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The Existential Function of Intrinsic Religiousness: Moderation of Effects of Priming Religion on Intercultural Tolerance and Afterlife Anxiety


  • Note: Data used in this article may be obtained from the first author for purposes of replication. To obtain the data, please e-mail the first author.

  • Acknowledgments: The authors thank Anthony Coy, Jeffrey Green, and Chelsea Reid for their thoughtful comments on an earlier version of this article.

Correspondence should be addressed to Daryl R. Van Tongeren, Department of Psychology, Hope College, Schaap Science Center, 35 East 12th Street, Holland, MI 49423-3605, USA. E-mail:


Managing existential concerns is theorized to be a key function of religion. We posit that priming religion should be related to greater existential security for those high in intrinsic religiosity. In Experiment 1, priming religion increased intercultural tolerance among individuals who were highly intrinsically religious but decreased it for those low in intrinsic religiousness. In Experiment 2, intrinsic religiousness again moderated the effects of the prime, suggesting that priming religion resulted in attenuated afterlife anxiety for intrinsically religious individuals but greater anxiety for individuals low in intrinsic religiousness. Religious reminders appeared to provide existential security—evidenced by tolerance and reduced death anxiety—only to those high in intrinsic religiousness and can be threatening to those low in intrinsic religiousness. Existential outcomes are a specific case in which intrinsic religiousness can moderate the effects of religious primes, suggesting that religion plays a different existential role for different people.