God’s Penology: Belief in a Masculine God Predicts Support for Harsh Criminal Punishment and Militarism

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Prior research demonstrates that multiple dimensions of religiosity significantly predict punitive attitudes and militarism. This study highlights the importance of believing in a masculine God, an aspect of religiosity with a robust and consistent relationship to punitiveness and militarism, but which has previously been unexamined. After accounting for multiple aspects of religiosity highlighted by previous research—such as frequency of religious practice, religious tradition, fundamentalist identity and beliefs, and other dimensions of God image including love, anger, judgment, and engagement—believing that God is a “He” consistently and strongly increases support for harsh social policies targeting intra-societal enemies (criminals), as well as general militarism and campaigns targeting extra-societal enemies (e.g. “terrorists”). These results highlight the importance of theorizing and measuring gendered dimensions of belief in God, as well as the importance of fine-grained considerations of religion in studies of penal populism and militarism.