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Lifestyle Health and Wellbeing 26 Mar 2017 Atheists and highly ...

Atheists and highly religious people fear death the least: study

Published Mar 26, 2017, 6:32 pm IST
Updated Mar 26, 2017, 8:45 pm IST
Extrinsic religiosity is when religious behaviour is motivated by the social or emotional benefits of following a religion.
Intrinsic religiosity refers to religious behaviour driven by true belief (Photo: AFP)
 Intrinsic religiosity refers to religious behaviour driven by true belief (Photo: AFP)

London: Does religion make you less afraid of death? People on two far ends of the spectrum - atheists as well as those who are very religious are least fearful of dying, scientists say.

Researchers, including those from Oxford University in the UK, studied the relationship between death anxiety and religious belief. They found about 100 relevant articles, published between 1961 and 2014, containing information about 26,000 people worldwide.


Combining this data, they found that higher levels of religiosity were weakly linked with lower levels of death anxiety. The effects were similar whether they looked at religious beliefs such as belief in God, and an afterlife, or religious behaviour like going to church, and praying, researchers said.

The meta-analysis showed that while people who were intrinsically religious enjoyed lower levels of death anxiety, those who were extrinsically religious revealed higher levels of death anxiety.

Extrinsic religiosity is when religious behaviour is motivated by pragmatic considerations such as the social or emotional benefits of following a religion, whereas intrinsic religiosity refers to religious behaviour driven by true belief.


The findings were mixed across the studies, with only 30 per cent of the effects showing this finding. About 18 per cent of the studies found that religious people were more afraid of death than non-religious people and over half the research showed no link at all between the fear of death and religiosity.

This mixed picture shows that the relationship between religiosity and death anxiety may not be fixed, but may differ from context to context, researchers said.

Researchers also checked for curvilinear patterns in the data. Out of the 100 studies, the team only found 11 studies that were robust enough to test this idea, however, of these, almost all (10) formed this pattern.


"This definitely complicates the old view, that religious people are less afraid of death than nonreligious people. It may well be that atheism also provides comfort from death, or that people who are just not afraid of death are not compelled to seek religion," said Jonathan Jong of Coventry University in the UK.

The research was published in the journal Religion, Brain and Behaviour.