Current Projects


The Cognitive and Cultural Foundations of Religion and Morality

There is seems to be little evidence that religious people are more moral than nonreligious people, let alone that religion is necessary for morality. However, previous research on this topic has narrowly focused on particular conceptions of morality (e.g., based on harm or fairness) and has almost exclusively looked at Western Judeo-Christian populations. We are therefore casting a wider net, looking into diverse moral domains and religious and moral traditions. By running large-scale multinational surveys and field and lab-based experiments, we hope to provide a more nuanced picture of the relationship between religion and morality.

This project is supported by the Templeton World Charity Foundation

Main collaborators: Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford) 


Meta-analyses: Religion

We are currently collecting data for two meta-analyses. The first is on manipulations of religiosity, looking specifically at the effectiveness of various experimental paradigms with religiosity as a dependent variable. For more information, please visit The second is on the relationship between two sets of individual differences: (a) agency detection and mentalizing tendencies/abilities, and (b) religioisty. For more information, please visit

Main collaborators: Robert Ross (University of Oxford), Thomas J. Coleman III (Coventry University) 

We have previously published a meta-analysis on death anxiety and religious belief:

Jong, J., Ross, R., Philip, T., Chang, S. H., Simons, N., & Halberstadt, J. (2017). The religious correlates of death anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Religion, Brain & Behavior. doi:10.1080/2153599X.2016.1238844


Understanding Unbelief

The number of people around the world who self-identify as atheist, agnostic, or otherwise nonreligious has been on the increase. In this project, sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists work together to provide a "map" of nonreligion, discovering similarities and differences across cultures in this growing group (or groups) of people.

My team is specifically involved the aspect of the project named Mapping Implicit Unbelief Across Cultures and Contexts, which involves collecting data from the most secular countries in the world.

This project is supported by the John Templeton Foundation

Main collaborators: Lois Lee (University of Kent), Jonathan Lanman (Queen's Univeristy Belfast), Miguel Farias (Coventry University), Stephen Bullivant (St Mary's Twickenham)

For more information, visit


Death Anxiety and Religious Belief

Theorists from Lucretius Carus in the 1st century BCE through to David Hume, Sigmund Freud, and contemporary social psychologists have speculated about the role that our fear of death plays in the origins of religious belief in the human mind and human culture. This research project aims to elucidate the link--if indeed there is a link--between death anxiety and religion. The project includes meta-analytic techniques and systematic reviews, cross-cultural surveys, and laboratory and online studies using implicit and explicit measures of death anxiety and religious belief. 

This project is supported by the Marsden Fund Council from New Zealand Government funding, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Main collaborators: Jamin Halberstadt (University of Otago), Matthias Bluemke (University of Heidelberg)

The main findings of this project are presented in our book:

Jong, J., & Halberstadt, J. (2016). Death anxiety and religious belief: an existential psychology of religion. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.


Toward an Affective Science of Religion

For the past 25 years, there has been increased interest in the role of basic cognitive processes in enabling and maintaining religious beliefs. In comparison, affective--including motivational--processes have been neglected. This project aims to investigate the ways in which negative life events, negative emotional states, and causal attributional processes interact to contribute to religious beliefs and representations.

This project is supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

Main collaborators: Ryan McKay (Royal Holloway, University of London), Robert Ross (University of Oxford), Jamin Halberstadt (University of Otago)


Ritual, Community, and Conflict

This project consists of three inter-locking parts: on the development of ritual participation in children, the role of rituals in the evolution of social complexity in human history, and lab- and field-based experimental research on the role of collective rituals in the formation of social bonds. My involvement with this project is in the latter part, and related to the Religion's Impact on Human Life project above.

This project is supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Main collaborators: Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford), Ryan McKay (Royal Holloway, University of London)

See for example:

Jong, J., Whitehouse, H., Kavanagh, C., & Lane, J. (2015). Shared negative experiences lead to identity fusion via personal reflection. PLOS One. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0145611

Whitehouse, H., Jong, J., Buhrmester, M. D., Gómez, Á., Bastian, B., Kavanagh, C. M., Newson, M., Matthews, M., Lanman, J. A., & Gavrilets, S. (2017). The evolution of identity fusion and extreme cooperation. Scientific Reports, 7, doi:10.1038/srep19471 

For more information, please visit


Previous Projects

Religion's Impact on Human Life

This project was a large and long-term multiphase effort to integrate proximate (e.g., psychological) and ultimate (e.g., evolutionary) perspectives in a single research interdisciplinary and international programme. My involvement with this current phase focuses on the ways in which collective rituals activate evolved kinship detection mechanisms to form strong bonds among non-kin, as are commonly found among religious groups. Though online, lab, and field experiments,  as well as semantic text analyses of existing corpora, we examine how particularly dysphoric episodes feature in self-defining memories that enable the formation of strong bonds among group members. 

This project was supported by the John Templeton Foundation.

Main collaborators: Harvey Whitehouse (University of Oxford), Jonathan Lanman (Queen's University Belfast)

See for example:
Reddish, P., Tong, E. M. W., Jong, J., Lanman, J. A., & Whitehouse, H. (2016). Collective synchrony reduces in-group bias. British Journal of Social Psychology. doi:10.1111/bjso.12165

Rybanska, V., McKay, R., Jong, J., Whitehouse, H. (2017). Rituals improve children’s ability to delay gratification. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.1276