Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 337–350 | Cite as

Religion, Evolution, and Mental Health: Attachment Theory and ETAS Theory

Original Paper


This article reviews the historical origins of Attachment Theory and Evolutionary Threat Assessment Systems Theory (ETAS Theory), their evolutionary basis and their application in research on religion and mental health. Attachment Theory has been most commonly applied to religion and mental health in research on God as an attachment figure, which has shown that secure attachment to God is positively associated with psychological well-being. Its broader application to religion and mental health is comprehensively discussed by Kirkpatrick (2005). ETAS Theory explains why certain religious beliefs—including beliefs about God and life-after-death—should have an adverse association, an advantageous association, or no association at all with mental health. Moreover, it makes specific predictions to this effect, which have been confirmed, in part. The authors advocate the application of ETAS Theory in research on religion and mental health because it explains how religious and other beliefs related to the dangerousness of the world can directly affect psychiatric symptoms through their affects on specific brain structures.


Brain Evolution Mental health Religion Psychiatry 



This research was supported, in part, by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The authors thank HealthCare Chaplaincy’s Research Assistant Kathryn M. Murphy for helping prepare the manuscript and Research Librarian Helen P. Tannenbaum for assisting with the literature review.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Spears Research InstituteHealthCare ChaplaincyNew YorkUSA

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