Belief in a just God (and a just society): A system justification perspective on religious ideology

John T. Jost, Carlee Beth Hawkins, Brian A. Nosek, Erin P. Hennes, Chadly Stern, Samuel D. Gosling, Jesse Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Theoretical approaches that treat religiosity as an evolutionary byproduct of cognitive mechanisms to detect agency may help to explain the prevalence of superstitious thinking, but they say little about the social-motivational (or ideological) functions of religious beliefs or the specific contents of religious doctrines. To address these omissions, we develop the thesis that religion provides an ideological justification for the existing social order, so that prevailing institutions and arrangements are perceived as legitimate and just, and therefore worth obeying and preserving. We summarize empirical evidence revealing that (a) religiosity is associated with the same set of epistemic, existential, and relational needs that motivate system justification; (b) religiosity is associated with the endorsement of the belief in a just world, Protestant work ethic, fair market ideology, opposition to equality, right-wing authoritarianism, political conservatism, and other system-justifying belief systems; and (c) religious ideology appears to serve the palliative function of making people happier or more satisfied with the way things are. Although most major religious texts and movements contain progressive as well as conservative elements, belief in God is more often than not system-justifying in terms of its motivational antecedents, manifestations, and consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-81
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2014


  • Ideology
  • Religion
  • Social justice
  • System justification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Psychology


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