Kelemen and Emmons Investigate Children’s Pre-Life Beliefs

May 2nd, 2022

“‘There is so much secular as well as religious testimony about what it is to be a ghost,” Kelemen said. “You see it in Harry Potter films, in Disney films. Even if children aren’t being raised in religious homes, they’re surrounded by cultural ideas that would tell them what to believe, and that’s true from very early on.’”

Kelemen theorized that terror management explained some aspects of adult behavior, but wanted to know whether children adopted a fear of death and a longing for immortality through social means, or if it happened more intuitively.

To investigate these ideas, Kelemen assisted post-doc researcher Natalie Emmons in a study on pre-life beliefs. Instead of asking children about the concept of immortality as an event that only occurs after death, Emmons created a questionnaire about whether the children existed in any form before they were born. She then interviewed more than 200 urban children in Ecuador (who were largely raised in a Catholic context) and around 80 children in a Shuar village of indigenous people.”

To learn more about what Kelemen and Emmons found, visit the recent story from the Templeton Foundation.

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