Is Religion Special?

Jordan W. Moon, Adam B. Cohen, Kristin Laurin, David P. MacKinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Religion makes unique claims (e.g., the existence of supernatural agents) not found in other belief systems, but is religion itself psychologically special? Furthermore, religion is related to many domains of psychological interest, such as morality, health and well-being, self-control, meaning, and death anxiety. Does religion act on these domains via special mechanisms that are unlike secular mechanisms? These could include mechanisms such as beliefs in supernatural agents, providing ultimate meaning, and providing literal immortality. We apply a critical eye to these questions of specialness and conclude that although it is clear that religion is psychologically important, there is not yet strong evidence that it is psychologically special, with the possible exception of its effects on health. We highlight what would be required of future research aimed at convincingly demonstrating that religion is indeed psychologically special, including careful definitions of religion and careful attention to experimental design and causal inference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-357
Number of pages18
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • death anxiety
  • health
  • meaning
  • morality
  • prosociality
  • religion
  • self-control
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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