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The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780128172049, 9780128172056

The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism

1st Edition

Editors: Kenneth Vail III Clay Routledge
eBook ISBN: 9780128172056
Paperback ISBN: 9780128172049
Imprint: Academic Press
Published Date: 4th April 2020
Page Count: 502
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The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism presents in-depth analysis of the core issues in existential psychology, their connections to religion and spirituality (e.g., religious concepts, beliefs, identities, and practices), and their diverse outcomes (e.g., psychological, social, cultural, and health). Leading scholars from around the world cover research exploring how fundamental existential issues are both cause and consequence of religion and spirituality, informed by research data spanning multiple levels of analysis, such as: evolution; cognition and neuroscience; emotion and motivation; personality and individual differences; social and cultural forces; physical and mental health; among many others.

The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism explores known contours and emerging frontiers, addressing the big question of why religious belief remains such a central feature of the human experience.

Key Features

  • Discusses both abstract concepts of mortality and concrete near-death experiences
  • Covers the struggles and triumphs associated with freedom, self-regulation, and authenticity
  • Examines the roles of social exclusion, experiential isolation, attachment, and the construction of social identity
  • Considers the problems of uncertainty, the effort to discern truth and reality, and the challenge to find meaning in life
  • Discusses how the mind developed to handle existential topics, how the brain and mind implement the relevant processes, and the many variations and individual differences that alter those processes
  • Delves into the psychological functions of religion and science; the influence on pro- and antisocial behavior, politics, and public policy; and looks at the role of spiritual concerns in understanding the human body and maintaining physical health


Students and researchers in social psychology with a particular focus in religious, spiritual, and existential themes and concepts

Table of Contents

Preface - The science of religion, spirituality, and existentialism
Kenneth Vail and Clay Routledge

Part 1: Death
1. Dwelling Forever in the House of the Lord: On the Terror Management Function of Religion
Jeff Greenberg, Peter J. Helm, Mark J. Landau, and Sheldon Solomon
2. Death anxiety and religious belief: A critical review
Jonathan Jong
3. Face to Face with Death: The Role of Religion in Coping with Suffering
Daryl R. Van Tongeren
4. Near-Death Experiences: The Mystical Feeling of "Crossing Over" and Its Impact on Faith and Spirituality
Natasha Tassell-Matamua and Janice Miner Holden

Part 2: Freedom
5. Reactance and spiritual possibilities: An application of psychological reactance theory
Benjamin D. Rosenberg and Jason T. Siegel
6. Understanding the psychology of religion: The contribution of Self Determination Theory
Maria Brambilla and Avi Assor
7. A Goals Perspective on Religion and Spirituality
Ross Rogers
8. Religion and Spirituality, Free Will, and Effective Self-Regulation
Adam S. Hodge, Courtney J. Alderson, David K. Mosher, Cameron W. Davis, Joshua N. Hook, Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Jeffrey D. Green, and Don E. Davis
9. Authenticity and the True Self in Religion and Spirituality
Andrew G. Christy, Grace N. Rivera, and Rebecca J. Schlegel
10. Freedom as a Cross to Bear: Choice-Overload, the Burdens of Freedom, and the Benefits of Constraint
Barry Schwartz

Part 3: Isolation and social identity
11. Social Ostracism, Religion, and Existential Concerns
Andrew H. Hales, Eric D. Wesselmann, and Kipling D. Williams
12. The holy grail of connection: I-sharing, existential isolation, and religion
Elizabeth C. Pinel, Geneva C. Yawger, and Young Chin Park
13. An attachment theory perspective on religion and spirituality
Pehr Granqvist, Mario Mikulincer, and Phillip R. Shaver
14. A social identity approach to religion: Religiosity at the nexus of personal and collective self
Kenneth I. Mavor and Renate Ysseldyk
15. Religion and the construction of identity
Roman Palitsky, Daniel Sullivan, Isaac F. Young, and Harrison Schmitt

Part 4: Systems of meaning
16. Truth and significance: A 3N Model (needs, narratives, networks) perspective on religion
Ewa Szumowska, Aneta Czernatowicz-Kukuczka, Małgorzata Kossowska, Szymon Król, and Arie W. Kruglanski
17. Existential Uncertainty and Religion
Holly R. Engstrom and Kristin Laurin
18. Cosmic dad or Cthulhu: Why we will always need (religious) absolutes
Travis Proulx
19. Religiousness and meaning making following stressful life events
Crystal L. Park
20. Meaning, religious/spiritual struggles, and well-being
Nick Stauner, Julie J. Exline, and Joshua A. Wilt

