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Monday, November 16, 2020

Religious moral righteousness over care: a review and a meta-analysis

Current Opinion in Psychology
Volume 40, August 2021, Pages 79-85


Does religion enhance an ‘extended’ morality? We review research on religiousness and Schwartz’s values, Haidt’s moral foundations (through a meta-analysis of 45 studies), and deontology versus consequentialism (a review of 27 studies). Instead of equally encompassing prosocial (care for others) and other values (duties to the self, the community, and the sacred), religiosity implies a restrictive morality: endorsement of values denoting social order (conservation, loyalty, and authority), self-control (low autonomy and self-expansion), and purity more strongly than care; and, furthermore, a deontological, non-consequentialist, righteous orientation, that could result in harm to (significant) others. Religious moral righteousness is highest in fundamentalism and weakens in secular countries. Only spirituality reflects an extended morality (care, fairness, and the binding foundations). Evolutionarily, religious morality seems to be more coalitional and ‘hygienic’ than caring.


• We meta-analyzed 45 studies on religion and Haidt’s five moral foundations.

• Religiosity implies high purity, authority, and loyalty; care is involved only weakly.

• Only spirituality reflects extended morality: care, fairness, and the binding values.

• Results parallel findings on religion and Schwartz’s values across the world.

• Religious morality is primarily deontological, non-consequentialist, and righteous.


On the basis of the findings of the various research areas examined in this article, we think it is reasonable to infer that the role of religious (ingroup) prosociality in forming and consolidating large coalitions involving reciprocal interpersonal helping may have been overestimated in the contemporary evolutionary psychology of religion.  This role may not reflect the very center of religious morality. Rather, the results of the present review suggest that the evolutionary perspectives of religion focusing on the importance of hygienic and righteous/coalitional morality (avoidance of pathogens, loyalty, group conformity, as well as preservation of personal and social order) may be more central in explaining, from a moral perspective, religions’ origin and maintenance.