Atheists among the least afraid of death—Oxford study

A study has shown that atheists are not necessarily the most anxious about death

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A study conducted by Oxford anthropologists has revealed that although the very religious are among the least afraid of death, so too are atheists.

The paper was published in the journal Religion, Brain and Behaviour, and challenges the view that religious believers are those who fear death the least.

The paper examined the relationship between death anxiety and religious belief. It involved a systematic review of 100 relevant studies, from between 1961 and 2014 around the world. examining the relationship between death anxiety and religious belief.

They found that the more religious, in terms of those who believed in God and an afterlife, were not necessarily less anxious about death.

However, some of the relevant studies they used made a distinction between extrinsic religiosity and intrinsic religiosity, with ‘true belief’ being driven by intrinsic religiosity. Their analysis showed that those who were intrinsically religious were among the least afraid, whilst the extrinsically religious had the highest levels of death anxiety.

The range of different studies examined showed variation. Over half the research showed no link between religiosity and fear of death, whilst 18 per cent of the studies found that religious people were more afraid of death than atheists.

This indicates that the relationship between religiosity and death anxiety may vary depending on the context. The majority of the studies involves took place in the United States, with just a small number from Asia or the Middle East.

Researcher Dr Jonathan Jong of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology said: “This definitely complicates the old view, that religious people are less afraid of death than non-religious people. It may well be that atheism also provides comfort from death, or that people who are just not afraid of death aren’t compelled to seek religion.”