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The Effect of 9/11 on Religious Beliefs


Updated August 23, 2011

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The world was shocked by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), as the effect of 9/11 was far-reaching. The lives of many people permanently changed, as they were faced with the unexpected loss of loved ones. The 9/11 terrorist attacks also brought on feelings of anxiety and vulnerability as many Americans had their sense of safety and comfort threatened. Given the traumatic nature of 9/11, it is not surprising that this event would also test people's religious beliefs.

How 9/11 Affected People's Religious Beliefs

A group of researchers affiliated with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Columbia University, and the Veterans Administration Boston Healthcare System surveyed a large number of people who had lost a loved one during the 9/11 attacks. About a quarter had lost a child, relative, or spouse, and most people had lost someone as a result of them being near the World Trade Center or in lower Manhattan during the terrorist attacks.

Most people felt their religion to be just as important after the 9/11 terrorist attacks as it was before the attacks. However, about a tenth said religion became more important and another tenth said that religion became less important to them. It seems that some people may have relied on their religious beliefs in an attempt to make sense of the terrorist attacks or gain comfort in response to their loss. On the other hand, some people may have become disillusioned or began to question aspects of their faith after the terrorist attacks. This was particularly the case for people who lost a child during the attacks.

Struggling with your religious beliefs following a traumatic event can have a big impact on how well you adjust to that traumatic event. This study found that people who said their religious beliefs were less important following 9/11 were more likely to experience complicated grief, have major depression, and develop PTSD. Believing religion to be more important didn't seem to increase or decrease risk for these problems.

Recovering from the Effect of a Traumatic Event

When faced with a major traumatic event, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it is natural to struggle with how to make sense of that event. This is especially going to be the case when a loved one is lost as a result of that event. Relying on and strengthening religious beliefs is one way people may choose to cope with a traumatic event and unexpected loss. Relying on religion and spirituality can help some people adjust and recover from a traumatic event.

However, it is important to note that religion is not the only way to recover from such an event. A number of other factors have been found to be associated with recovery from a traumatic event, such as seeking out social support, helping others, using healthy coping strategies, and seeking out therapy.

How one copes with a traumatic event and the loss of a loved one is a very personal experience. It is very important that you find the strategy that works best for you. If you lost a loved one as a result of 9/11, there are several websites that provide helpful information on coping and recovery, such as the September 11th Families' Association and the Families of September 11th.


Seirmarco, G., Neria, Y., Insel, B., Kiper, D., Doruk, A., Gross, R., & Litz, B. (2011, July 25). Religiosity and mental health: Changes in religious beliefs, complicated grief, posttraumatic stress disorder, and major depression following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication.

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