Journal of Social and Political
ISSN 2615-3718 (Online)
ISSN 2621-5675 (Print)
Published: 28 June 2023
Is Fear of Supernatural Punishment the Foundation of Religion? An Examination of Bering’s Theory of Dead Agents
Chong Ho Yu, Juanita Cole, William Whitney
Azusa Pacific University (USA), California State University (USA)
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Keywords: Cognition, Evolution, Death, Fear, Religion, Moral Foundation
Cognitive psychologist Bering attempted to explain away religion by suggesting that the evolutionary process pre-disposed the human mind to assume a spiritual realm in which dead people continue to keep their consciousness. In Bering’s study participants were asked to rate the characteristics of persons in given photos in two sittings. When the experimenter told the participants that one of the persons in the photo passed away in the second round, the average ratings for that person significantly went up. Bering concluded that higher ratings were a result of participants’ fear of being punished by the dead agent. By replicating this experiment, the authors found that initially the non-religious group gave higher ratings to the dead person than the religious group in the pretest, but the order switched in the posttest. Our study suggests that there might be alternate sources of our belief system, and also there might be alternate explanations for the same phenomenon revealed by the data.
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