Afterlife Beliefs and Prejudice

Gwyn Reece

This summer, I worked with Dr. Van Cappellen to investigate the relationship between the beliefs people have about life after death and their attitudes towards people with different religious and political identities. Many people, regardless of whether they have ever been religious, hold strong beliefs about what will happen to them once they die. Although research has addressed the way that afterlife beliefs are related to internal experiences like anxiety, there is little research on how they may be related to the way people think about or interact with others. Over the course of the summer, I analyzed existing data from a national survey in addition to new data from two surveys conducted online through Cloud Research to learn more about the relationship between afterlife beliefs and attitudes towards Republicans, Democrats, people who are currently religious, people who have never been religious, and the LGBTQ+ community. Our preliminary findings suggest that some types of afterlife beliefs predict warmer or colder feelings towards certain groups, even when controlling for religiosity. I’m looking forward to continuing this research this fall to learn more about the mechanisms that explain the relationships between certain afterlife beliefs and attitudes towards different groups as part of my senior thesis.