MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 1
Political Identities, Religious Identity, and the
Pattern of Moral Foundations Among Conservative Christians
Geoffrey W. Sutton, Heather L. Kelly, and Marin Huver
This is a prepublication edition of a paper accepted 6 September 2019 for publication in the
Journal of Psychology and Theology. The published edition should be used for page references.
Sutton, G. W., Kelly, H. L., & Huver, M. (2019). Political identities, religious identity, and the
pattern of moral foundations among conservative Christians. Journal of Psychology and
Theology, 2, pp. 1-19. doi 10.1177/0091647119878675
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 2
Consistent with social identity theory, political identity was strongly linked to morality
represented by the Moral Foundation Theory model (e.g., Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009).
Participants identifying as Democrats scored significantly higher than did those identifying as
Republicans on the individualizing foundations of care and fairness but significantly lower than
Republicans on the binding foundations of authority, loyalty, and purity. In addition, political
identity differentially related to the two liberty subfoundations consistent with salient political
party themes. Hierarchical regression analyses identified political identity as a consistent
predictor of all moral foundations beyond the variance accounted for by unique contributions of
gender and education. RS factors, primarily fundamentalism, contributed additional incremental
value to predicting the three binding but not the individualizing foundations, which suggest a
congruent dual identity (Political, Religious) for Republicans that does not hold for Democrats.
Key words: Moral foundations Theory; Social Identity Theory, Moral Foundations
Questionnaire; religious fundamentalism; religion and spirituality
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 3
Political Identities, Religious Identity, and the
Pattern of Moral Foundations Among Conservative Christians
Early researchers (e.g., Kohlberg & Hersh, 1977; Piaget, 1997) viewed moral judgments
from a cognitive-developmental perspective. In the past two decades, moral psychology research
has focused on moral foundations theory (MFT: Haidt, 2001, 2012; Graham & Haidt, 2010; Iyer,
Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012), which posits that moral judgments are largely driven by
emotional responses linked to five moral foundations grouped as individualizing (harm, fairness)
and binding (authority, loyalty, purity). More recently, Haidt (2012) and Iyer et al. (2012)
presented evidence for a sixth foundation representing libertarian views of morality (i.e.,
resentment of oppression and tyranny; e.g., government actions that restrict freedom of religion
or use taxes to redistribute wealth). Researchers have identified differences in moral foundations
profiles associated with a sociopolitical conservative-liberal continuum (e.g., Graham, Haidt, &
Nosek, 2009; Graham, Nosek et al., 2011). Some theorists have applied MFT to understanding
Christian morality (e.g., Beck, 2011; Sutton, 2016); however, only one study investigated the
original five MFT factors in a diverse Christian sample (Johnson, Hook, Davis, Van Tongeren,
Sandage, & Crabtree, 2016). Sociopolitical conservatism significantly predicted the five core
moral foundations and some religious-spirituality (RS) measures added incremental predictive
value. Although some researchers reported associations between gender (e.g., Baez et al., 2017;
You, Maeda, & Bebeau, 2011) or education (e.g., King & Mayhew, 2002) and morality, Johnson
et al. (2016) did not include these factors in their analyses. No studies have investigated political
identity and spirituality as predictors of the six-factor MFT model in a Christian sample. We
address that gap in this study.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 4
In this study, we examine the contribution of social identity theory (e.g., Tajfel & Turner,
1985) to explaining patterns of moral foundations by grouping participants by their political
party identity rather than by the continuum approaches used in previous studies to represent a
range of sociopolitical conservatism or liberalism. In addition, we extend previous research by
including the two newer measures of the liberty foundation, which have not previously been
studied in Christian samples. Further, we explore the contributions of education level and gender
to the moral foundations given mixed results in previous studies (discussed below). Moreover,
we provide the first evaluation of the contribution of Christian spirituality identity variables
(beliefs, practices, and fundamentalism), to explain additional variance in all six moral
foundations beyond that accounted for by gender or education and political identity in a
primarily theologically conservative Christian sample.
Moral Foundations Theory
Researchers developed moral foundations theory (MFT; Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009;
Haidt, 2001; Haidt & Graham, 2007; Haidt & Joseph, 2004) by identifying universal sources of
virtue common to many cultures (Haidt, 2001; Haidt & Joseph, 2004). Their original research
suggested that moral virtues could be represented by five moral foundations, which were further
categorized into two subgroups: individualizing (care, fairness) and binding (authority, loyalty,
Although only a few empirical studies have been published, results have generally
supported predictions that social liberals present a less diversified approach to morality by
scoring significantly higher on the two individualizing foundations in contrast to their scores on
the three binding foundations. In contrast to liberals, conservatives express more equal levels of
moral concern across all five core foundations, including both the individualizing and the
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 5
binding foundations (Graham & Haidt, 2010; Graham et al., 2009; Graham et al., 2011; Haidt,
2012). Gender may be relevant to understanding moral foundations profiles. Graham et al.
(2011) found women scored higher than did men on care, fairness, and purity foundations, and
men scored higher than women on the loyalty foundation.
Additional research indicated a sixth moral foundation was needed to capture libertarian
morality (Haidt, 2012; Iyer, Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012), which is focused on
concerns for individual rights not clearly reflected in the original five foundations. Haidt (2012)
added the new liberty foundation to the two individualizing foundations and hypothesized that
social conservatives could now express moral views based upon all six foundations. Iyer et al.
(2012), however, identified two subgroups within the new liberty foundation: lifestyle (i.e.,
personal liberty) and economic/government (i.e., freedom from government interference). In
summary, MFT now includes six moral foundations (care, fairness, authority, loyalty, purity,
liberty). No published studies have examined all six moral foundations in a Christian sample.
Spirituality, Morality, and Moral Foundations Theory
The historical association of religion with morality is well documented (e.g., Greene,
2013; Haidt, 2012; Sutton, 2016). In societies where one religion dominates, we might expect
responses to surveys to be similar for religious samples as for the general population. That is,
when measuring sociopolitical liberalism-conservatism on a continuum, liberalism would be
linked to the individualizing foundations and conservatism with the binding foundations (e.g.,
Graham et al., 2009). Johnson et al., (2016) reported a similar pattern of moral foundations in a
theologically diverse Christian sample using a three-item measure of sociopolitical conservatism.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 6
Previous surveys have identified responses associated with theologically conservative RS
beliefs and practices. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE, 2015) defined an
evangelical as having core beliefs such as “The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe”
and “It is very important for me to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their
Savior.” This is similar to Pew Forum (2011) findings of substantial agreement among 2,196
world evangelical leaders on both core doctrines (e.g., “The Bible is the Word of God,” 98%;
born-again experience, 93%) and moral values (e.g., “Abortion is usually or always wrong,”
96%). Also relevant to this morality study, Pew Forum (2015) reported that about 60% of
evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on their religion for moral
guidance in contrast to Catholics (30%), Mainline Protestants (29%), and Orthodox Christians
(27%). In addition to conservative RS beliefs, evangelicals reported high levels of RS practices
(e.g., weekly attendance at services, 89%; weekly prayer/scripture study groups or RS education,
75%). Considering the belief-based definition of evangelical by the NAE and extant data, it
appears that self-identification as an evangelical along with an empirical assessment of beliefs
and practices represent a reasonable approach to identifying theological conservatives. In this
study, we focus on Christian spirituality and do not distinguish between the constructs of
religiosity or spirituality. In addition, to self-identification of faith tradition, we assess the
traditional spiritual identity components of beliefs and practices.
It is not surprising to see theoretical analyses (e.g., Haidt, 2010, 2012) and empirical
studies identify relationships between the five moral foundations and religious views of morality
(e.g., Graham et al., 2009; Johnson et al., 2016; Krull, 2016; Piazza & Landy, 2013). Graham et
al. (2009) found significant differences between the sermons of conservative and liberal religious
groups on moral foundations based on a quantitative analysis of words, which were indicative of
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 7
the five original core foundations (e.g., Care words: kindness, compassion vs. harm, destroy;
Fairness words: equity, justice vs. unequal, unjust). Liberal sermons used more words favoring
the care and fairness foundations and conservative sermons emphasized authority and purity
words more often than did liberal sermons.
Piazza and Landy (2013) examined the relationship of their measure of divine authority
and the five moral foundations to moral judgments. In a religiously diverse (49% Christian; 37%
agnostic or atheistic), politically diverse (43% Democrat; 37% Republican), and gender-balanced
(47% women) adult sample, they found, “that the meta-ethical belief that morality is founded
upon God’s moral authority is sufficient to account for the association between religiosity and
endorsement of the ‘binding’ moral foundations…” (p. 652). Although using the MFQ, Piazza
and Landy did not include the more recent liberty foundation. In addition, although the variables
of education, gender, religious affiliation, and political identity were reported in their article, the
possible relationships of these variables to either moral foundations or moral judgments were not
Krull (2016) conducted two studies using single-item rating measures of the six moral
foundations and political conservativism-liberalism. The 616 participants in study one were
mostly women (74%) and religiously diverse (8% protestant; 28% Catholic; 39%
nondenominational Christian; 8% atheist; 16% nonreligious). The results from study one
supported the predicted social conservative-liberal divide of the moral foundations. Krull also
found that participants were significantly divided by gender. Mean scores for women were
higher for all foundations except purity. The 773 participants (74% women) in study two were
from various religious backgrounds (7% protestant; 33% Catholic; 62% nondenominational
Christian; 8% atheist; 22% nonreligious). In the second study, Krull found some support for his
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 8
hypothesis that Reverence for God was an additional moral foundation, especially for religious
participants. Krull did include a one-item scale identified as freedom, but this is not directly
comparable to the two subscales of the liberty foundation in the amended version of moral
foundations theory. Krull did not report age or specific education data but did state that both
studies included mostly college students.
The most comprehensive investigation of moral foundations theory in a Christian sample
is the study of the MFQ in 450 ethnically diverse, mostly female mTurk workers (Johnson et al.,
2016). Political identity was not provided in terms of party affiliation, but the level of social
conservatism was average based on a mean of 4.13 at the mid-point of a 7-point rating scale.
Religious group identification was limited to Catholic or non-Catholic, but several RS measures
described variations in the relationship between spirituality and five moral foundations. For
example, social conservatism, an authoritarian view of God, and biblical literalism were
positively associated with binding but not individualizing foundations, while outreaching faith
showed the opposite pattern. Religious commitment was positively correlated with the five moral
Considering the variations in beliefs and moral values of Christians within a host culture
dominated by the Christian religion, it is not surprising to find patterns of the five core moral
foundations to be similar in large scale general population studies to those few studies reporting
diverse Christian, or mostly Christian, samples. What is not clear is the degree to which the
liberal-conservative moral foundations pattern might still exist in a sample limited to
theologically conservative Christians. If moral concerns, as represented by moral foundations
theory, are closely linked to theological conservatism, then we would expect a fairly even profile
on all moral foundations. In contrast, if other factors are important in the moral foundations of
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 9
theologically conservative Christians, then we would expect diverse patterns similar to the
findings in previously published studies. Thus, in this study, we aimed to explore the relationship
between six moral foundations and theologically conservative Christian spirituality in the
presence of another identity factor as discussed in the next section.
