The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism

The Science of Religion, Spirituality, and Existentialism

1st Edition - April 4, 2020

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  • Editors: Kenneth Vail III, Clay Routledge
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128172056
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128172049

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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

Product details

  • No. of pages: 502
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Academic Press 2020
  • Published: April 4, 2020
  • Imprint: Academic Press
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128172056
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128172049

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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