Prominent theories of religious cognition highlight the role of anxiety in beliefs about supernatural powers. Despite this theoretical emphasis, empirical data for the role of anxiety in belief about the supernatural are sparse, limited to studies with Christian adults in Western countries, and focus on anxiety related to the awareness of death. In the proposed project, we plan to systematically investigate the role of anxiety associated with various kinds of adverse life events in the development of beliefs about the supernatural and extend this research to children and adults with diverse religious backgrounds. Specifically, in Study 1, we plan to induce anxiety related to material circumstances (i.e., poverty and immigration) as well as mortality anxiety in a group of adults representing Christian, Muslim, and atheist populations. We then ask participants questions which measure their belief in supernatural powers and their relational “closeness” to these powers. In this study, we aim to understand the role of anxiety, as an emotional experience, in moderating the link between real circumstances and the representation of the supernatural. To do so, we systematically investigate two possibilities regarding the role of anxiety in the development of religious cognition. In Study 2, by extending our findings to children from various religious backgrounds, we aim to investigate developmental patterns in how anxiety moderates links between circumstances and belief in the supernatural. At the end of the project, we will disseminate our findings through academic publications, conferences, and blog posts to inform theories of religious cognition. We plan to produce at least 2 publications and to present findings at 2-3 domestic and international conferences.
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