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Culture, Ideology, Morality, and Religion: Death Changes Everything

THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF MEANING, MORTALITY, AND CHOICE, M. Mikulincer, P. R. Shaver, eds., Washington, D.C.: APA Press, 2011

26 Pages Posted: 5 Apr 2011 Last revised: 8 Jun 2011

Tom Pyszczynski

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Pelin Kesebir

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

In this chapter, we consider how the reality of death changes the way human psychological motives operate. Relying on terror management theory (TMT; Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986; Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991), we argue that humanly constructed meaning systems, such as culture, ideology, morality, and religion serve important death-denying functions. Clearly, these systems also function to solve practical problems and help with survival and reproduction. Yet TMT posits that the human awareness of death added urgency to the way humans hold on to these sources of meaning, and changed the sorts of meanings that people sought to attain. We start with a brief overview of TMT and a discussion of how culture, ideology, morality, and religion are affected by awareness of mortality. The second part of the chapter addresses recent conceptualizations that have been proposed as alternatives to TMT, that argue that the problem of death is a specific case of a more general threat. We explain why we consider awareness of death a unique force for the human psyche that is responsible for changing the pursuit of meaning, value, and security in ways that affect the functioning of culture, ideology, and religion.

Keywords: death anxiety, existential motivation, terror management theory, culture, ideology, morality, religion

Suggested Citation

Pyszczynski, Tom and Kesebir, Pelin, Culture, Ideology, Morality, and Religion: Death Changes Everything (2011). THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF MEANING, MORTALITY, AND CHOICE, M. Mikulincer, P. R. Shaver, eds., Washington, D.C.: APA Press, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1802731

Tom Pyszczynski

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs ( email )

1420 Austin Bluffs Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80918-7150
United States

Pelin Kesebir (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Center for Investigating Healthy Minds ( email )

1500 Highland Avenue, Suite S119
Waisman Center
Madison, WI 53705-2280
United States

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