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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Moral and religious convictions: Are they the same or different things?

Skitka LJ, Hanson BE, Washburn AN, Mueller AB (2018)
PLoS ONE 13(6): e0199311.


People often assume that moral and religious convictions are functionally the same thing. But are they? We report on 19 studies (N = 12,284) that tested whether people’s perceptions that their attitudes are reflections of their moral and religious convictions across 30 different issues were functionally the same (the equivalence hypothesis) or different constructs (the distinct constructs hypothesis), and whether the relationship between these constructs was conditional on political orientation (the political asymmetry hypothesis). Seven of these studies (N = 5,561, and 22 issues) also had data that allowed us to test whether moral and religious conviction are only closely related for those who are more rather than less religious (the secularization hypothesis), and a narrower form of the political asymmetry and secularization hypotheses, that is, that people’s moral and religious convictions may be tightly connected constructs only for religious conservatives. Meta-analytic tests of each of these hypotheses yielded weak support for the secularization hypothesis, no support for the equivalence or political asymmetry hypotheses, and the strongest support for the distinct constructs hypothesis.

From the Discussion

People’s lay theories often confound these constructs: If something is perceived as religious, it will also be perceived as moral (and vice versa). Contrary to both people’s lay theories and various scholarly theories of religion, however, we found that the degree to which people perceive a given attitude as a moral or religious conviction is largely orthogonal, sharing only on average 14% common variance.


Religious and moral conviction were more strongly related to each other among the religious than the non-religious for 59% of the issues we examined, a finding consistent with the secularization hypothesis. That said, the effect size in support of the secularization hypothesis was very small; the interaction of religiosity and religious conviction only explained a little more than 1% of the variance in moral conviction overall. Taken together, the overwhelming evidence therefore seems most consistent with the distinct constructs hypothesis: Moral and religious convictions are largely independent constructs.