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This study develops and tests a theory of scriptural coping. Using elements from hermeneutic theory as our guide, we contend that (1) specific life exigencies will increase the likelihood of someone turning to scripture for relevant insights, and (2) reading scripture for relevant insights will moderate associations between exigencies and psychological well-being. Analyzing nationally representative data from the 2012 General Social Survey (n = 1,551), we find that poor self-rated health and low socioeconomic status increase the likelihood of someone reading scripture for insight into attaining health and wealth, respectively. Moreover, reading scripture for health insights amplifies the positive association between poor health and depressive symptoms, thereby suggesting a stress-exacerbating effect of scriptural coping. Scripture is a polysemous resource, one that can alternatively provide comfort or trigger negative coping in the face of psychosocial stress. We discuss the implications and limitations of these findings and outline avenues for future research.
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JOURNAL for the
Scriptural Coping: An Empirical Test of
Hermeneutic Theory
Department of Sociology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department of Sociology
University of Texas at San Antonio
The School of Public Administration
Sichuan University, China
Department of Sociology
University of Texas at San Antonio
This study develops and tests a theory of scriptural coping. Using elements from hermeneutic theory as our
guide, we contend that (1) specific life exigencies will increase the likelihood of someone turning to scripture for
relevant insights and (2) reading scripture for relevant insights will moderate associations between exigencies
and psychological well-being. Analyzing nationally representative data from the 2012 General Social Survey
(n=1,551), we find that poor self-rated health and low socioeconomic status increase the likelihood of someone
reading scripture for insight into attaining health and wealth, respectively. Moreover, reading scripture for health
insights amplifies the positive association between poor health and depressive symptoms, thereby suggesting a
stress-exacerbating effect of scriptural coping. Scripture is a polysemous resource, one that can alternatively
provide comfort or trigger negative coping in the face of psychosocial stress. We discuss the implications and
limitations of these findings and outline avenues for future research.
Keywords: religious and spiritual coping, religious and spiritual struggles, stress process, hermeneutics, scrip-
tural literalism, Bible.
A substantial body of literature attests to religion’s prominent influence on personal well-
being, especially as a resource for coping with psychosocial stress (for reviews, see Bartkowski,
Acevedo, and van Loggerenberg 2017; Ellison and Henderson 2011; Pargament 1997). Over
the past several decades, numerous studies have documented salutary associations between di-
mensions of religious involvement and various indicators of health and well-being, including
subjective well-being (Ellison 1991; Lim and Putnam 2010), sleep quality (Hill, DeAngelis, and
Ellison 2018), biological functioning (Hill et al. 2014), cognitive functioning (Hill et al. 2006),
cellular aging (Hill et al. 2016), and longevity (Hummer et al., 1999, 2004). A host of empirical
studies has also shown that religious involvement can mitigate the adverse mental health effects
of traumatic life events (DeAngelis and Ellison 2017; Ellison 1991), noxious neighborhood envi-
ronments (Acevedo, Ellison, and Xu 2014; Krause 1998), financial hardship (Acevedo, Ellison,
and Xu 2014; Bradshaw and Ellison 2010; Krause 2003), discrimination experiences (Ellison,
DeAngelis, and G¨
uven 2017; Ellison, Musick, and Henderson 2008), combat exposure (White
et al. 2018), and failure to achieve salient life goals (DeAngelis 2018).
Acknowledgments: Our study benefited from comments provided during a presentation at the 2016 Annual Meeting of
the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Atlanta, GA.
Correspondence should be addressed to Reed DeAngelis, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, 155 Hamilton Hall, CB #3210, Chapel Hill, NC 27599. E-mail:
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (2018) 0(0):1–18
2018 The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
Moreover, scholars have taken great care to develop and test nuanced arguments for why
specific dimensions of religious involvement should serve as health-promoting resources (Idler
et al. 2003). We now know, for instance, that people who regularly participate in religious
organizations not only report a higher quantity and quality of social ties (Ellison and George
1994), but also tend to derive emotional resilience from their relationships with co-religionists
(Krause et al. 2001; Lim and Putnam 2010). We also know that religious persons often turn
to God for support during trying times (Krause 2005), typically through acts of private prayer
(Ellison and Taylor 1996; Krause 2004; Sharp 2010). Finally, research has demonstrated that
certain disadvantaged segments of the population, such as lesser educated persons and historically
marginalized racial-ethnic groups, tend to rely on and benefit from religious resources more so
than their privileged peers (DeAngelis and Ellison 2018; Ellison, 1991, 1993; Ellison and Taylor
1996; Schieman et al. 2006).
Despite such notable advances in the study of religion and well-being, researchers in this field
have virtually ignored the act of reading scripture as a potential strategy for coping with stressful
life circumstances. This oversight is noteworthy given the great deal of scholarly attention that
has already been devoted to the role of scripture in various other domains of life. For example,
previous quantitative research has indicated that literalist or inerrantist beliefs in scripture are
significantly associated with a wide range of attitudes and behaviors, including those related
to sexual morality, family life, politics, and a host of other social indicators (Burdette, Ellison,
and Hill 2005; Ellison and Musick 1995; Ellison and Sherkat 1993; Franzen 2013; Hempel
and Bartkowski 2008; Hoffmann and Bartkowski 2008; Ogland and Bartkowski 2014). At the
same time, qualitative researchers have examined the interpretive processes of those who adhere to
literalist or inerrantist readings of the Bible (Bartkowski, 1996, 2001; Bielo 2009). This qualitative
research has helped reveal the social creation of literalist and inerrantist approaches to scripture,
namely, how interpretive communities adhering to particular norms govern the generation of
meaning from scriptural passages.
The current study synthesizes disparate literatures on religious coping and scripture reading
to generate and test a theory of scriptural coping. The remainder of our article is structured as
follows. Drawing from hermeneutic theory, we first argue that readers approach scripture with
particular presuppositions that we, following hermeneutists, call “prejudices.” These prejudices
often emanate from salient life exigencies. Someone facing physical health issues, for example,
should be more likely than healthier persons to seek out scriptural passages that address matters of
health and healing. Our expectations along these lines emerge from the hermeneutic proposition
that texts reveal readers’ primary concerns. Put differently, readers not only read texts. Texts, in a
manner of speaking, also read readers by engaging their assumptions and reflecting their concerns
about the world (see Bernstein 1983; Guzys et al. 2010; McCaffey, Raffin-Bouchal, and Moules
2012; Ricoeur 1981). We then argue that the act of reading scripture for relevant insights should
serve as a coping resource that, for better or for worse, moderates the effects of life exigencies on
psychological well-being. As we argue in more detail below, the notion that a scriptural text could
serve as a coping resource is not only consistent with contemporary research on religious coping,
but is also implied in early hermeneutic theories of textual meaning-making processes. After
elucidating our theoretical perspective, we test our hypotheses with a survey from a submodule
of the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults (n=
1,551). We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings and specifying directions for
future research.
