A terror management analysis of the psychological functions of religion

Kenneth E. Vail, Zachary K. Rothschild, Dave R. Weise, Sheldon Solomon, Tom Pyszczynski, Jeff Greenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

364 Scopus citations


From a terror management theory (TMT) perspective, religion serves to manage the potential terror engendered by the uniquely human awareness of death by affording a sense of psychological security and hope of immortality. Although secular beliefs can also serve a terror management function, religious beliefs are particularly well suited to mitigate death anxiety because they are all encompassing, rely on concepts that are not easily disconfirmed, and promise literal immortality. Research is reviewed demonstrating that mortality salience produces increased belief in afterlife, supernatural agency, human ascension from nature, and spiritual distinctions between mind and body. The social costs and benefits of religious beliefs are considered and compared to those of secular worldviews. The terror management functions of, and benefits and costs associated with, different types of religious orientation, such as intrinsic religiosity, quest, and religious fundamentalism, are then examined. Finally, the TMT analysis is compared to other accounts of religion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-94
Number of pages11
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • Death
  • Faith
  • God
  • Meaning
  • Mortality
  • Religion
  • Sacred
  • Spiritual
  • Supernatural
  • Terror management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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