The virtues of Hilbert’s mathematical problems – or, at least, the best of them – were that they were simply and unambiguously stated, enticingly difficult, and generated yet more advances in mathematics than just the solution of the problems themselves. In the spirit of Hilbert, albeit in empirical mode, we pose the following question to scholars of religion: What is the causal relationship between death anxiety and religious belief? This question we decompose into four sub-questions: Do people fear death? Does religiosity covary systematically with death anxiety? Does death anxiety cause or enhance religious belief? Does religious belief mitigate death anxiety? On the face of it, this focus on the fear of death seems parochial; it is indeed narrow in scope, but so were most of Hilbert’s mathematical problems. Besides getting at a prominent intuition among laypeople and academics alike – that people are religious because they fear death – the route to answering our question will require scholars of religion to work together across disciplines, clarify our terms, design better measures and manipulations, and conduct cross-cultural research. Thus, as Hilbert put it, we believe that “the gain which science obtains from the problem” will be great.
- death anxiety
- fear of death
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology