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- Mar 27, 2022
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People who endorse conspiracy theories tend to be more religious, and this may be due to ideological overlap
A large study published in the journal Political Psychology suggests that the link between conspiracy belief and religiosity is rooted in cognitive similarities between the two beliefs. The overall findings suggest that people with higher conspiracy belief also tend to be more religious, and...
A large study published in the journal Political Psychology suggests that the link between conspiracy belief and religiosity is rooted in cognitive similarities between the two beliefs. The overall findings suggest that people with higher conspiracy belief also tend to be more religious, and this is likely driven by overlapping ideological and political worldviews.
Scholars have noted the similarities between religion and features of conspiracy theories, but the nature of this overlap is uncertain. Some researchers have suggested that the two beliefs fulfill similar psychological needs, such as morality, belonging, and sense of control. Others suggest that the beliefs share cognitive styles, with both alluding to invisible forces at play and offering “anomalies as explanatory starting points.”
“Several similarities have been noted between religiosity and conspiracy theory beliefs: Both suggest that there is more in the world than is visible, both promise to address similar needs like to understand the world, and both tend to speak to similar political orientations. But it was unclear what these parallels mean empirically for their relation. They could either serve as surrogates or as complements for each other,” explained study author Marius Frenken, a doctoral research assistant at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz.'
Frenken and colleagues were motivated to consider which of these theories is most accurate, by exploring the correlation between belief in conspiracies and religiosity. If the two ideologies fulfill similar needs, a negative correlation should be found, since people would be expected to endorse one or the other. But if religiosity and conspiracy belief share cognitive features, a positive correlation should be found, since people who believe in one should be more likely to also believe in the other.
The researchers first conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies that reported relationships between conspiracy mindset and religiosity or specific conspiracy beliefs and religiosity. While most of the samples were based in the United States, the analysis also included non-Christian samples from Iran and Turkey. The findings revealed a significant positive correlation between religiosity and conspiracy mindset and a slightly stronger correlation between religiosity and the tendency to endorse specific conspiracy beliefs.
Next, the researchers conducted a series of follow-up studies. Data from two US samples revealed small to medium-sized positive correlations between religiosity and conspiracy mindset and religiosity and specific conspiracy beliefs. Notably, these effects decreased substantially when controlling for political beliefs, suggesting that the relationships between religiosity and conspiracy belief were largely driven by shared political ideologies.