Hermeneutic Theory
Hermeneutics, or the study of interpretation, emerged during the Protestant Reformation
as increasingly diverse understandings of the Bible began to surface across distinct Christian
groups. Philosophical and social variants of hermeneutic theory have been informed by the works
of several scholars but were notably advanced by Gadamer ([1975] 2013; see also Simms 2015).
Several key concepts derived from Gadamer’s seminal Truth and Method are essential to our
formulation of hermeneutic theory and, we think, are quite suitable for empirical analysis. To
begin, Gadamer argued that hermeneutics, as the study of interpretation, should be focused on
how people arrive at understandings of their social worlds, with a particular emphasis on the
generation of meaningful interpretations of texts. Therefore, the central focus of hermeneutics is
the process through which readers construct meaning out of their encounters with texts.
Building on this foundational insight, Gadamer argued that prejudices—that is, readers’
assumptions about the text, truth, reality, etc.—do not obstruct understanding but rather make
understanding possible. In offering this argument, Gadamer challenged Enlightenment philoso-
phers who embraced objectivity and viewed truth as discovered in the absence of prejudice.
Gadamer ([1975] 2013) rejected the Enlightenment’s “prejudice against prejudice” and argued,
by contrast, that prejudice is a necessary precondition for the achievement of understanding.
In the hermeneutic sense, then, prejudice is not equivalent to animus toward a particular group
of people as is commonly understood today. Rather, Gadamer’s conceptualization of prejudice
denotes an ontological preconception grounded in a person’s unique circumstances, such as his
or her social location, historical situatedness, or major life events. Regardless of what form they
take, prejudices facilitate understanding by highlighting particular aspects of the social world
or a text that otherwise would be unrecognizable in the absence of such presuppositions. Thus,
prejudices facilitate understanding by forming a “horizon” or conceptual lens through which in-
formation about the world can be organized and conclusions can be drawn. The question of valid
interpretations is another matter altogether, but the point is that preconceived ideas, commonly
rooted in personal experiences, are required for a process of understanding to even begin.
Central to Gadamer’s theoretical formulation are (a) the dialogical nature of textual inter-
pretation and (b) the prospect for a fusion of horizons. For Gadamer, the reader and the text
are situated in particular—often divergent—traditions and circumstances. The reader and the
text therefore have their own respective horizons of meaning, but the act of careful reading can
potentially shift the reader’s horizon. As the conversation between reader and text proceeds,
points of convergence can occur and a new world of possibilities may emerge to the reader. In
its fullest form, this text-reader dialog can produce a “fusion of horizons,” or compatible—even
convergent—standpoints between the reader and the text. Gadamer ([1975] 2013) says that this
fusion of horizons is made possible by a give-and-take dialog that often assumes the form of a
question and answer encounter between the reader and the text. Consequently, this theory rejects
the idea that there is one single “correct” understanding of a text and instead recognizes that
understandings derived from the text are related to a combination of textual content, initial reader
prejudice grounded in experience, and the possible fusion of horizons produced through conver-
sational reading. In short, Gadamer asserts that textual meaning is not so much located in the text
as it is found in the interrogative posture the reader assumes toward the text. In this sense, texts
do not merely reinforce the reader’s existing perspective. Texts are quite capable of expanding
and stretching the presuppositions with which the reader initially approached the text.
Scriptural Coping
There are certain intriguing similarities between Gadamer’s hermeneutic theory and contem-
porary theories of coping, all of which center on the meaning-making process. Compatible with
Gadamer’s fusion of horizons principle, the transactional theory of coping describes effective
coping as a give-and-take process between a person and a potentially distressing situation, cul-
minating in the discovery or creation of a deeper meaning to the situation (Lazarus and Folkman
1987; Pargament 1997:84). More to the point of our study, scripture may be especially useful
for providing existential meaning to distressed individuals (McIntosh 1995; Park 2005, 2017).
As hermeneutic theory suggests, scriptural texts can offer transcendent frames of reference that
may help readers reevaluate their own life circumstances from different perspectives (see also
Wik str ¨
om 1987). Someone with poor physical health, for instance, may turn to scripture for heal-
ing insights and eventually discern some greater meaning or purpose to their illness (Pargament
and Hahn 1986). Through the act of careful inquiry, poor physical health—or financial troubles,
the death of a loved one, etc.—could be transfigured from a “stumbling block” into a “stepping
stone,” or a vital part of a grand divine plan to strengthen and purify the reader in preparation for
eternal salvation (DeAngelis and Ellison 2017; Idler 1995).
In practice, however, it is quite reasonable to assume that the fusion of horizons between
a reader and a scriptural text could produce either salutary or adverse effects. These diverse
outcomes could result from the text itself, the positionality of the reader, or both. Indeed, as
Pargament et al. (1998) have pointed out, any form of religious coping has the potential to be
either productive or counterproductive. For instance, although practices such as reading scripture
or praying to God have been shown to promote catharsis and emotional tranquility (Sharp 2010,
2012), inquiries into the “dark side” of religion have revealed that such activities can just as easily
become an added source of strain whenever life prospects take a turn for the worse (Exline 2002;
Exline, Yali, and Lobel 1999; Pargament 2002). Scriptural passages highlighting the omniscience
and omnipotence of God may therefore reinforce feelings of helplessness for readers facing
certain insurmountable stressors (e.g., DeAngelis 2018). These same readers may also come
to feel as if God is neglecting them or punishing them for past sins and, ultimately, that they
deserve such negative treatment (Foley 1988; Pargament et al. 1998). For these reasons, turning
to scripture as a coping resource may actually exacerbate—rather than alleviate—feelings of
hopelessness and worthlessness in the face of life exigencies.
Consider the case of a person facing serious financial constraints who consults the Bible for
comfort. The Bible is replete with passages about God’s love for the poor (Deuteronomy 26:6–9;
Proverbs 14:31; Luke 6:20–21), divine commandments to care for the poor (Leviticus 19:9–10;
1 John 3:17), and the blessings God bestows on those who serve the poor (Deuteronomy 15:10;
Luke 14:14). An economically disadvantaged person could therefore find much comfort in the
Bible. At the same time, the Bible features some passages that can be read to legitimize social
inequality and even poverty. This perspective is found, by some interpretations, in a statement by
Jesus Christ himself that “the poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:6–13; see also
Mark 14:1–11; John 12:1–11). Furthermore, some Old Testament verses contend that poverty is
a natural result of laziness among “sluggards” (Proverbs 6:9–11; see also Proverbs 20:13, 23:21).
Thus, an economically disadvantaged reader could recite such passages—or have them read and
interpreted by a religious leader during a worship service—in a manner that creates not comfort
but despondency, fatalism, and exacerbated stress related to economic hardship.
On the topic of health and well-being, the Bible features a host of scriptures that seem to
characterize wellness as a blessing from God for righteous living (e.g., Proverbs 3:7–8, 14:30).
Even remarks that liken a believer’s body to a temple admonish against the body’s defilement
(1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Similar passages can also be found in the Qur’an (e.g., Surah Ash-
Shu’ara 26:80). Thus, while it is possible that people facing serious health threats could find
comfort in passages that indicate God’s sovereignty in health matters, it is also possible that con-
sulting scripture could trigger episodes of self-blame for presumed unrighteousness, as indicated
in such Bible passages as Exodus 23:25 (“You must serve only the Lord your God. If you do, I
will bless you with food and water, and I will protect you from illness,” NLT) and Psalms 38:3–8,
the first several verses of which read: “Because of your [God’s] anger my whole body is sick;
my health is broken because of my sins. My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to
bear. My wounds fester in stink because of my foolish sins” (NLT). The key point is that a reader
may consult a scriptural text alone or through group study with the aim of finding comfort in
the wake of certain challenges. Yet, given the diversity of scriptural texts and the complexity of
the interpretive process, such textual encounters have the potential to either exacerbate or relieve
Few empirical studies have ever analyzed the role of scripture reading in the coping process
(for a review, see Krause and Pargament 2018). Moreover, we are aware of only one recent study
by Krause and Pargament (2018) that investigated scriptural coping practices using a nationally
representative sample of U.S. adults. Their study found that the frequency of reading the Bible
(a) was positively associated with benevolent religious reappraisals (e.g., “seeing one’s situation
as part of God’s plan”), and (b) buffered the negative association between stressful life events and
the sense of hope. Benevolent religious reappraisals were also positively associated with hope and
partially mediated the stress-buffering role of reading the Bible. These associations even withstood
controls for age, gender, education, marital status, church attendance, and private prayer. While
Krause and Pargament deserve acknowledgment for being among the first to document the role
of scripture reading in the coping process, their study was nonetheless limited in certain key
respects. For one, their single-item measure of Bible reading did not account for the different
motivations a person might have for reading the Bible, a limitation the authors note themselves in
the discussion of results. Second, their study lacked a coherent theoretical framework and drew
mostly from prior empirical studies to generate hypotheses. We extend Krause and Pargament’s
work by generating hypotheses from hermeneutic theory and by linking distinct scripture reading
practices to relevant exigencies and mental health outcomes.
Summary of Hypotheses
Some may contend that a theory of interpretation such as Gadamerian hermeneutics is strictly
suited for qualitative analysis. We disagree, charging instead that if hermeneutic theory is correct,
it should be supported by a range of methodologies, including the empirical analysis of survey
data. To be sure, survey analysis cannot unearth the complexities of the interpretive process. But
surveys can shed light on probabilistic patterns that are associated with actions such as consulting
scripture with particular concerns in mind, as well as with how these actions are associated with
mental health outcomes. While data limitations prevent us from directly testing reader prejudices
or specific scriptural passages being read, we can address how exigent life circumstances are
connected to specific reasons for reading scripture and how these practices affect psychological
well-being. In doing so, our study can enlarge scholarly discussions of how scripture might serve
as a coping resource for people facing distinct stressors and deprivations. Using the foregoing
elements from hermeneutic theory as our guide, we propose the following hypotheses:
H1: Poor physical health will increase the likelihood of reading scripture for insights into
attaining health and healing.
H2: Low socioeconomic status will increase the likelihood of reading scripture for insights
into attaining wealth and prosperity.
H3: Reading scripture for wealth/health insights will moderate associations between poor
health/low socioeconomic status and psychological well-being.
We tested our study hypotheses with cross-sectional survey data from a submodule of the
2012 GSS, a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults (n=1,551). Data were accessed
online through the Association of Religion Data Archives website (
The GSS is conducted biennially by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research
Center and uses stratified, multistage cluster sampling techniques to collect data on households
throughout the continental United States. This 2012 submodule of the GSS is particularly suited
for our study since it is the only nationally representative data source we could find that includes
detailed measures of scripture reading practices.
Scripture Reading Practices
Respondents were first asked: “Within the last year, have you read the Bible, Torah, Koran
or other religious scriptures, not counting any reading that happened during a worship service?”
Respondents who answered affirmatively (50 percent) were then asked follow-up questions
regarding their specific scripture reading practices over the past year. In accordance with our
hypotheses, our analyses included questions about whether respondents read scripture for insights
into attaining health and wealth. To be specific, respondents were asked: “To what extent did
you read scripture to learn about: (1) attaining health or healing, and (2) attaining wealth or
prosperity?” Original response categories for these two items were ordinal and ranged from 1
(not at all) to 5 (to a great extent). We recoded both measures to include only the following
nominal categories: (1) did not read scripture at all in the past year (answered “no” to the initial
screening question), (2) did read scripture in the past year, but not for health/wealth insights
(answered “not at all” to the follow-up question), and (3) did read scripture in the past year for
health/wealth insights (at least “to a small extent”).
Life Exigencies
Our analyses included exigencies related to physical health and socioeconomic status. We
measured self-rated health with a single ordinal item that asked: “Would you say that in general
your health is excellent (=5), very good (=4), good (=3), fair (=2), or poor (=1)?” We
reverse-coded this item with higher scores reflecting poor self-rated health. We measured low
socioeconomic status (SES) as a standardized mean index of (1) educational attainment, (2) annual
household income, (3) occupational prestige, and (4) subjective financial status. Educational
attainment was an ordinal measure with response categories ranging from 0 (less than high
school) to 4 (postgraduate). Annual household income was also an ordinal measure with response
categories ranging from 1 (under $1,000) to 25 ($150,000 or over). Occupational prestige scores
were based on the 2010 Census Occupational Classification system (OCC10). Finally, the measure
of subjective financial status asked respondents: “Compared with American families in general,
would you say your family income is far below average (=1), below average (=2), average
(=3), above average (=4), or far above average (=5)?” We reverse-coded the four items
before standardizing and averaging them, with higher scores indicating lower SES (alpha =.68).
Principal component analysis confirmed all four items loaded onto a single component with an
eigenvalue of 2.03.
Depressive Symptoms
We measured depressive symptoms as a mean index consisting of the following five ordinal
measures: (1) how often respondents felt depressed during the past four weeks (HLTHDEP);
(2) how often respondents had lost confidence in themselves during the past four weeks
(HLTHCONF); (3) how often respondents felt that they could not overcome their problems
during the past four weeks (HLTHNOT); (4) general feelings of unhappiness (HAPPY); and
(5) general feelings of dissatisfaction with life (SATLIFE). We standardized each item before
taking their average, and coded items such that higher index scores indicated greater depressive
symptoms (alpha =.79). Principal component analysis confirmed all five items loaded onto a
single component with an eigenvalue of 2.73.1
Religious Involvement
Survey researchers aiming to link specific predictors to distinct religious outcomes should
account for the multidimensional nature of religious involvement in their models (Idler et al.
2003). To better determine the unique predictive power of life exigencies on scripture reading
practices, our models controlled for general views of the Bible, public religiosity, prayer, religious
identity, and religious affiliation. Views of the Bible were measured by asking: “Which of the
following statements comes closest to describing your feelings about the Bible?” We dummy-
coded this item into a measure of scriptural literalism, such that 1 =“The Bible is the actual
word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word,” and 0 =other responses. Second, we
controlled for a two-item additive index of public religiosity (alpha =.78). This index included
ordinal measures for frequency of worship attendance (ATTEND) and participating in church
activities outside of regular worship services (RELACTIV). Third, we measured prayer with a
single item that asked: “About how often do you pray?” Response categories ranged from 1
(never) to 6 (several times a day). Religious identity was measured with a single item that asked:
“To what extent do you consider yourself a religious person?” Response categories ranged from
1 (not religious at all) to 4 (very religious). Finally, models also controlled for religious tradition
in accordance with the Steensland et al. (2000) classification system. This measure consisted of
six dummy-coded categories, including evangelical Protestant (reference), mainline Protestant,
black Protestant, Catholic, other affiliation, and no affiliation.
Models also controlled for age (in years), race-ethnicity (1 =white, 0 =black/other), gender
(1 =female, 0 =male), marital status (1 =married, 0 =not married), and number of children,
as well as dummy-coded variables for region (South, Northeast, Midwest, West) and NORC
size (large or medium city, large or medium suburb, rural area, and other). Weighted descriptive
statistics of study variables are reported in Table 1. Bivariate associations between focal study
variables are reported in the Appendix.
Analytic Strategies
All statistical analyses were conducted in Stata 14. To account for complex survey design,
all analyses adjusted for probability weighting and nonresponse bias (WTCOMBNR). To test
our first two study hypotheses, we regressed scripture reading habits on life exigencies and
control variables. Because our measures for scripture reading practices consisted of nominal
response categories, we estimated a series of multinomial logistic regression models. To test our
third hypothesis, we predicted standardized scores for depressive symptoms with ordinary least
squares (OLS) regression models. These models regressed depressive symptoms on interaction
terms between life exigencies (low SES and poor health) and a dichotomized measure of whether
the respondent had read scripture for insight into each respective exigency over the past year
(1 =yes, 0 =no/did not read scripture). To facilitate the presentation of our moderation analyses,
we depicted a statistically significant interaction term as a linear prediction graph (Figure 1).
Finally, the following variables had missing data: reading scripture for wealth insights
(n=2), reading scripture for health insights (n=2), depressive symptoms (n=24), low
1Although they are worded somewhat differently, the GSS items for depressive symptoms are similar to those included in
the CESD-20, whose validity and reliability have been well established in the field of mental health research as measures
of depressive symptoms (see Radloff 1977).
Table 1: Weighted descriptive statistics: 2012 General Social Survey (n=1,551)
Range Mean (percent) SD
Scripture Reading Domain: Wealth
Did not read scripture (reference) 01 (50)
Did read, but not for wealth insights 01 (31)
Did read for wealth insights 01 (19)
Scripture Reading Domain: Health
Did not read scripture (reference) 01 (50)
Did read, but not for health insights 01 (22)
Did read for health insights 01 (28)
Low SES 1.831.75 .02 .70
Poor health 15 2.65 1.08
Depressive symptoms 1.022.72 .03 .73
Religious Involvement
Scriptural literalist 01 (29)
Nonliteralist (reference) 01 (71)
Public religiosity 118 6.42 4.77
Prayer 16 4.18 1.79
Religious identity 14 2.51 1.00
Religious Tradition
Evangelical Protestant (reference) 01 (25)
Mainline Protestant 01 (14)
Black Protestant 01(9)
Catholic 01 (24)
Other affiliation 01(6)
No affiliation 01 (22)
Age 2089 48.22 16.85
White 01 (75)
Black/other race (reference) 01 (25)
Female 01 (53)
Male (reference) 01 (47)
Married 01 (52)
Not married (reference) 01 (48)
Number of children 08 1.90 1.70
South (reference) 01 (39)
Northeast 01 (18)
Midwest 01 (22)
West 01 (21)
Large or medium city (reference) 01 (32)
Large or medium suburb 01 (29)
Open country 01 (11)
Other area 01 (28)
Note: Weighted by WTCOMBNR.
Table 2: Multinomial logistic regression models estimating reasons for reading scripture
Model 1 Model 2
Wealth Insights Other Reason Health Insights Other Reason
Focal Variables
Low SES 1.625*.875 1.196 .913
Poor health 1.190 1.050 1.278** .954
Religious Involvement
Scriptural literalist 1.857*1.071 1.598*1.062
Public religiosity 1.336*** 1.233*** 1.325*** 1.213***
Prayer 1.604*** 1.265*** 1.586*** 1.194**
Religious identity 1.248 1.258*1.212 1.298*
Religious Tradition
Mainline Protestant .400*.487** .385** .542*
Black Protestant .740 .352*.616 .317*
Catholic .197*** .213*** .175*** .243***
Other affiliation .278*.236** .263** .238**
No affiliation .435 .623 .505 .644
Age .989 1.005 .993 1.006
White .450*.811 .465** .982
Female .934 1.084 1.034 1.050
Married .795 .917 .753 .989
Number of children .923 1.017 .962 1.012
Northeast .560 .687 .546*.698
Midwest .653 .875 .751 .823
West 1.008 1.281 1.493 1.015
Large or medium suburb 1.393 .808 1.330 .704
Open country 1.650 1.017 1.390 1.018
Other area 1.405 1.360 1.494 1.280
Intercept .003*** .097** .010*** .092**
Notes: Relative risk ratios reported. Base outcome =did not read scripture in the past year. Models weighted by
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001 (two-tailed).
SES (n=148), poor health (n=5), religious attendance (n=1), prayer (n=2), religious
identity (n=5), scriptural literalism (n=4), religious tradition (n=48), age (n=6), and
number of children (n=2). For all analyses, we replaced these missing values with 25 iterations
of multiple imputation by chained equation (Johnson and Young 2011). Results were comparable
before and after imputing missing values.
Table 2 reports multinomial logistic regression models estimating reasons for reading scrip-
ture in the past year. Both models report relative risk ratios, which we refer to as likelihoods.
Risk ratios greater than 1 indicate positive associations between independent and dependent vari-
ables. Risk ratios less than 1 indicate inverse associations. The base outcome in both models is
having not read scripture at all in the past year. Accordingly, Model 1 estimates the likelihood of
Table 3: Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models predicting depressive symptoms
(1) (2)
Focal Variables
Low SES .181*** .175***
Poor health .505*** .223***
Reads scripture for wealth insights .188 –
Reads scripture for health insights .082
Interaction Terms
Low SES wealth insights .094
Poor health health insights .084*
Intercept .043 .159
Notes: Unstandardized coefficients reported. Models are weighted by WTCOMBNR and control for religious involvement,
religious tradition, and sociodemographics.
*p<.05; ***p<.001 (two-tailed).
Figure 1
Depressive symptoms as an interactive function of self-rated health and reading scripture for
health insights
reading scripture for (a) wealth and prosperity insights, or (b) other reasons, relative to not reading
scripture at all. Model 2 likewise estimates the likelihood of reading scripture for (a) health and
healing insights, or (b) other reasons, relative to not reading scripture at all. First, Model 1 shows
that every one-unit reduction in SES increased the likelihood of reading scripture for wealth and
prosperity insights, relative to not reading scripture at all, by a factor of 1.625 or 63 percent
(p<.05). Second, Model 2 revealed that every one-unit reduction in self-reported health in-
creased the likelihood of reading scripture for health and wellness insights, relative to not reading
scripture at all, by a factor of 1.278 or 28 percent (p<.01). These patterns also withstood
controls for various dimensions of religious involvement and affiliation, as well as numerous
sociodemographic characteristics. We therefore found support for our first two study hypotheses:
poor health and low SES increased the likelihood of someone seeking insights from scripture into
attaining health and wealth, respectively.2
Table 3 reports unstandardized coefficients from OLS regression models predicting standard-
ized scores for depressive symptoms. Both models control for religious involvement, religious
affiliation, and sociodemographics. In both models, low SES and poor health were positively as-
sociated with depressive symptoms (p<.001). Moreover, Model 2 shows that reading scripture
for health insights significantly amplified the positive association between poor health and depres-
sive symptoms (b=.084; p<.05). Figure 1 provides a clearer interpretation of this moderating
pattern. This figure graphs depressive symptoms (y-axis) as a function of poor health (x-axis) and
whether or not the respondent had read scripture for health insights in the past year. As this graph
illustrates, the slope predicting depressive symptoms as a function of poor health was steeper,
on average, for respondents who sought health insights from scripture. This finding provided
partial support for our third hypothesis. In particular, this moderating pattern was consistent with
a stress-exacerbating effect of scriptural coping. We discuss the implications of our analyses in
more detail below.
Our study developed and tested a hermeneutic theory of scriptural coping with a survey from
a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. Results from multinomial regression models
indicated that poor physical health and low SES increased the likelihood of someone reading
scripture for insights into attaining health and wealth, respectively. Moreover, reading scripture
for insights into health and healing amplified the positive association between poor physical
health and depressive symptoms, thereby suggesting a stress-exacerbating effect of scriptural
coping. These patterns remained statistically significant even after accounting for general views
of scripture, religious engagements and affiliations, and sociodemographic characteristics. These
findings contribute novel theoretical and empirical insights to the study of religious coping, as
well as to the scientific study of religion more broadly.
For one, our study emphasizes the methodological limitations of “catch-all” scriptural attitude
measures, which tend to gloss over varieties of scriptural interpretation (see Bartkowski 1996;
Franzen 2013). Indeed, the empirical patterns we uncovered withstood controls for a common
measure of scriptural literalism. These findings call into question the validity of generic survey
items of scriptural attitudes and behaviors. Survey researchers looking to uncover correlates and
consequences of attitudes toward scripture should consider the polysemous nature of religious
texts, or the capability of scripture to generate vastly different interpretations from readers
2It is also worth noting that, relative to whites, black and other minority respondents were more likely to read scripture for
insights into attaining health and wealth. This finding is consistent with our theoretical perspective as well as with prior
empirical research on the significant role of religious resources for racial-ethnic minorities (e.g., Ellison 1993; Schieman
et al. 2006). Members of racial-ethnic minority groups are particularly vulnerable to episodes of major discrimination
and daily unfair treatment, all of which can impede their socioeconomic participation and undermine their mental and
physical health (Williams, Neighbors, and Jackson 2003). Scripture may thus serve as a vital coping resource for members
of marginalized racial-ethnic groups. Again, this speaks to the hermeneutic proposition that a reader’s social situatedness
will motivate distinctive readings of scripture aimed at addressing relevant exigencies. We revisit this theme in more
detail in the discussion section.
(Ricoeur 1981). As hermeneutic theory suggests—and our findings corroborate—readers
approach scripture with preconceived biases conditioned by life experiences and other social
constraints. The same scriptural text can therefore serve different purposes for different types of
people. Future population surveys should address these nuances by using more precise measure-
ments of scriptural reading akin to those used here.
At first glance, it might seem unsurprising to learn that people who experience certain
deprivations and stressors are more likely to turn to scripture for relevant guidance. Still, there
are two important characteristics of our analyses that make this finding more compelling. First,
respondents with poor health and low SES were not more likely to read scripture per se. As our
analyses documented, poor health and low SES only increased the likelihood of reading scripture
for insight into attaining health and wealth, respectively, but did not predict reading scripture for
any other reasons. Indeed, ancillary analyses (not shown) confirmed that poor health and low SES
were not associated with reading scripture for personal prayer and devotion, to commit scriptural
texts to memory, or to prepare for scriptural study groups. Second, the above associations held
regardless of other dimensions of religious involvement, such as general views of scripture, public
religious participation, prayer, subjective religious identity, or denominational affiliation. Taken
together, our analyses indicate that certain disadvantaged segments of the U.S. population may be
turning to scripture strictly as a personalized quest for meaning and self-help and to the exclusion
of other forms of religious study.
These patterns are consistent with a long line of research grounded in rational choice theories
of religion, specifically studies highlighting religion as a deprivation-compensation resource (for
reviews, see Bradshaw and Ellison 2010; Glock and Stark 1965; Schieman and Jung 2012).
According to this line of work, those who are socially disempowered or otherwise lacking in
some desirable social attribute (deprivation) should find religion to be a particularly attractive
source of remediation (compensation). In this sense, religion serves as a refuge that can be
enlisted quite strategically to redress life exigencies. Although we recognize the usefulness of
this perspective, we hasten to add two important correctives. First, it is not religion in general that
serves as a refuge, so much as domain-specific religious resources elevated by adherents to address
particular areas of deprivation. As evident in our study, those facing health-related challenges were
significantly more likely to read scriptures with a principal focus on attaining health and healing.
The same was true for respondents with diminished SES, who approached scripture for insight
into attaining wealth and prosperity. These findings extend prior understandings of deprivation-
compensation theories of religion by demonstrating that particular aspects of specific religious
resources become most salient when life problems are confronted. Future inquiries should be
careful not to overlook specificity when exploring how and why religious resources are enlisted
for remediation.
Second, hermeneutic theory provides a more comprehensive explanation of scripture reading
motivations than does rational choice theory. Reading scriptures, it could be argued, is not solely
reducible to a utilitarian strategy of compensation for deprivation. Compensation for deprivation
may explain part, but not all, of this process. The phenomenological richness of hermeneutic the-
ory moves beyond strictly utilitarian motives for reading scripture to underscore the fundamental
human need for meaning (see Park 2005, 2017). In accordance with the hermeneutic emphasis on
the fusion of horizons between reader and text, analyses of scriptural coping should account for
the degree to which a reader’s sense of meaning is altered through engaging scriptural passages.
Although data limitations precluded a detailed analysis of the mechanisms by which scriptural
texts modified readers’ horizons of meaning, there is already some ethnographic research on Bible
study groups that suggests how scripture study changes readers’ worldviews (see Bielo 2009).
Such scholarship pinpoints a promising direction for future research based on our investigation.
Scriptural study groups are often organized around specific points of focus such as health promo-
tion, financial management, and emotional fitness. Additional research could usefully follow up
on our investigation by examining how these types of topic-specific scriptural study groups recruit
participants, inform these participants’ understandings of their circumstances, and influence their
perceptions of themselves, their social statuses, and so forth.
Our discovery of the stress-moderating function of scripture reading also contributes to
an expansive body of literature on religion’s role in the stress and coping process. Although
numerous empirical studies have already documented how various other dimensions of religious
involvement moderate psychosocial stress, scholars in this field have almost entirely neglected
scripture reading as a potential stress moderator, instead relegating scriptural measures to the role
of a control variable in multivariate models (for a notable exception, see Krause and Pargament
2018). Our analyses suggest that reading scripture for insights into attaining health and healing
exacerbated the adverse effects of poor self-rated health on depressive symptoms, a finding
consistent with an emergent literature on the “dark side” of religious and spiritual coping (Exline
2002; Pargament 2002). Respondents with poor physical health may have derived from scripture
a sense that their declining health somehow reflected a form of divine neglect or punishment,
which only intensified feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness (Pargament et al. 1998). As we
have already noted, there are several scriptural passages in the Bible that would lend credence to
such interpretations (e.g., Psalms 38:3–8).
It is important to acknowledge that the stress-exacerbating pattern we uncovered is quite
distinct from the findings that surfaced in Krause and Pargament’s (2018) study, which revealed
that reading scripture attenuated the inverse association between stressful life events and hope.
The discrepancy between their findings and ours could be due to differences in conceptualization
and measurement. Krause and Pargament measured stressful life events as an additive index
constituted by 12 distinct stressors, and measured scripture reading as a single item accounting
only for how often respondents read the Bible. Analyzing individual stressors and associated
motivations for reading scripture may generally lead to disparate results. In any event, more work
is clearly needed to uncover and explain the varied contexts in which scriptural coping either
buffers or exacerbates stressors.
Religion and health scholars can expand this line of inquiry by testing whether other distinct
stressors interact with related scripture reading practices to influence various dimensions of
personal well-being. In keeping with hermeneutic theory, a significant stress-moderating effect
of scripture reading can serve as empirical evidence of a fusion of horizons, in which a reader
learns from scripture how to (positively or negatively) reappraise stressful life circumstances.
Subsequent analyses could also test whether the stress-moderating effects of scripture reading are
further contingent on a reader’s perceptions of self and God. Perhaps believers in a loving and
supportive God benefit more from scriptural coping than those who perceive God as detached or
judgmental (Bradshaw, Ellison, and Marcum 2010; Ellison et al. 2012). Similarly, people with an
exaggerated sense of entitlement or self-worth could be inclined to become angry with God when
facing distressing circumstances, in which case turning to scripture may only add fuel to the fire
(Grubbs, Exline, and Campbell 2013; Grubbs et al. 2018). In this sense, scripture is likely capable
of serving as a balm (health-promoting source of comfort) in some circumstances while fomenting
blame (potentially adverse hatred of self or God) in others. Testing these hypotheses would
require regressing measures of well-being on three-way interaction terms between stressors,
related scripture reading practices, and self and divine perceptions.
We also acknowledge some important limitations of our study. First, our data are cross-
sectional and therefore limit our ability to establish causal relationships. Future studies should test
similar hypotheses with prospective panel data to rule out retrospective bias and better establish
causal direction. Second, contrary to our theoretical argument, we found no evidence that reading
scripture for wealth insights moderated the effects of low SES on depressive symptoms. This
null finding may be due to measurement error in our SES index. One way to address this issue in
the future could be to employ measures that better gauge the distressing elements of diminished
social status, such as self-anchored striving scales or measures of financial strain (DeAngelis 2018;
DeAngelis and Ellison 2018). On a similar note, our single-item measure of self-rated health is
limited in certain respects and could be supplemented in future studies with more elaborate
and objective health measures (e.g., disease inventories, diagnostic measures, or biomarkers).3
Third, future surveys should account for the particular scriptural passages respondents turn to in
distressing times, as certain sections of religious texts may convey different types of inspirational
messages. Triangulating survey-based research with qualitative inquiries (e.g., in-depth interviews
examining the interpretive process and potential fusion of horizons as it unfolds over time) would
seem particularly promising on this front. Fourth, our sample consists mostly of non-Hispanic
whites. Researchers should examine scriptural coping practices among special populations facing
unique stressors, such as racial-ethnic and sexual minorities experiencing discrimination (Ellison,
DeAngelis, and G¨
uven 2017), combat veterans exposed to the brutalities of war (White et al.
2018), or immigrant populations struggling to adapt to their new host countries (Yang and Ebaugh
2001). Might members of these groups be more likely to turn to scripture for insights into social
justice issues, death and war, and national identity, respectively?
Finally, our study can only speak to the U.S. population, a society characterized by a
cultural preoccupation with rugged individualism and a general distrust of social welfare programs
(McNamee and Miller 2014). This limitation is noteworthy given that citizens of countries with
higher welfare state spending are less likely to view religion as an attractive resource for coping
with major life exigencies (Norris and Inglehart 2011; Scheve and Stasavage 2006a, 2006b).
Future studies should employ cross-national data and multilevel modeling procedures to capture
the distinctive sociopolitical contexts in which respondents are embedded (e.g., Jung 2018;
Stroope and Baker 2018). Doing so would provide a more rigorous test of hermeneutic theory by
accounting for the broader social currents that shape personal inclinations to seek scripture as a
coping resource.
Notwithstanding current limitations, the present study has helped advance our understanding
of religion’s role in the stress and coping process. While numerous other domains of religious
involvement—e.g., prayer, religious attendance, and religious social support—have already been
established as key players in the stress process, our study is the first to formally develop and
test a theory of religious scripture as an important psychosocial resource. From a methodological
standpoint, our study also provides a novel example of how to enrich quantitative survey analyses
with theoretical perspectives more typical of qualitative or ethnographic investigations. We hope
this study provides a helpful template for future inquiries into the causes and consequences of
religious and spiritual coping, especially coping practices centered on religious texts.
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Zero-Order Correlation Matrix of Study Variables
(1) (2) (3) (4)
1. Reads scripture for wealth insights 1.000
2. Reads scripture for health insights .693*** 1.000
3. Low SES .163*** .137*** 1.000
4. Poor health .054*.096*** .325*** 1.000
5. Depressive symptoms .046 .052*.313*** .405***
6. Scriptural literalist .345*** .349*** .285*** .090***
7. Public religiosity .361*** .442*** .086** .095**
8. Prayer .317*** .388*** .103*** .051*
9. Religious identity .280*** .336*** .091*** .028
10. Evangelical Protestant .174*** .237*** .088** .024
11. Mainline Protestant .068** .058*.152*** .078**
12. Black Protestant .276*** .234*** .164*** .068**
13. Catholic .111*** .122*** .044 .011
14. Other affiliation .028 .023 .102*** .017
15. No affiliation .186*** .224*** .026 .016
16. Age .022 .008 .007 .056*
17. White .258*** .236*** .197*** .076**
18. Female .068** .094*** .022 .030
19. Married .080** .065*.312*** .102***
20. Number of children .081** .094*** .170*** .051*
21. South .194*** .165*** .110*** .082**
22. Northeast .093*** .118*** .102*** .053*
23. Midwest .058*.036 .002 .012
24. West .086** .052*.040 .062*
25. Large or medium city .014 .012 .013 .036
26. Large or medium suburb .044 .043 .103*** .032
27. Open country .087** .075** .125*** .019
28. Other area .003 .003 .001 .019
*p<.05; **p<.01; ***p<.001 (two-tailed).
... Based on their recent study, DeAngelis et al. (2018) observed that "readers approach scripture with preconceived biases conditioned by life experiences and other social constraints" (p. 12). ...
... Listening to Christian talk radio is the only media-related variable that predicted IPV. This finding is consistent with Hypothesis 2. Although no previous research has examined the relationship between Christian talk radio and IPV-or marital quality in general-this finding is expected in light of the research by Doss et al. (2009) that couples facing relationship challenges sought help by reading books and of the study by DeAngelis et al. (2018) that showed individuals use the reading of scripture as a help-seeking behavior. Listening to talk radio should be an even more likely target of help-seeking in light of the findings by Rubin (2000) that talk radio listeners often consider a host to be not only a relational partner but also a credible source of information. ...
... Also, the questions related to Christian media were exploratory in nature and should be refined to answer further questions more accurately and thoroughly. DeAngelis et al. (2018) suggested that more nuanced measures should be used to study why individuals read scriptures, and the same principle would be relevant for research into why individuals use various Christian media. For example, it would have been helpful to address the motivations for using these media: Were participants seeking help for distressed marriages, or were they utilizing the media for personal enrichment or pleasure? ...
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Although associations between religiosity and marital quality have been demonstrated in previous research, mechanisms still remain unclear. Three 3-step hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine whether 10 individual, dyadic or family religious activities or uses of 7 forms of Christian media predicted positive relationship quality, negative interaction and intimate partner violence in a sample of North American Protestants. Joint spousal and family religious activities predicted higher levels of relationship quality. Individual activities, such as reading the Bible, and parent-child activities, such as praying with children and discussing Christians values with children, predicted lower levels of relationship quality. Listening to Christian talk radio and viewing Christian websites or blogs predicted lower levels of relationship quality. The authors inferred that individuals in low-quality relationships use activities such as reading the Bible, listening to Christian talk radio, and viewing Christian websites and blogs to seek information to improve relationships or promote healthy adaptation. Similarly, the authors speculated that praying with children and discussing spiritual values with them were seen as interventionary measures to protect children when parents were in low-quality relationships.
... The same is true for frequency of prayer and scripture reading. We might learn more with detailed measures of prayer types and expectancies -namely, whether prayer is intended to be colloquial, meditative, petitionary, or ritualistic -as well as with measures of domain-specific scripture readings and practices (Poloma and Gallup 1991;Ellison et al. 2014;DeAngelis et al. 2018). All of these are promising avenues for further research. ...
... Although the present study has advanced the nascent religion-sleep literature, several issues remain unaddressed. First, additional religious domains should be explored in the future, including: (a) specific aspects of congregational support practices, including spiritual support (Krause 2008); (b) diverse styles and practices of prayer and scriptural study (Poloma and Gallup 1991;Ellison et al. 2014;DeAngelis et al. 2018); (c) religious coping styles and practices (Pargament 1997;Ano and Vasconcelles 2005); and (d) religiously-inspired character strengths or virtues, such as hope, gratitude, and forgiveness Krause 2006b;Krause et al. 2017). ...
... Moreover, although our religious items are adequate for gauging key constructs in our study, single-item religion measures can still suffer from low reliability. The development of multi-item measures of scripture reading or afterlife beliefs, for instance, would be a welcome addition to work in this field (e.g., DeAngelis et al. 2018). ...
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Although several studies have documented an inverse association between stressful events and sleep quality, much less is known about the factors that might moderate or buffer against the adverse effects of psychosocial stress on sleep. Building on previous research, we employ national cross-sectional survey data from the 2017 Baylor Religion Survey (n = 1,410) to test whether the association between recent stressful events and sleep quality varies according to several dimensions of religious involvement. We also formally assess whether any attenuation of the association between stressful events and sleep quality is at least partially mediated or explained by lower levels of depressive symptoms (i.e., mediated moderation). Our moderation analyses indicate that the inverse association between stressful events and sleep quality is in fact attenuated by religious cognitions (secure attachment to God and assurance of salvation), but not religious attendance or private religiousness. We also observe direct evidence of mediated moderation through depressive symptoms for both religious cognitions. Taken together, our results demonstrate that religious cognitions may buffer against stress-related sleep disturbance by helping people avoid symptoms of depression.
... For example, with regard to mental health, religion and spirituality have been found to be associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety and other clinical associated symptoms (Koenig et al. 1993;Smith et al. 2003;Saiz et al. 2020), as well as a higher rate of recovery in people with severe mental illnesses (Saiz et al. 2021a). However, despite the many positive effects of religion and spirituality on mental health, it is equally necessary to understand that negative religious coping (e.g., through reading religious scriptures) can sometimes occur in the face of psychosocial stress, which can worsen e.g., depressive symptoms (DeAngelis et al. 2019). In addition, focusing on cancer patients, numerous studies have found a positive impact of religion and spirituality on the health of this people, represented by higher levels of well-being or quality of life and lower levels of despair, social isolation, anxiety or depression (McCoubrie and Davies 2006;Krupski et al. 2006;Tarakeshwar et al. 2006;Janiszewska et al. 2008;Yanez et al. 2009;Kim et al. 2011), and even lower mortality rates (McCullough et al. 2000;Koenig et al. 2012). ...
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Trust/Mistrust in God have turned out to be two constructs that have great relevance in the study of the relationship between religion, spirituality, and health. In Spain, there are no instruments adapted to measure trust/mistrust in God, which limits the work of researchers interested in these aspects. Therefore, the aim of this study was to validate the Brief Trust/Mistrust in God Scale (BTMGS) in Spanish. The scale translated into Spanish was applied in a sample of 178 oncologic patients together with the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) and the significant others subscale of the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support, due to the existing evidence of relationships between the variables evaluated by these measures. Internal consistency, structural validity, convergent and discriminant validity were evaluated. The Spanish adaptation of the BTMGS obtained high internal consistency, both for trust subscale (α = 0.95) and for the mistrust subscale (α = 0.86). Furthermore, the correlations found between the BTMGS and the measures of positive and negative emotions and social add evidence of convergent and discriminant validity. These results suggest that the Spanish version of the BTMGS is a valid and reliable measure to be used in research on religion, spirituality and health in Spanish-speaking contexts.
