The Motivational Underpinnings of Belief in God


Journal Article (Chapter)

© 2017 Elsevier Inc. Beliefs in powerful Gods are prevalent across time and across societies. In this chapter, we explore the motivated underpinnings of this phenomenon. After describing two popular theories that help account for some of this prevalence—one focused on byproducts of normal human cognition and the other focused on the cultural benefit conferred by shared belief in powerful Gods—we propose that a third perspective may be needed to fully explain why so many people believe: that believing in God is one mechanism through which people fulfill their need to perceive the world as structured, orderly, and nonrandom. We then describe a model that outlines the causes and consequences of perceptions of structure, and leverage this model to organize the evidence connecting belief in God to people's need for structure. We then note the ways in which belief in a powerful God, though not the only form of belief that can satisfy the need for structure, may hold an advantage over most alternatives. Finally, we conclude by discussing the implications of this perspective for understanding the ongoing evolution of religious belief.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Laurin, K; Kay, AC

Published Date

  • January 1, 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 56 /

Start / End Page

  • 201 - 257

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0065-2601

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/bs.aesp.2017.02.004

Citation Source

  • Scopus