Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behavior

Journal of Religion and Health, Forthcoming

28 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2013

Date Written: June 11, 2013


After the battle, the moral and mortality stresses influence different soldiers in different ways. Using two large-scale surveys of World War II veterans, this research investigates the role of combat and long-term religiosity. Study 1 shows that as combat became more frightening, the percentage of soldiers who reported praying rose from 42% to 72%. Study 2 shows that 50 years later, many soldiers still exhibited religious behavior, but it varied by their war experience. Those facing heavy combat (versus no combat) attended church 21% more often if they claimed their war experience was negative, but those who claimed their experience was positive attended 26% less often. The more a veteran disliked the war, the more religious they were 50 years later. While implications for counselors, clergy, and health practitioners are outlined, saying there are no atheists in foxholes may be less of an argument against atheism than it is against foxholes.

Keywords: Faith, religiosity, stress, anxiety, combatants, war, trauma, counseling

Suggested Citation

Wansink, Brian and Wansink, Craig, Are There Atheists in Foxholes? Combat Intensity and Religious Behavior (June 11, 2013). Journal of Religion and Health, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Brian Wansink (Contact Author)

Retired ( email )

607-319-0123 (Phone)

Craig Wansink

Virginia Wesleyan College ( email )

1584 Wesleyan Drive
Norfolk, VA 23502
United States

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