Skip to main content Accessibility help

An existential perspective on the psychological function of shamans

  • Simon Schindler (a1), Jeff Greenberg (a2) and Stefan Pfattheicher (a3)


Shamans deal with events that involve the threat of death. They help buffer death anxiety because, through their claimed supernatural abilities, they can provide both hope for averting death and evidence for existence of a spirit world offering continuance beyond death. Thus, managing the threat of mortality probably played a major role in the development and maintenance of shamanism.



Hide All
Becker, E. (1973) The denial of death. The Free Press.
Dechesne, M., Pyszczynski, T., Arndt, J., Ransom, S., Sheldon, K. M., van Knippenberg, A. & Janssen, J. (2003) Literal and symbolic immortality: The effect of evidence of literal immortality on self-esteem striving in response to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84:722–37.
Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T. & Solomon, S. (1986) The causes and consequences of a need for self-esteem: A terror management theory. In: Public self and private self, ed. Baumeister, R. F., pp. 189212. Springer-Verlag.
Greenberg, J., Vail, K. & Pyszczynski, T. (2014) Terror management theory and research: How the desire for death transcendence drives our strivings for meaning and significance. Advances in Motivation Science 1:85134.
Jonas, E. & Fischer, P. (2006) Terror management and religion: Evidence through intrinsic religiousness, mitigated worldview defense after mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91:553–67.
Norenzayan, A. & Hansen, I. G. (2006) Belief in supernatural agents in the face of death. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32:174–87.
Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S. & Greenberg, J. (2015) Thirty years of terror management theory: From genesis to revelation. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 52:270.
Schimel, J., Hayes, J., Williams, T. J. & Jahrig, J. (2007) Is death really the worm at the core? Converging evidence that worldview threat increases death-thought accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92:789803.
Schindler, S., Reinhard, M.-A. & Stahlberg, D. (2013) Tit for tat in the face of death: The effect of mortality salience on reciprocal behavior. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 49:8792.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J. & Pyszczynski, T. (2015) The worm at the core: On the role of death in life. Random House.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Schimel, J., Arndt, J. & Pyszczynski, T. (2004) Human awareness of mortality and the evolution of culture. In: The psychological foundations of culture, ed. Schaller, M. & Crandall, C., pp. 1540. Erlbaum.
Vail, K. E., Arndt, J. & Abdollahi, A. (2012) Exploring the existential function of religion and supernatural agent beliefs among Christians, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38:1288–300.
Vail, K. E., Rothschild, Z. K., Weise, D., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T. & Greenberg, J. (2010) A terror management analysis of the psychological functions of religion. Personality and Social Psychology Review 14:8494.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed