Representations of religious words: Insights for religious priming research

Ryan S. Ritter, Jesse Lee Preston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Researchers often expose participants to a series of words (e.g., religion, God, faith) to activate religious concepts and observe their subsequent effects on people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This research has revealed many important effects of experimentally manipulated religious cognition in domains ranging from prosocial behavior to prejudice. However, it is not exactly clear what constitutes a "religious cognition," and no research has yet investigated conceptual distinctions between different kinds of religious prime words. In the present research we used a card-sorting task to examine laypeople's subjective understanding of religious prime words, and the central categories or dimensions of these religious concepts. Using multidimensional scaling, property fitting, and cluster analysis methods to analyze the proximities among the words, we find evidence for the mental representation of three relatively distinct kinds of religious concepts: agents (e.g., God, angel), spiritual/abstract (e.g., faith, belief), and institutional/concrete (e.g., shrine, scripture). Theoretical and methodological impli-cations for religious priming research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)494-507
Number of pages14
JournalJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Cluster analysis
  • God
  • Multidimensional scaling
  • Priming
  • Religion
  • Religious cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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