Terrorism consists in the use of violence to create fear (i.e., terror, psychic fear) for political, religious, or ideological reasons. Terror is intentionally aimed at non-combatant targets, i.e., civilians or iconic symbols, and its objective is to achieve the greatest attainable publicity for a group, cause, or individual (Matusitz 2013
). According to the Global Terrorism Index, from the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP 2016
), based on the Global Terrorism Database (START 2016
), terrorism is a form of violence that mostly targets a small number of countries and is perpetrated by a small number of groups. The overall figures of terrorism are quite significant, with over 150,000 terrorist attacks occurring between 1970 and 2015 around the world, including 75,000 bombings, 17,000 assassinations, and 9000 kidnappings (START 2016
). The IEP
) report notes that high levels of terrorist activity are related to high levels of political terror and political instability and low respect of human rights and religious freedoms for the United Nations (UN) or the European Union (EU). Several studies explaining the reasons for these attacks have been carried out, namely, political (McCauley and Moskalenko 2008
; Ömer 2009
; Midlarsky 2011
), social (King and Taylor 2011
; Mink 2015
), economic (De Mesquita 2008
; Caruso and Locatelli 2014
), cultural (Pisoiu 2014
; Shaffer 2015
; Kluch and Vaux 2017
), religious (Jefferis 2009
; Kingsley 2010
; Rapoport 2013
; Ross 2015
; Feyyaz 2016
; Laqueur 2017
), and psychological reasons (Twemlow 2005
; Berko 2007
; Post et al. 2009
; Horgan 2012
; Perliger et al. 2016
Although it is unlikely for the individual to become a victim of terrorism (low base rates), most people feel the terrorist threat when being reminded about terrorism (e.g., newspaper articles, pictures of attacks, political discussion) (Fischer et al. 2011
). Exposure to terrorist attacks provided by the media (Walsh 2010
; Sensales et al. 2014
) makes terrorism a present phenomenon in the day-to-day life, with evident consequences, particularly psychological ones (Kaitz et al. 2009
; Waxman 2011
; Huq 2013
). In addition, people understand that the terrorism struggle, since 11 September 2001, failed to achieve its objectives, remaining a global political agenda and posing a serious threat to world peace (Jamal 2014
). Moreover, the internal security of each person does not restore itself because external measures are being taken and, according to Leonhard
), the enemy demonstrates innovation and adaptability.
Considering religion, the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as he apprehends himself to stand in relation to whatever may be considered the divine (Ireland 2018
), and a symbolic transformation of experience (O’Dea and Aviad 1983
), religion means different things to different people, according to social and cultural contexts and corresponding mind-sets (Küçükcan 2000
). Religiosity refers to the aspects of religious activity, dedication, and belief (Cornwall et al. 1986
). It is the state of being religious (O’Brien and Palmer 2000
) and a belief in God together with a commitment to follow God principles (McDaniel and Burnett 1990
). Religiosity affects the preferences of individuals (Esteban et al. 2015
), exerting effects on individual decisions and behavior, and its intensity affects social interactions and attitudes (Brañas-Garza et al. 2013
). The relationship between religion and terrorism has long been studied in the literature (Hoffman 1995
; Jefferis 2009
; Rapoport 2013
; Feyyaz 2016
; Laqueur 2017
). “Religion-inspired terrorism appeared on the fringes of all major (and some minor) religions including Christianity, Judaism, and even Buddhism, but it was more frequent among Islamic groups” (Laqueur 2017, p. xi
). Although religious decline is a general development across some countries, some scholars (Voas 2008
; Kupor et al. 2015
; Jonas and Fischer 2006
) consider that religion has a protective effect on people’s lives. People endorse more strongly a conception of God with a protective side rather than with a punitive one (Shariff and Rhemtulla 2012
), suggesting that the religiosity of each one may be predominant in the way terrorism is faced daily.