Political Identity, Moral Foundations Theory, and Spirituality
When measuring sociopolitical liberal-conservative values on a continuum, previous
studies have found reliable differences in five moral foundations within the general population
(e.g., Graham et al., 2009) and among Christians (Johnson et al., 2016). However, no study has
considered the relevance of identity theory and sociopolitical identity to moral foundations
theory. In writing about MFT, researchers refer to liberals and conservatives as if they belong to
two distinct sociopolitical identity groups rather than as individuals endorsing a continuum of
social values (e.g., Graham et al, 2009; Haidt, 2012). Although the MFQ allows for a range of
moral values, findings nonetheless support the general grouping of respondents’ moral
foundations into two major groups (individualizing, binding) as noted above (e.g., Graham et al.,
2009). According to the social identity theory of intergroup relations (Tajfel & Turner, 1985),
group identity serves to strengthen the values of those who identify with their group and
highlight key differences with competing groups. In the United States, the political terms liberals
and conservatives generally refer to people who identify with either the Democratic or
Republican parties. Thus, in order to assess the possible relationship of group identity to moral
foundations, we chose to use the relevant sociopolitical groups rather than a continuum
As noted in the previous section, RS factors have been correlated with MFT outcomes.
Of relevance to this section is the evidence for a close alignment between white evangelical
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 10
Christians and the Republican party in the United States (e.g., see Brint & Abrutyn, 2010;
Sheets, Domke, & Greenwald, 2011). Brint and Abrutyn (2010) found moral standards
traditionalism was the best explanation for the close ties between evangelical Christians and the
Republican party. Moral standards traditionalism refers to clear moral standards of right and
wrong, including but not limited to religious standards. Such traditional moral standards are
close to moral absolutes and stand in contrast to relativistic morality. Considering our interest in
studying the applicability of identity theory of intergroup relations, we recruited theological
conservatives who endorsed different sociopolitical identities.
Moral Foundations Theory and Other Variables
Based on a meta-analysis, You et al. (2011) found evidence for a consistent gender effect,
which is a greater moral sensitivity among women regardless of the level of education. Baez et
al. (2017) explored the gender-empathy effect related to moral judgments in two studies and
found evidence for a small effect, which was more evident on self-report measures. Graham et al.
(2009) considered four covariates (age, gender, household income, education level) and did not
find a consistent pattern affecting the outcomes. Graham et al. (2011) found higher scores for
women on the harm, fairness, and purity foundations but higher scores for men on loyalty and
authority foundations. Khan and Stagnaro (2016) examined the relationship of culture, ethnicity,
and gender in U.S. and Indian samples and found mixed results when attempting to explain
variance in the five core moral foundations. They concluded, “…across all foundations no single
uniform predictor was found” (p. 207).
Although contemporary moral psychology studies no longer emphasize the stage theories
of Piaget and Kohlberg, investigators continue to consider the role of education in moral
judgment. For example, King and Mayhew (2002) conducted a meta-analysis of 172 studies of
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 11
moral development in undergraduates and found evidence for gains in moral development when
controlling for age and level of moral judgment. Graham et al. (2009) and Baez et al. (2017) did
not find a consistent role for education level. Considering the limited and mixed evidence, we
included gender and education level in the present study.
Assessing Moral Foundations Theory
Empirical support for MFT has progressed via the use of the Moral Foundations
Questionnaire (MFQ; Graham, Nosek, Haidt, Iyer, Koleva, & Ditto, 2011), designed to test the
theory. Bassett, Breault, Buettner, Vitale, Hochheimer, and Moore (2014) and Bassett et al.
(2014) reported adequate Cronbach alpha values for most foundations in Christian samples;
however, they reported difficulties with inter-item reliability for the measurement of purity.
Davis et al. (2017) examined the MFQ in two large undergraduate student samples where alpha
levels for the foundation’s subscales ranged from .51 to .72. However, invariance testing
indicated weaknesses for most scales. Although not a primary focus of our study, we were
interested in the adequacy of the MFQ for assessing MFT constructs in a sample of theologically
Purpose and Hypotheses
Our primary purpose was to examine the contribution of sociopolitical identity to
understanding the pattern of moral foundations in a theologically conservative Christian sample.
We expected a higher degree of similarity of religious beliefs, practices, fundamentalism, and
moral foundations amongst theologically conservative Christians than is found in the religiously
diverse samples previously examined. If political identity is more salient than their identity as
theological conservatives, then we would expect theologically conservative Christians to be
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 12
divided in their moral foundations as has been found in the studies we have reviewed. However,
if theological conservatism as measured by the endorsement of traditional Christian beliefs and
practices is more influential than political identity, then we would expect nonsignificant
differences in the pattern of moral foundations.
Given the limited and varied evidence about gender, education, and morality, we
examined potential contributions to the patterns of moral foundations. Finally, we explored
nuances in RS variables that might explain differences in morality even among theologically
conservative Christians who identify with different political parties.
We tested three hypotheses. First, given the extant studies showing a specific pattern for
sociopolitical liberals, we hypothesized that even within a sample of theologically conservative
Christian Republicans and Democrats, moral foundations patterns would show significant
sociopolitical liberal-conservative differences as predicted by social identity theory: Democrats
would score higher than Republicans on the two individualizing foundations of care and fairness,
but lower than Republicans on the three binding foundations of authority, loyalty, and purity. We
also expected political identity to significantly influence the liberty foundation, but we made no
predictions given limited research about this foundation.
Second, we hypothesized that political identity would account for significantly more
variance in the five core moral foundations beyond contributions from education and gender.
Third, we hypothesized that Christian spirituality (i.e., beliefs, practices, fundamentalism) would
account for additional significant variance in the five core moral foundations beyond that
accounted for by education, gender, and political identity. That is, rather than split our
theologically conservative Christians into more versus less conservative groups, we examined
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 13
the possibility that traditional theologically conservative indicators of beliefs and practices might
add additional explanatory value beyond that accounted for by their sociopolitical group identity.
Following review board approval, we recruited participants (women = 419, 66%; men =
206, 34%) from a Midwestern Christian university and the online connections of the
investigators (Age: M = 30.05, SD = 15.49). Most were European American (88.2%); others
were African American (1.8%), Hispanic or Latino/a (2.9%), Asian (1.1%), Pacific Islander
(.2%), Native American (.5%), or Other (5%). Participants were asked to enter their religious
affiliation. Some reported general terms like nondenominational and others specified a group
such as Catholic. Most identified as members of an evangelical denomination (78%): Pentecostal
or charismatic (66.6%) and other evangelical (11.4%). Other affiliations were:
nondenominational or no denomination (17%), mainline protestant (4.2%), and Catholic or
Orthodox (1%). Highest level of education completed ranged between high school graduate
(3.2%), some college (55.7%), associate’s degree (6.1%), bachelor’s degree (11.8%), some
graduate studies (5.3%), master’s degree (12.3%), some doctoral studies (4.5%), to
doctoral/professional degree (4.5%). One participant reported “other education” and one did not
report. Based on enrollment data, we estimate that two-thirds of the respondents were from the
Midwestern United States. Participants reported their political party affiliation as Democrat
(16.8%) or Republican (54.9%) and several small numbers of other parties, unique descriptions
of political party affiliation, or no party affiliation was reported (28.3%).
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 14
We chose three measures of Christian spirituality relevant to identifying the degree of
theological conservatism as reflected in traditional beliefs and practices as well as the degree of
Christian Beliefs Index (CBI). We used four items to assess traditional Christian beliefs
on a 5-point rating scale from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree (e.g., “Jesus is the Son
of God”). Coefficient alpha values in previous research were .76 (Sutton, Arnzen, & Kelly,
2016) and .72 (Kelly, Sutton, Hicks, Godfrey, & Gillihan, 2018). In this study, α = .80.
Spiritual Practices Index (SPI). We used six items to assess Christian practices
indicative of religious commitment rated on a 6-point response format from 1 = never to 6 =
daily (e.g., “I ____ on a regular basis”). Practices included Bible reading, prayer, attending
church, participating in religious activities/groups, financially supporting ministry, and sharing
my faith with others. Coefficient alpha values in previous research were .74 (Sutton et al., 2016),
.86 (Sutton, Kelly, Worthington, Griffin, & Dinwiddie, 2018), and .84 (Kelly et al., 2018). In this
study, α = .83
Intratextual Fundamentalism Scale (IFS; Williamson, Hood, Ahmad, Sadiq, & Hill,
2010). We used the 5-item IFS to identify the importance of the Bible to participants’ spirituality
using a response format of 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree (e.g., “Everything in the
Bible is absolutely true.”). Williamson et al. (2010) reported α = .88 and evidence of construct
validity by correlations of the IFS with a 12-item Religious Fundamentalism Scale (.33) and with
the 20-item Right-Wing Authoritarian Scale (.23). In previous Christian samples, α = .92 (Sutton
et al., 2018) and α = .85 (Kelly et al., 2018). In this study, α = .82.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 15
Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ; Graham et al., 2011). Participants completed
the two-part, 30-item MFQ. First, participants rated the moral relevance (e.g., “Whether or not
someone did something disgusting”) of 15 statements on a 6-point rating scale (0 = not at all
relevant to 5 = extremely relevant). Second, participants rated 15 statements related to moral
judgments (e.g., “Compassion for those who are suffering is the most crucial virtue.”) on a 6-
point rating scale (0 = not at all relevant or strongly disagree to 5 = extremely relevant or
strongly agree). The MFQ has five subscales measuring each of the five core foundations. In
previous studies, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients ranged from .65 to .84 (Graham et al., 2011).
Johnson et al. (2016) reported alpha values of .65 (care), .68 (fairness), .70 (loyalty), .70
(authority), and .83 (purity). There is some evidence of construct validity. The foundation scores
have predicted political identity and positions on social issues (Graham et al., 2009, 2011).
Cronbach’s alphas for the present study ranged from .62 to .76 for the five core foundations (see
Table 1). Additionally, we included items proposed for the liberty foundation by Iyer et al.
(2016). An example of lifestyle liberty is “People should be free to decide what group norms or
traditions they themselves want to follow” and for economic/government liberty, “The
government interferes far too much in our everyday lives.” Iyer et al. (2016) reported evidence
for validity based on unique profiles resulting from analyses of the MFQ and other scales in three
studies. In this study, Liberty subscale alpha values were: lifestyle liberty = .55 and
economic/government liberty = .60.
We used Qualtrics (2015) to present the questionnaires online. We recruited participants
via campus-wide emails containing a description of the survey along with a link to click
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 16
indicating consent. In addition, the investigators posted requests on their Facebook and Twitter
accounts. We retained all completed surveys.
We screened data using IBM SPSS, Version 23 (IBM Corp., 2015) to ensure compliance
with the assumptions of linear modeling. With gender as a covariate, we used a one-way
MANCOVA to test for significant differences between three political identity groups on the five
core moral foundations, and a second one for the two subscales of the liberty foundation.
Finally, we conducted a series of seven hierarchical multiple regression analyses to
examine incremental changes in the proportion of variance in the criterion variables (the five
core and two liberty moral foundations) explained by each additional set of explanatory variables
(ΔR2). The first and second sets of explanatory factors, respectively, included demographics
(education, gender) and political identity (Democrat, Republican). RS factors (beliefs, practices,
fundamentalism) were entered last to provide the most conservative test of the incremental
relationship between RS factors and each moral foundation.
Descriptive statistics are reported in Table 1 and bivariate associations in Table 2. An
unexplained error in presentation resulted in fewer respondents completing the IFS than other
We examined our sample for Christian theological conservatism. As previously reported,
most participants identified with conservative spiritual traditions (Pentecostal/charismatic or
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 17
evangelical). Although individuals may vary in belief, the National Association of Evangelicals
has published core beliefs reflecting theological conservatism (nae.net, 2015). A useful empirical
assessment of theological conservatism is the IFS. Theological conservatives earn high scores
above the midpoint of 15 (Williamson et al., 2010). A theologically conservative sample would
have similar means. We used a similar approach to assessing theological conservatism with the
measures of traditional Christian beliefs (CBI) and practices (SPI).
On all measures of theological conservatism (CBI, SPI, IFS) participants’ means were
above the scale midpoints, which is consistent with theological conservatism. There were no
significant differences among the Christian groups (Pentecostal-charismatic, evangelical,
nondenominational, mainline protestant, Catholic, other) on intratextual fundamentalism (IFS: M
= 22.03, SD = 4.66, p = .13). Means for beliefs (CBI) were not significantly different for 95% of
the sample whose Christian identity was Pentecostal/charismatic, evangelical, or
nondenominational (ps > .05). The other 5% (mainline and other) had significantly lower CBI
means (p < .01). Means for spiritual practices (SPI) were also not statistically different (ps > .05)
from evangelicals except for the lower mean obtained by the six persons (< 1% of the sample) in
the other group (p =. 022). Thus, based on both Christian group identity and three RS measures,
95% of our sample are theologically conservative Christians.
Are there significant differences between Christians who identify as Republicans,
Democrats, or other, on the core moral foundations?
We used one-way MANCOVAs to test for significant differences between political
identity groups on the five core moral foundations adjusted for gender (see Table 3 for adjusted
group means). We did not have an a priori category for those in the other political affiliation
group, but an analysis of scores indicated that their means for all six foundations were always in
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 18
the middle between the means for Republicans and Democrats; hence, based on empirical
evidence, we used the term Independents for participants who did not self-identify as either a
Republican or a Democrat. Gender was a significant covariate (λ = .899; Multivariate F (5, 615)
= 13.83, p < .001, η2 = .10, Observed Power = 1.0). Our primary hypothesis was supported. The
main effect for political party identity was significant (λ = .591; Multivariate F (10, 1230) =
36.97, p < .001, η2 = .23, Observed Power = 1.0). Follow-up ANCOVAs revealed significant
differences among the groups for all five original moral foundations: care (F (2, 619) = 13.62, p
< .001, η2 = .04); fairness (F (2, 619) = 17.79, p < .001, η2 = .05), authority (F (2, 619) = 81.59, p
< .001, η2 = .21); loyalty (F (2, 619) = 85.19, p < .001, η2 = .22) and purity (F (2, 619) = 65.72, p
< .001, η2 = .18).
Bonferroni post hoc analyses revealed Democrats scored significantly higher (all ps <
.001) on the individualizing foundations (care, fairness) and lower (all ps < .001) than did
Republicans on the binding foundations (authority, loyalty, and purity). The pattern for
Republicans was even across the foundations except for the highest elevation on purity.
We did not predict findings for participants in the Independent group. Their means were
not significantly different from those of Republicans or Democrats on either of the
individualizing foundations. However, all comparisons were significantly different for the
binding foundations (ps < .01): Independents were always between the means of sociopolitical
conservatives and liberals.
Are there significant differences between Christian Republicans and Democrats on the
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 19
We conducted a separate MANCOVA on the liberty foundation for three reasons. First,
the liberty foundation is not yet established in the literature as a core moral foundation. Second,
the foundation has a unique bifurcation into two subscales that warrant a more detailed analysis.
Third, the alpha levels for the subscales were lower than the more established core scales (see
table 4 for details of the analysis). The main effect for political party identity was significant (λ =
.759; Multivariate F (4, 1236) = 45.62, p < .001, η2 = .13). The covariate, gender, was not
significant (p =.057). Follow-up ANCOVAs revealed significant differences for both lifestyle
liberty (F (2, 619) = 5.50, p = .004, η2 = .02) and economic/government liberty (F (2, 619) =
58.05, p < .001, η2 = .16). We used the Bonferroni test for post hoc analyses. For lifestyle liberty,
only Democrats obtained significantly higher scores than did Republicans (p = .01). For
economic/government liberty, all groups were significantly different (all ps < .001): Republicans
> Independents > Democrats.
Does Christian religiosity-spirituality account for additional variance in moral foundations
beyond that accounted for by demographic variables and political identity?
We conducted a series of seven hierarchical regressions to determine if theological
conservatism (i.e., Christian RS factors) would explain participants’ moral foundations beyond
that accounted for by demographic factors (gender, education level) and political identity
(Democrat, Republican). Education was coded as high (AA degree or above = 1) or low (less
than an AA degree = 0).
Results from regression models are reported in Table 5. First, we examined the
individualizing foundations. The overall model significantly explained care: F(6, 333) = 8.88, p
< .001, R2 = .14. Demographic factors significantly explained care, F(2, 337) = 9.77, p < .001,
primarily due to gender (β = .25, p < .001). The inclusion of political party identity significantly
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 20
improved the model: ΔF(1, 336) = 25.34, p < .001, ΔR2 = .07. However, the addition of RS
factors did not improve the model: ΔF(3, 333) = 2.24, p = .08, ΔR2 = .02. Next, we found the
overall model significantly explained fairness: F(6, 333) = 7.63, p < .001, R2 = .12. Demographic
factors significantly explained fairness: ΔF(2, 337) = 3.60, p = .028. The inclusion of political
party identity significantly improved the model: ΔF(1, 336) = 33.76, p < .001, ΔR2 = .09.
However, RS factors did not add incremental value: ΔF(3, 333) = 1.33, p = .266, ΔR2 = .01.
Second, we examined the three binding foundations. The overall model significantly
explained authority: F(6, 333) = 27.96, p < .001, R2 = .34. Demographic factors did not
significantly explain authority: ΔF(2, 337) = 1.37, p = .257. The inclusion of political party
identity significantly improved the model: ΔF(1, 336) = 140.90, p < .001, ΔR2 = .29. RS identity
added incremental value, ΔF(3, 336) = 5.66, p < .001, ΔR2 = .03, primarily due to
fundamentalism (β = .22, p < .001). The overall model significantly explained loyalty: F(6, 333)
= 30.02, p < .001, R2 = .35. Demographic factors did not significantly explain loyalty: ΔF(2,
337) = 2.42, p = .09. The inclusion of political identity significantly improved the model: ΔF(1,
336) = 145.01, p < .001, ΔR2 = .30. RS identity added incremental value, ΔF(3, 333) = 6.78, p <
.001, ΔR2 = .04, primarily due to fundamentalism (β = .24, p < .001).
The model predicting the third binding foundation of purity was also significant: F(6,
333) = 38.75, p < .001, R2 = .41. Demographic factors did not significantly explain purity: ΔF(2,
337) = .21, p = .81. Political identity significantly improved the model: ΔF(1, 336) = 115.59, p <
.001, ΔR2 = .26. RS identity added incremental value: ΔF(3, 333) = 29.07, p < .001, ΔR2 = .15.
Both spiritual practices (β = .11, p = .029) and fundamentalism were significant RS factors (β =
.37, p < .001).
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 21
Our final analyses examined the two liberty foundations. The overall model significantly
explained lifestyle liberty: F(6, 333) = 4.35, p < .001, R2 = .07. Demographic factors
significantly explained lifestyle liberty: ΔF(2, 337) = 7.40, p = .001. The primary explanatory
factor was education level (β = -.20, p < .001). The inclusion of political identity significantly
improved the model: ΔF(1, 336) = 10.18, p = .002, ΔR2 = .03. RS factors did not add significant
incremental value: ΔF(3, 333) = .28, p = .837, ΔR2 < .01. Thus, only education level and political
identity significantly explained the lifestyle liberty foundation.
The overall model significantly explained economic/government liberty: F(6, 333) =
17.55 p < .001, R2 = .24. Demographic factors did not significantly explain
economic/government liberty: ΔF(2, 337) = 2.14, p = .119. The inclusion of political identity
significantly improved the model: ΔF(1, 336) = 96.67, p < .001, ΔR2 = .22. However, RS factors
did not add significant incremental value: ΔF(3, 333) = 1.03, p = .378, ΔR2 < .01. Thus, only
political identity significantly explained the economic/government liberty foundation.
Political identity is strongly associated with the moral foundations of theologically
conservative American Christians. Consistent with social identity theory of intergroup behavior
(Tajfel & Turner, 1985) we found support for our first hypothesis that the distinct sociopolitical
liberal-conservative patterns of moral foundations are significantly associated with political
identity among theologically conservative Christians. That is, self-identified Democrats scored
significantly higher than did self-identified Republicans on the individualizing foundations of
care and fairness, but significantly lower than Republicans on the binding foundations of
authority, loyalty, and purity. We did not hypothesize predictions for the two new liberty
subfoundations (lifestyle, economic/government), but we found political party identity
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 22
differentially related to the subfoundations consistent with political party themes (Democrats
higher on lifestyle liberty and Republicans higher on economic/government liberty).
Second, the results of regression analyses supported our second hypothesis that political
identity would significantly predict moral foundations beyond that accounted for by unique
contributions of gender and education level. Third, we found mixed support for our third
hypothesis about the role of spirituality. Our three measures of theological conservatism only
contributed additional incremental value to explaining the three binding foundations of authority,
loyalty, and purity, with intratextual fundamentalism acting as the primary explanatory factor.
Despite the evidence that most of our sample shared conservative theological beliefs,
practices, and degree of fundamentalism, they responded like participants in other moral
foundations studies where samples either included Christian diversity (e.g., Johnson et al., 2016)
or included a general population sample (Graham et al., 2009). Thus, it seems that there is a
strong relationship between political identity and moral foundations even in a sample of mostly
theologically conservative Christians. For many Christians, the Republican party offers a
desirable confluence of conservative political, social, and moral values, as evidenced by the
language in the party platform and endorsement by conservative religious leaders (Sheets et al.,
2011). Thus, it is not surprising to find elevations across the binding foundations among
Republican respondents. But it is surprising to see that theologically conservative Christian
Democrats responded to the moral foundations as would be expected by social liberals (Graham
et al., 2009; Johnson et al., 2016).
We believe these significant findings are consistent with social identity theory of
intergroup behavior (Tajfel & Turner, 1985) and recent studies exploring the identity-to-politics
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 23
link (e.g., Pérez, 2015). That is, leaders in highly competitive social groups emphasize intergroup
differences. Those who strongly identify with the political groups share their group’s identity,
including their group’s moral values. Further support for the role of social identity theory comes
from the evidence of those who did not endorse a major political identity. These participants,
whom we called Independents, functioned as sociopolitical moderates by scoring in the mid-
range on all core moral foundations, which is what we might expect for people who do not derive
a significant aspect of their social-moral values from a political party identity.
Although there were similarities between our study and those of Johnson et al. (2016) and
Graham et al. (2009), there are important differences, which we believe are related to social
identity theory. Both Johnson et al. and Graham et al. used continuum-based rating scales to
assess conservative-liberal social perspectives. In contrast, we used explicit political party
identity, which resulted in a stronger association between sociopolitical value-based identity and
moral foundations than was found in their studies. One explanation for the difference might be
the nature of identifying more strongly with a named political party than with a point on a rating
scale. Piazza and Landy (2013) also included a rating scale for social views and reported similar
correlations with moral foundations except for the care foundation, but predicting moral
foundations was not a part of their project. Krull (2016) found similar correlations between his
single-item rating scale for social views and four of the five core foundations, but the
relationships were weaker than in our study and the comparability of his single-item moral
foundation measures to the Moral Foundations Questionnaire has not been established.
In retrospect, considering the party platforms and political rhetoric, it is not surprising to
see a split response to the two liberty subscales (lifestyle, and economic/government). Democrats
explicitly advocate for tolerance of a wide range of lifestyles whereas Republicans advocate for
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 24
traditional, conservative lifestyles. In contrast, an economy free from excessive government
regulations has been an emphasis of Republicans, in contrast to Democratic emphases on
government regulations such as affirmative action and raising minimum wages. The subscale
means for our political Independents are between the means for Republicans and Democrats.
