Skip to main content Accessibility help

Religion promotes a love for thy neighbour: But how big is the neighbourhood?

  • Ryan McKay (a1) and Harvey Whitehouse (a2)


The term prosocial has often been taken to mean nice or neighbourly, but many acts that further in-group interests are hostile and aggressive towards out-groups. According to Norenzayan et al., religion's ability to foster social cohesion within religious groups has been a key factor in the human transition to complex societies. But what are the prospects for nonparochial “religious prosociality”?



Hide All
Batson, C. D. & Powell, A. A. (2003) Altruism and prosocial behavior. In: Handbook of psychology: Vol. 5. Personality and social psychology, ed. Millon, T., Lerner, M. J. & Weiner, I. B., pp. 463–84. Wiley.
Central Intelligence Agency (2015) World. In: The World Factbook. Available at:
Clobert, M., Saroglou, V. & Hwang, K.-K. (2015) Buddhist concepts as implicitly reducing prejudice and increasing prosociality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 41(4):513–25.
Everett, J. A. C., Haque, O. S. & Rand, D. G. (2015) How good is the Samaritan, and why? An experimental investigation of the extent and nature of religious prosociality using economic games. Available at:
Galen, L. W. (2012) Does religious belief promote prosociality? A critical examination. Psychological Bulletin 138:876906. Available at:
Hartung, J. (1995) Love thy neighbor: The evolution of in-group morality. Skeptic 3:8698.
Johnson, K. A., Memon, R., Alladin, A., Cohen, A. B. & Okun, M. A. (2015b) Who helps the Samaritan? The influence of religious vs. secular primes on spontaneous helping of members of religious outgroups. Journal of Cognition and Culture 15:217–31.
LaBouff, J. P., Rowatt, W. C., Johnson, M. K. & Finkle, C. (2012) Differences in attitudes towards outgroups in religious and non-religious contexts in a multi-national sample: A situational context priming study. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 22(1):19. doi:10.1080/10508619.2012.634778.
McKay, R. & Whitehouse, H. (2015) Religion and morality. Psychological Bulletin 141(2):447–73. Available at:
Norenzayan, A. (2013) Big Gods: How religion transformed cooperation and conflict. Princeton University Press.
Norenzayan, A. & Shariff, A. F. (2008) The origin and evolution of religious prosociality. Science 322:5862. Available at:
Preston, J. L., Ritter, R. S. & Hernandez, J. I. (2010) Principles of religious prosociality: A review and reformulation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 4:574–90. Available at:
Reddish, P., Bulbulia, J. & Fischer, R. (2013) Does synchrony promote generalized prosociality? Religion, Brain and Behavior 4:319.
Ridley, M. (1996) The origins of virtue. Penguin Viking.
Whitehouse, H. (2013a) Religion, cohesion, and hostility. In: Religion, intolerance and conflict: A scientific and conceptual investigation, ed. Clarke, S., Powell, R. & Savulescu, J., pp. 3647. Oxford University Press.
Whitehouse, H. (2013b) Three wishes for the world (with comment). Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History 4(2):281323.


Altmetric attention score

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