Some studies report the differences between religious and non-religious people (Kosmin et al. 2009
; Pennycook et al. 2016
), and between believers and non-believers (nones) (Jing 2014
; Lin et al. 2016
; Lindeman and Lipsanen 2016
). A high probability of terrorism only negatively affects the mood of non-religious participants but not that of intrinsically religious persons. On a situation of high salience of terrorism, non-religious experience fewer positive emotions and less self-efficacy than intrinsically religious people. On a situation of low salience of terrorism, no differences were found between non-religious and intrinsically religious regarding mood and self-efficacy (Fischer et al. 2006
). High perceived terrorist threat has serious effects on individual and collective psychological responses (Fischer et al. 2007
; Fischer and Ai 2008
; Fischer et al. 2010
; Kastenmüller et al. 2011
), though finding meaning in terrorism has been associated with low posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and more emotional well-being (Updegraff et al. 2008
; Fischer et al. 2011
). However, the impact of terrorist violence and damage reaches more than the immediate target victims (Matusitz 2013
). Experiences of anxiety or perceived threat in response to terrorism lead to an overestimation of risk and risk-aversive behavior (Lerner and Keltner 2001
). There is an association of perceived threat with increases in intolerance, prejudice, ethnocentrism, and xenophobia (Huddy et al. 2005
). Females experience more pessimistic risk than males, emotion differences explaining 60% to 80% of the gender difference (Lerner et al. 2003
). After a collective trauma, individuals frequently perceive positive changes or benefits in others or in society, namely, prosocial behavior, religiosity, or political engagement (Poulin et al. 2009
The relationship between terrorism and religion is usually studied in light of religious terrorism. However, as part of the study on the psychological impact of terrorist acts on ordinary people, this study aimed to understand if religious identity protects individuals from feeling concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks. A religious profile of these citizens, regarding the concern felt with the possibility of becoming the target of a terrorist attack, was identified. The authors suppose that most people worry about being targeted by a terrorist attack (1); and more religious people feel less worry than less religious or non-religious (2), possibly due to the protective nature of religion.
2.1. Sample Characterization
Women were slightly more numerous than men (56% against 44%). Respondents were aged from 16 to 97 years (M
= 44.30, SD
= 17.68). Most of the sample have a medium education (56%), are married or live together (61%), and are professionally active (51%) (see Table 1
The sociodemographic and religious profile reveals statistically significant differences in the distribution of the sample by the different levels of concern about the possibility of being the target of a terrorist attack (see Table 2
2.2. Worries about a Terrorist Attack
Most of the sample is worried about the fact that it could be the target of a terrorist attack (64%), with almost half of the sample being very worried (41%) (see Table 3
There are significant differences across countries (F(30) = 299.100; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.228). First comes Rwanda, revealing a tendency to be concerned about terrorist attacks (3.89), followed by Georgia (3.63). In third and fourth places are Mexico (3.62) and Colombia (3.56). Armenia (3.47), Philippines (3.42), Peru (3.35), Ghana (3.34), Ecuador (3.18), and Russia (3.16) presented values above 3. Between the values of 2.92 and 2.51, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, Spain, United States, South Africa, and Poland can be found. Cyprus, Estonia, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Chile, Germany, Slovenia, Uruguay, and New Zealand have values between 2.42 and 2.11. Only Argentina (1.99), Sweden (1.94), and the Netherlands (1.90) present values below 2.
Women are more likely to present greater levels of concern than men (2.94 vs. 2.86; F(1) = 34.167, p < 0.001; η2 = 0.001). Regarding age, older people (>65) are less concerned about terrorist attacks (2.70) than the other groups: 16–24 years old, 2.95; 25–44 years old, 2.99; and 45–64 years old, 2.87; (F(3) = 88.549; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.009). Subjects who are married/living together (2.93) present higher values than those not married/not living together (2.86) (F(1) = 25.350, p < 0.001; η2 = 0.001). Respondents with no formal education report significantly higher levels of concern (3.36) than those with low (2.93) and medium (2.92) education, and the respondents with high education are the ones showing less concern with terrorist attacks (2.70; F(3) = 47.545; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.005). Professionally active respondents tend to report significantly more worry than non-active ones (2.92 vs. 2.88; F(1) = 9.667; p < 0.002; η2 = 0.000).
2.3. Religiosity—Religious Identity
In Table 4
, the distribution of the items that define religious identity is presented and it can be found that the clear majority of the sample consider themselves religious (81%), considering religion very important (49%). Also, the overwhelming majority believe in God (94%), assuming that God is very important in their lives (60%).
Regarding worries about a terrorist attack, there are significant differences in religious identity. In what concerns the first item religious person (F(1) = 381.978; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.012), subjects who do not consider themselves religious or who consider themselves atheists have lower values of concern (2.65) than those who consider themselves religious (2.96). The same happens when analyzing the item about the importance of religion (F(3) = 406.842; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.039): Participants for whom religion is not definitely important present the lowest values of concern for terrorist attacks (2.44), followed by subjects for whom religion is not important (2.64), and then followed by subjects for whom religion is important (2.81) and very important (3.11). Subjects who believe in God have higher values of concern (2.89) than those who do not believe in God (2.39; F(1) = 442.451; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.014). Participants who consider that God is very important (3.09) have significantly higher values than those who consider that God is not important (2.44), little important (2.58), or just important (2.69; F(3) = 466.066; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.044).
2.4. Religiosity—Religious Practice
Concerning the religious practice, only 30% of the sample are an active member of the church and 40% attend religious services at least once a month; most of the sample (68%) prays at least once a day (see Table 5
Regarding worries about a terrorist attack, significant differences in religious practice were found. Concerning the first item active/inactive membership of a church or religious organization, the participants who are active members (2.97) have higher values than those who are not members (2.89) or those who are inactive members (2.84; F(2) = 31.402; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.002). Regarding the question How often do you attend religious services, subjects who attend very little or never attend religious services present less concern about the terrorist attacks (2.72) than the participants who go once a year (2.76), on special days (2.81), once a month (2.94), and at least once a week (3.05; F(4) = 146.351; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.016). With regard to the item How often to you pray, subjects who never pray have lower values (2.51) than those who pray once a year (2.78), on special days (2.74), several days a week (2.95), and every day (3.09; F(4) = 197.584; p < 0.001; η2 = 0.021).
This study aimed to understand if religious identity protects individuals from feeling concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks. The study is justified by (1) the high number of terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2015, (2) the psychological negative impact of terrorist attacks, and (3) the results of studies that point to the religion protective effect on people’s lives. Data used in the study were collected from wave 6 (2010–2014) of the World Values Survey (World Values Survey 2016
). The innovative attractiveness of this article emerges from the results that mostly contradict the literature.
Most respondents reported high levels of worry about terrorist attacks, confirming the first hypothesis, which predicted that most people worry about being targeted by a terrorist attack. This can be explained by the overall numbers of terrorism, mentioned above, that are quite impressive (over 150,000 terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2015 around the world) and whose mass circulation is widespread through the media. Although there are few opportunities for the individual to become a victim of terrorism, most people feel threatened when being reminded about it through newspaper articles, pictures of attacks, etc. (Fischer et al. 2010
). As internet-based contact is not regulated by the same standards and ethics as those of traditional print and television journalism, it may be possible to be inferred that this kind of information is mostly misinformation (Comer 2019
), which may contribute to the perception of threat. Disruptive events, such as terrorist attacks, have many impacts both at the psychosocial and societal level; post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, fear, and anxiety are frequently associated with terrorist attacks (Oksanen et al. 2018
). Also, danger perception of terror attacks was reported as being associated with both psychological distress and with severe stress symptoms (Mahat-Shamir et al. 2018
Based on the data in this study, and regarding sociodemographic characteristics, countries where terrorist attacks seem to be most feared are unstable countries from a political point of view and with a history of social violence. This is in accordance with Shechory-Bitton and Cohen-Louck
), who reported that this fear of terrorism is perceived differently than other types of fear, namely, because of the geographic location. Participants who are male, older, not married/not living together, with higher education, and professionally non-active revealed less worries than participants who are women, younger, married/living together, less educated, and professionally active. Lerner et al.
) stated that females experienced more pessimistic risk than males, which may explain the results in relation to gender. Also, Cohen-Louck and Levy
) found that men reported higher perceptions than women regarding risk perception of terrorism. Contrary to the results in this study, Williamson et al.
) found a positive association between fear of terrorist attacks and age and a negative one with married participants (less fear). However, the same authors reported that as educational achievement increases, the fear of terrorism decreases, in agreement with the results in this study. Subjects who are married/living together present higher values than those who are not married/not living together, possibly due to the fact that having a family makes them feel more concerned about their future in general and with terrorist threats, in particular. Respondents with no formal education report significantly higher levels of concern than those with more education, relating to the fact that less educated people may be less aware of the significance of the probability of a terrorist attack. Professionally active respondents tend to report significantly more worry than non-active ones, possibly because non-active people have less to lose than active individuals.
