Good and Evil in Religion: The Interpersonal Context

Christopher T. Burris and John K. Rempel

in The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199729920
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Good and Evil in Religion: The Interpersonal Context

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  • Social Psychology


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Based on an integrative review of cross-cultural literature concerning virtues, moral foundations, and values, we suggest that traditional religions’ common understanding of “the good” centers on self-transcendence, manifest intrapersonally as an emphasis on self-control, and interpersonally as love, or motivation to preserve and promote others’ well-being. Complementarily, we suggest that “evil” centers on self-enhancement, manifest interpersonally as moral compartmentalization, and interpersonally as hate, or the desire to diminish others’ well-being. Not all love is “good,” and not all hate is “evil” within faith traditions, however, and we consider examples of each of these subversions. We also consider the functional role of love and hate within religion, and we suggest that the emotions that accompany love-related episodes may sometimes serve as experiential validation of a faith tradition's claims, and that intentional evocation of strong negative emotions in quasi-religious contexts may buttress an unstable self-image. Finally, we offer broad suggestions for future research.

Keywords: good; evil; love; hate; morality; religion

Article.  10449 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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