These data support the importance of political identity rather than conservative theology factors
to explain the liberty subdomains for Christians. Although the liberty foundation was designed to
measure libertarian morality (Iyer et al., 2012), we think the two subscales are useful additions to
the five core MFQ scales and effectively differentiate between politically identified liberals
(Democrats) and conservatives (Republicans). Finally, we note that despite the usefulness of the
two subscales to identify political differences, the internal consistency values are weak indicating
the need for improved measures of the liberty subfoundations.
In the regression models, the RS measures added incremental value to explaining only the
binding moral foundations and the primary factor was fundamentalism. It was surprising to learn
that none of the RS measures contributed to the variance in either the care or fairness moral
foundations, which were primarily explained by political identity. One explanation for the
different functioning of these RS factors is the possibility that conservative political (i.e.,
Republican party) identity makes RS factors salient and thereby enhances RS contributions to the
binding foundations, especially where Republican values and RS fundamentalism overlap on
issues of respect for authority, the importance of group loyalty, and concerns for purity and
sacredness (e.g., see the Republican Platform, 2016). That is, Christians who identify with the
Republican party experience a valuing of their dual identities (political, religious), which may
not occur for Christians in the Democratic party, where RS salience varies with political
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 25
speeches and is nearly absent from the official party platform documents (e.g., see the
Democratic Party Platform, 2016). We also note that the lack of a significant correlation between
RS practices and the care and fairness foundations might be due to the omission of spiritual
practices on the SPI scale such as ministering to the poor, which are more highly valued by
Christians who are not affiliated with theologically conservative groups.
Gender was a significant factor linked to the care and fairness foundations in the
MANCOVA analysis and the regression model. The positive relationship of conservative women
with the care foundation makes sense given traditional Christian roles of women as caregivers.
Gonsoulin (2010) analyzed data from the General Social Survey and found that conservative
Christian women reported higher levels for the importance of motherhood and had more children
than other mothers. Pew data offer additional support for caring roles— nearly half (49%) of
Christian women consider government aid to the poor as doing more good than harm
(Pewforum, 2015). Other possible explanations for the gender influence on these typically liberal
moral foundations may vary with samples and deserve further research.
Gender’s contribution to the fairness foundation may be explained by the gender equality
movement among modern evangelicals. Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, the largest
subgroup in our study, have long ordained women and encouraged their inclusion in leadership
positions (Fuller studio, n.d.). On the other hand, those evangelicals who do not include women
as clergy increasingly include them in other ministries and consider women to have a
complementary role, which is declared to be equally important to the role of men (see for
example Green, 2017).
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 26
Krull (2016) also found gender to be a significant predictor of care and fairness in his
study of Christians; however, the pattern with the binding foundations was different. Because
Krull did not study political identity as we did, and because he used single moral foundations
items, it is not possible to directly compare the studies. Although Graham et al. (2009) found the
gender-moral foundations relationship to be inconsistent in their general population study, our
data suggest that gender is an important variable when studying the moral foundations of care
and fairness in a theologically conservative Christian sample.
Education levels have not been studied as a factor in previous moral foundations research
in Christian samples. In this study, education significantly contributed to the final model for two
foundations: fairness and liberty-lifestyle. In both cases, the contribution was negative as was the
political identity factor indicating that lower education and identity as a Democrat significantly
explained concerns about fairness and lifestyle liberty for these Christians. These findings are
consistent with those of Brint and Abrutyn (2010) who found “less educated people were
significantly less likely than highly educated people to identify as Republicans” (p. 341). It is
reasonable to see the connection between lower education, concerns about fairness, and
Democratic party identity, which emphasizes educational and social programs for the poor who
usually have less education than wealthier citizens (Democratic Party Platform, 2016).
Similarly, lower education also fits with Democratic party identity in predicting the liberty-
lifestyle foundation given the overt support of Democrats for diverse lifestyles compared to
Republicans. Party platforms themselves clearly distinguish the two parties on lifestyle issues as
represented by the absence of the term LGBT in the Republican platform (2016) compared to the
frequent finding of LGBT in the Democratic platform (2016).
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 27
Our findings are subject to the usual caution associated with self-report measures
obtained from a convenience sample. The self-reported faith traditions and overall RS means
suggest this sample of Christians were mostly theologically conservative because they held
traditional religious beliefs, reported high levels of spiritual practices, and tended toward a
fundamentalist view of the Bible as a divinely inspired, authoritative guide. However, other RS
measures may have revealed important differences. In addition, the lower reliability values of
some MFQ scales may have affected our ability to detect additional differences.
The sequence of the survey items may have produced a priming effect favoring a stronger
party identity effect on responses to the MFQ items than was evident in the studies using a
continuum measure of conservatism-liberalism. The political party question occurred early in the
survey. After responding to party affiliation, participants completed the items about RS
affiliation, beliefs, practices, and the IFS before responding to the MFQ. However, we do not
know the comparative position of the sociopolitical continuum item and the MFQ in other
Our study is correlational. We cannot assume that moral foundations have a causal role in
political identity or that political identity has a causal role in the development of moral
foundations. We would note, however, that development of moral foundations may precede
political identity given the general emphasis of parents and churches on moral instruction in
childhood compared to the development of a political identity enhanced by the privilege of
voting at age 18. We also suggest our findings, though not dissimilar to the findings of others
regarding sociopolitical values and moral foundations, offer an important nuance by focusing on
specific sociopolitical group identities rather than points on a sociopolitical spectrum.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 28
Finally, the alleged political polarization in the United States may have been a factor
influencing the significant differences we obtained; however, we have no data to suggest other
eras were more or less polarizing on relevant moral issues. We recognize that our focus on
American political groups limits the generalizability of our findings, yet we suggest that political
group identity may still be an important variable in other populations and provide additional
information than may be found in continuum-based measures of social conservative-liberal
Recommendations for Future Research
We suggest that social identity theory may be a valuable contribution to moral
foundations research in combination with the extant continuum-based ratings on scales of social
conservatism-liberalism. Although we were interested in the relationship between political
identity and moral foundations among theologically conservative Christians, future studies may
explore the relative contribution of spiritual identity (e.g., theologically conservative -liberal
groups) and sociopolitical groups in American and other cultures.
For comparison purposes, we recommend including measures of beliefs, practices, and
fundamentalism in future studies. However, more nuanced measures of religiosity-spirituality
may provide relevant information. Several measures in the Johnson et al. (2016) study appear
useful for future research. To their measures and ours, we would add measures of relationship
with the divine such as attachment to God (e.g., Beck & McDonald, 2004) and intrinsic
religiosity (e.g., Gorsuch & McPherson, 1989). Recent research on forgiveness, hope,
compassion (e.g., Sutton, Jordan, & Worthington, 2014), and humility (e.g., Davis et al., 2011)
would seem relevant to future investigations of moral foundations theory. We also suggest
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 29
expanding measures of spiritual practices to include more liberal expressions of faith, such as
ministering to the poor, in addition to the traditional items such as reading the Bible.
Although the MFQ was useful in this study, low internal consistency values on some
scales indicate the need for a more robust multidimensional measure, as suggested by Davis et al.
(2017). Nevertheless, the MFQ functioned adequately in our theologically conservative Christian
sample and that of Johnson et al. (2016). Similarly, the liberty foundation appears useful to moral
psychology research; however, because of low-reliability values, the current measure needs
additional refinement—at least for use with Christian samples. Our findings confirm that at least
two subscales are needed to address liberty, as suggested by Iver et al. (2012).
Furthermore, religious fundamentalism is an important and useful concept. Several
different measures of fundamentalism in our literature review revealed similar correlational
patterns on the five core moral foundations, specifically higher relationships with the binding
foundations of loyalty, authority, and purity: Piazza and Landy’s (2013) Morality is Founded on
Divine Authority scale, Johnson et al.’s (2016) biblical literalism measure, Krull’s reverence for
God item (2016), and our use of the Intratextual Fundamentalism Scale (Williamson et al.,
2010). Similarities between Piazza and Landy’s (2013) Divine Command Theory and
Intratextual Fundamentalism Theory (Williamson et al.) are also worth considering given the
impression that for Christian fundamentalists, there may be substantial overlap among the
constructs of divine authority, textual authority, and moral authority, which all appear related to
deontological ethical concepts more closely aligned with notions of authority, loyalty, and purity
in contrast to the association between utilitarian ethics and the moral foundations of care and
fairness. Finally, Johnson et al.’s (2016) biblical literalism items functioned similarly to the
Intratextual Fundamentalism Scale, which adds importance to the role of sacred texts in
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 30
understanding moral appraisals among the highly religious. Although we focused on Christian
fundamentalism, we would note that the Intratextual Fundamentalism Scale is designed for use
with other religious groups thus we recommend its inclusion, or another measure of
fundamentalism when studying moral foundations in other religious samples.
This study adds new and significant findings to understand the relationship between
political identity, moral foundations, and spirituality. Specifically, this is the first study to focus
on, and identify, the potential value of political identity, rather than a sociopolitical continuum,
to understand the relationship between political group identity and patterns of moral foundations.
Second, it is the first study to identify the significant relationship of sociopolitical group identity
to patterns of moral foundations among mostly theologically conservative Christians who might
be expected to share similar moral values if their conservative theological beliefs and practices
were more strongly related to moral foundations than their sociopolitical group identity. Third, it
is the first study to report the results of the new MFQ liberty foundation in a theologically
conservative Christian sample, which shows both the usefulness of the liberty foundation and the
way in which political identity is linked to nuanced responding. Fourth, it is the first study to
demonstrate a significant and nuanced role for both gender and education level in understanding
their association with moral foundations among theologically conservative Christians. Finally,
the contribution of the Intratextual Fundamentalism Scale to understanding the binding
foundations lends additional support to the Intratextual Fundamentalism model as useful for
understanding moral responses in theologically conservative Christians.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 31
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Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for the Measures
Note. CBI = Christian Beliefs Index; SPI = Spiritual Practices Index; IFS = Intratextual
Fundamentalism Scale; MFQ Scales: Care/harm; Fairness/reciprocity, Authority/respect, Ingroup
loyalty, Purity/sanctity; Liberty Subscales: lifestyle, economic/government. High scores on all
measures indicate a high degree of the characteristic. N = 625 for all measures except IFS was
only completed by 464.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 38
Table 2. Bivariate Associations for measures
Note: CBI = Christian Beliefs Index; SPI = Spiritual Practices Index; IFS = Intratextual
Fundamentalism Scale; MFQ Scales: Care/harm; Fairness/reciprocity, Authority/respect, Ingroup
loyalty, Purity/sanctity; Liberty Subscales: lifestyle, economic/government.
*p < .01, **p < .001
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 39
Table 3. Gender Adjusted Group Means for Moral Foundations
n = 104
n = 176
n = 343
Note. MFQ Scales: Care; Fairness, Authority, Loyalty, Purity; Liberty Subscales: lifestyle,
economic/government. High scores on all measures indicate a high degree of the characteristic.
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 40
Table 4. Multivariate and Post Hoc Tests for Political Identity and Liberty
MFQ Core Multivariate Results
MFQ Core Between Subjects Results
MFQ Bonferroni Pairwise Comparisons
D - R
D - I
R – I
Note. DV = Dependent variable. D = Democrat, R = Republican, I = Independent. P values: ***
= < .001, ** = < .01, * = < .05
MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND SPIRITUALITY 41
Table 5. Results of Hierarchical Multiple Regression Models for MFQ
Note. N = 340 for all analyses. Gender coded as 1 = men, 2 = women. Education coded as High (2 = AA degree and above) or low (1
= less than AA degree). Political parties coded as 1 = Democrat, 2 = Republican. CBI = Christian Beliefs Index; SPI = Spiritual
Practices Index; IFS = Intratextual Fundamentalism Scale.
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.