Most of the sample considers itself religious, with being religion very important. Also, this majority believe in God and consider that God is very important in their lives. These results seem to contradict those of other authors (Voas 2008
; Voas and Chaves 2018
), who state that there is a religious decline in all countries, mainly in religious practice (Molteni and Biolcati 2018
), supporting the ‘believing without belonging’ theory (Davie 1990
; Flanagan and Davie 1995
), which suggests a widening gap between stable or increasing private and intimate religiosity and decreasing public religiosity.
Subjects who do not consider themselves religious or who consider themselves atheists have less concern with terrorist attacks than those who consider themselves religious. Also, participants for whom religion is not important present the lowest values of concern for terrorist attacks than subjects for whom religion is important. These results do not confirm the supposed second hypothesis, which predicts that more religious people feel less worry about terrorist attacks. These results also seem to contradict those found by Fischer et al.
), who claim that intrinsic religiosity helps to cope with the increased salience of terrorism; and even that high probability of terrorism only negatively affects the mood of non-religious participants but not of intrinsically religious persons. However, Adamczyk and LaFree
) showed that more religious respondents are more likely to express concerns about terrorism, although this relationship were mediated by their level of conservatism. Also, Haner et al.
) found that gender, religiosity, and psychological distress were most consistently associated with fear of terrorism and worry about being a victim of a terrorist attack.
Subjects who believe in God and consider that God is important present more concern than those who do not believe in God and consider that God is not important. These results may be in accordance with Jong and Halberstadt
), who found that the narrative reporting that non-religious people fear death more than religious people is not necessarily true. According to Pennycook et al.
), there is evidence that atheists and agnostics are more reflective than religious believers, which may explain the results obtained in this study.
Almost a third of the sample are an active member of the church, about two in five attend religious services at least once a month, and the majority prays at least once a day. Active members present higher values of worry than those who are not members or inactive members. Subjects who attend very little or never attend religious services and that never pray present less concern about the terrorist attacks than the participants that do it. These results clearly contradict those of Kupor et al.
), as well as those of Jonas and Fischer
), who consider that religion has a protective effect on people’s lives. Although attending religious services has been shown to be one of the strongest religious predictors of well-being (George et al. 2002
), it only happens with those who internalize their religious beliefs and try to live out their religion on a daily basis; otherwise, anxiety may emerge (Steffen et al. 2017
), contributing to the fear of terrorism.
The results of this study seem to question the idea that religion has a protective effect on people’s lives, in the sense that the more religious believers and assiduous persons in religious practices are not protected from feeling more concern about terrorist attacks. It was found that religiosity is not protective of concern created by violence, which is the primary target of terrorism (Kupor et al. 2015
). This study suggests, in accordance with the one from Brañas-Garza et al.
), that religiosity impacts on individual decisions and behavior, and its intensity affects social interactions and attitudes. Thus, it is possible to state that the more religious participants are other victims of terrorist attacks, although not the immediate ones (Matusitz 2013
). This study contributes to the body of knowledge about religion and terrorism as it sheds light on the relationship between religion and fear, showing that religion does not protect religious people from feeling fear and or concern about terrorism, as is mostly claimed in the literature.
The main limitation of this study concerns the fact that all the sample belong to a single religion, Christianity. However, it was a methodological option to avoid that the type of religion influences the variables studied, namely, religious practice; this would certainly vary according to the type of religion and not because of the concern about terrorist attacks. Another limitation concerns the selection of countries being mostly Christian: Countries with a Christian majority were chosen; however, this majority varies greatly from countries, with a percentage of 51% of Christians to countries with 90% of Christians. Finally, this study was a cross-sectional one, preventing the establishment of causal relationships between the variables under study, and thus allowing only the establishment of differences and associations.
3.3. Research Implications
Future research should include all religions, especially the most significant ones. In addition, countries whose percentage of religious majority is equivalent should be sought. At last, longitudinal research designs can best fit the subject under analysis.