Supernatural Agency and Forgiveness


  • Wieteke Nieuwboer Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Hein van Schie Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Johan Karremans Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Daniël Wigboldus Radboud University Nijmegen



religion, forgiveness, agency, responsibility, supernatural attributions, cognitive science of religion


The present research examined the hypothesis that supernatural agency attributions underlie the relation between religion and forgiveness. In two experiments a priming procedure was used to make religious concepts temporarily more salient. In Experiment 1, a religion prime marginaly enhanced forgiveness but did not enhance supernatural attributions, compared to a control group. However, correlational support was found for the hypothesis that supernatural attributions were associated with more forgiveness, less punishment and less responsibility of the offender. In Experiment 2, it was attempted to enhance supernatural attributions by first manipulating participants’ sense of control (high vs. low) before presenting a religion prime. As expected, in the low control condition, religious priming enhanced the perceived likelihood that a higher power had an influence on violent situations, and enhanced participants’ forgiveness toward the offenders. Importantly, mediation analysis further supported the existence of a relation between supernatural agency attributions and participants’ ability to forgive.

Author Biographies

Wieteke Nieuwboer, Radboud University Nijmegen

Phd student at the department of Social and Cultural Psychology

Hein van Schie, Radboud University Nijmegen

Assistent Professor at the department of Social and Cultural Psychology

Johan Karremans, Radboud University Nijmegen

Associate Professor at the department of Social and Cultural Psychology

Daniël Wigboldus, Radboud University Nijmegen

Dean at the faculty of Social Sciences


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How to Cite

Nieuwboer, W., van Schie, H., Karremans, J., & Wigboldus, D. (2016). Supernatural Agency and Forgiveness. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 3(1), 85–110.