a connection between death anxiety and religiosity. In particular, Terror Management Theory’s worldview defense hypothesis predicts that death anxiety is lowest among very religious and irreligious individuals, and highest among uncertain individuals. Likewise, the supposition that death anxiety motivates religious belief, which in turn mitigates death anxiety predicts that religiosity increases with death anxiety among nonbelievers, and that death anxiety decreases as religiosity increases among believers. In both cases, a curvilinear relationship—specifically, an inverted-U curve—is predicted. We extracted 202 effect sizes from 100 studies for an “omnibus” religiosity meta-analysis, and six meta-analyses that examine particular dimensions of religiosity. We found high heterogeneity and a weak negative association between death anxiety and religiosity. A closer examination revealed that 10 of the 11 studies that directly tested for curvilinearity provided some support for an inverted-U pattern. The curvilinearity hypothesis cannot be ruled out, but more evidence—particularly on nonreligious individuals, and in nonwestern, nonAbrahamic contexts—is needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4-20
Number of pages17
JournalReligion, Brain & Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date16 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • death anxiety
  • fear of death
  • meta-analysis
  • religiosity
  • systematic review
  • Terror Management Theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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