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Review of Religious Research

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 149–189 | Cite as

Religiosity and Fear of Death: A Theory-Oriented Review of the Empirical Literature

  • Lee Ellis
  • Eshah A. Wahab
Original Paper

Abstract

Do religious people fear death more or less than those who are nonreligious? According to two theories, religiosity and fear of death should be inversely correlated. A third theory suggests that moderately religious persons should be more fearful than those who are extremely religious or nonreligious. Yet a fourth theory predicts that religiosity and fear of death should be positively correlated. Eighty-four studies were located in which pertinent findings have been presented, several of which reached more than one conclusion based on different definitions of religiosity. Overall, 40 studies provided findings supporting the conclusion that religiosity and fear of death are inversely correlated, nine supported a curvilinear relationship, 27 supported a positive correlation, and 32 indicated that no significant relationship exists between religiosity and fear of death. Chi square analyses of several features of these conflicting studies suggest that there is probably a modest negative correlation between religiosity and fear of death among persons who are at least modestly religious. However, when nonreligious individuals are sampled alongside those who are both moderately and extremely religious, the overall relationship shifts to being curvilinear, and possibly even positive, depending on the aspect of religiosity being assessed. The implications of these conclusions for the four theories are discussed.

Keywords

Religions Religiosity Fear of death Belief in immortality Curvilinearity Buffering theory Terror-management theory Death apprehension theory 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Helpful comments on drafts of this paper by Dr. Malini Ratnasingam are gratefully acknowledged. We also thank Alan Widmayer for his assistance in locating several of the research reports cited in this review.

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© Religious Research Association, Inc. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology and SociologyUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia

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