Part 5: Mechanisms, variations, and individual differences
21. In His Own Image: An Existential Evolutionary Perspective on the Origins and Function of Religion
Tom Pyszczynski and Mark J. Landau
22. Fear Not: Religion and Emotion Regulation in Coping with Existential Concerns
Allon Vishkin and Maya Tamir
23. Existential Givens, Religion, and Neuroscience
Johannes Klackl
24. The Existential implications of individual differences in religious defensive and growth orientations: Fundamentalism, quest religiosity, and intrinsic/extrinsic religiosity
Andrew A. Abeyta and Elizabeth N. Blake
25. Existential Therapy, Religion, and Mindfulness
Louis Hoffman, Benjamin Ramey, and Danielle Silveira

Part 6: Applications and controversies
26. Science and religion: A rocky relationship shaped by shared psychological functions
Bastiaan T. Rutjens and Jesse L. Preston
27. Of Flesh and Blood: Death, Creatureliness, and Incarnational Ambivalence towards the Divine
Cathy R. Cox, Robert B. Arrowood, and Julie A. Swets
28. Religion: More essential (and existential) nutrient than opiate for the masses
Jais Adam-Troian and Matt Motyl
29. Politics and Religion: Commutable, Conflicting, and Collaborative Systems for Satisfying the Need for Order
Steven Shepherd and Aaron C. Kay
30. The Paradox of Faith: How Existential Concerns Motivate both Prosocial and Antisocial Religious Behaviors
Spee Kosloff; and Sheldon Solomon
31. Religion and Health: Building Existential Bridges
Tyler Jimenez, Michael N. Bultmann, and Jamie Arndt


No. of pages:
© Academic Press 2020
4th April 2020
Academic Press
eBook ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:

About the Editors

Kenneth Vail III

Dr. Kenneth Vail is a psychological scientist and professor at Cleveland State University, and director of the Social Psychology & Existential Attitudes Research (SPEAR) Laboratory. He completed his BA in psychology at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and his MA and PhD at the University of Missouri. His research is focused on motivation and the self, broadly, investigating the cultural and personal consequences of the human existential condition. Much of this research touches on the consequences of humans’ awareness of their own mortality, autonomy, and choice freedom, and the influence of these existential concerns on cultural activity (e.g., politics, religion), personal growth, and both physical health (e.g., nutrition, carcinogenic behavior) and mental health (e.g., PTSD). He has published dozens of research articles and scholarly chapters, and co-edited special issues of journals such as Religion, Brain, & Behavior and Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. Some of his research findings have been featured in national and international news outlets including The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Live Science, TEDx, Telegraph UK, and the Times of India, and he has contributed to notable volumes such as: Science and the World’s Religions; The Psychology of Meaning; The Experience of Meaning in Life; Advances in Motivation Science; and the Handbook of Terror Management Theory and Research. At Cleveland State University, Dr. Vail has earned awards (e.g., Golden Apple Award; Outstanding Teaching Awards) for his work teaching and mentoring across a variety of domains in psychological science. For more information, visit:

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Psychology, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH, USA

Clay Routledge

Dr. Clay Routledge is a behavioral scientist, writer, consultant, and professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. Much of his work focuses on the human need to find and maintain meaning in life . More specifically, using a range of empirical methods, his research examines the underlying cognitive processes involved in meaning-making, the different ways people seek meaning, and how the presence or absence of meaning influences physical and psychological health, self-control, goal pursuit, and social and community engagement. Dr. Routledge has published over 100 academic papers and co-edited three books. He authored the books Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource and Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, John Templeton Foundation, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Charles Koch Foundation. Dr. Routledge regularly writes for media outlets such as Scientific American, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He is also a nonresident scholar for the Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. Dr. Routledge frequently serves as a business consultant, public speaker, and guest on popular podcasts and radio and television programs. His work is also regularly featured in diverse media outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Men’s Health, Variety, Forbes, Vox, Huffington Post, The Guardian, BBC News, CBS News, CBC News, and CNN. You can find out more about Dr. Routledge’s work at

Affiliations and Expertise

Department of Psychology, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND, USA

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