... A second study by DeAngelis, Bartkowski, and Xu (2019) analyzed data from the 2012 General Social Survey and found that respondents with low socioeconomic status and poor health were more likely than their advantaged peers to turn to scripture for insights into wealth and health, respectively. Contrary to Krause and Pargament (2018), however, this second study also found that reading scripture for health insights amplified the positive association between poor self-rated health and depressive symptoms. ...
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This research note advances the religious coping literature by testing whether belief in an evil world conditions the stress-moderating role of scripture reading. Hypotheses are tested with original data from a survey of Black, Hispanic, and White American churchgoers from South Texas (2017-2018; n = 1,115). Our findings show that reading scripture for insights into the future attenuates the positive association between major life events and psychological distress, but only for congregants who do not believe the world is fundamentally evil and sinful. For congregants who believe the world is evil, scripture reading amplifies the association between life events and distress. Whether scriptural coping is beneficial for mental health could be contingent on a believer's broader assumptions about the nature of the world we live in.
Many individuals have engaged in behaviors to cope with and mitigate the COVID‐19 pandemic, including mask wearing and physical distancing. This study considers the extent to which individuals have also engaged in religious behaviors in response to the pandemic and how those responses are associated with behaviors like mask wearing. Using data from a probability survey of U.S. adults, our analysis finds that over half of the respondents have engaged in pandemic‐related prayer and about one‐fifth have taken other religious steps in response to the pandemic, such as reading religious texts or carrying religious items for protection. All else being equal, Republicans are significantly less likely to have undertaken religious steps in response to the pandemic relative to Democrats, suggesting that the politicized nature of the pandemic influences religious responses as well. The analysis also finds that religious responses to the pandemic—especially prayer—are positively associated with mask wearing and physical distancing. These findings suggest that religious responses to the pandemic are not inherently opposed to undertaking responses recommended by scientific and medical authorities.
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Although biblical literalism is one of the most powerful ideological indicators of religiousness in the sociological study of religion, we know very little about its role vis-à-vis mental health. This is a surprising oversight, given the centrality of the Bible to both public and private religious practice in the USA. This study considers whether the belief in biblical literalism is associated with general mental health and anxiety, and whether this relationship is moderated by gender and two dimensions of religiosity: attendance and attachment to God. Data are drawn from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey (N = 1360). Regression results suggest that stronger beliefs in biblical literalism are associated with better mental health and lower anxiety, but only among women who attend religious services weekly. However, women holding strong literalist views but falling short of weekly attendance norms reported worse mental health. There was no evidence that the relationship between biblical literalism and mental health differed by attachment to God. The implications of these results for the broader study of religion and health are discussed in light of prior research on the “dark side” of religion, recognizing that causal claims cannot be made due to the cross-sectional nature of the data.
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One factor that has received surprisingly little attention in understanding the mental health consequences of the 2007–2008 financial crisis is religion. In this study, we ask: what is the relationship between two economic stressors—job insecurity and financial strain—and depression? And how do changes in religious belief, indexed by the sense of divine control, moderate those relationships? We use two waves of the U.S. Work, Stress, and Health (US-WSH) project (2005–2007), which occurred on the eve of the Great Recession. Results suggest that increases in job insecurity and financial strain are associated with increased levels of depression. However, those associations are (1) buffered among individuals who simultaneously increased in the sense of divine control and (2) exacerbated among individuals who decreased in the sense of divine control. Moreover, the buffering and exacerbating effects of divine control are significantly stronger among workers with lower levels of education.
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The sociology of prayer has a long history and routinely stresses the centrality of prayer to religious belief and ritual solidarity. Still, we have struggled to clearly define the parameters of prayer and the various components of this ubiquitous practice. Drawing from a comprehensive literature review of prayer research, we propose that there are four conceptually distinct dimensions of the private prayer experience which vary across religious cultures and traditions; they are (1) the quantity of prayer, (2) the style of prayer, (3) the purpose of prayer, and (4) prayer targets. Our proposed measures of these dimensions offer researchers a framework to better theorize and investigate the social mechanisms which produce variation in prayer as well as the individual and social outcomes of prayer. In particular, we discuss how each prayer dimension fits within specific theoretical framings to better test the extent to which the emotional, rational, and behavioral elements matter to prayer outcomes.
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This paper seeks to advance the global study of religiosity and spirituality by conducting a meta-analysis of major approaches in the field. While the field, and thus the collected publications, are dominated by Western approaches, particular attention is paid in this analysis to publications from geographies that are not from the United States or Western Europe, especially these world regions: Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Similarly, while the study of religiosity is considerably centered around Christianity, this analysis extends beyond Christianity, to the extent possible in extant studies, to include publications investigating other world religious traditions, such as African spirituality, African witchcraft, Afro-Caribbean religious traditions, Buddhism, Confucianism, folk religions, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Neo-paganism, New Religious Movements (NRMs), Shamanism, Sikhism, Spiritism, Taoism, and spirituality generally. A total of 530 publications were reviewed, and the studies are categorized by unit of analysis into: Macro, micro, and meso-level. Measurement constructs include religious demography, culture, belonging, behaving, believing, bonding, religious salience, spiritual identities, religious networks, occupations, congregations, denominations, and faith-based organizations. Non-Western sources and approaches are analyzed toward furthering future research in under-studied world regions. Implications are drawn for the field, such as the need to geo-code publications at the country level.
Following Lynn White’s thesis of 1967 which indicted some Christian values for the current ecological crisis, many studies have been conducted on the connection between religion and environment/ecological crisis. These studies have sought to know whether religious beliefs and values influence environmental/climate change perceptions of people. However, while these studies have been geographically biased, their results have remained inconclusive. This study therefore examined this age-long debate with evidence from Nigeria. The study involved 30 church leaders drawn from Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal churches in five geographical zones in Nigeria. The data was analyzed using descriptive analytical method. Findings show that religious values/schemas in forms of Eschatological/End-Time beliefs, Dominion beliefs, Theological fatalism, Pessimism etc. influenced climate change perceptions among the church leaders. The study also found that religious affiliation and theology mattered with respect to the influence of some religious beliefs. The implications of findings for the research on religion-environmental/climate change connection are discussed.
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This study examines whether dimensions of religious involvement (i.e., perceived divine control, private religious practices, and religious social integration) buffer associations between aspiration strain and mental health outcomes (i.e., psychological distress, loneliness, and optimism). We also test three-way interactions to determine whether the stress-buffering effects of religious involvement are amplified among undereducated persons. We test our hypotheses with cross-sectional survey data from Vanderbilt University’s Nashville Stress and Health Study (2011-2014), a probability sample of non-Hispanic white and black adults from Davidson County, Tennessee (n = 1,252). Results from multivariate regression models confirmed: (1) aspiration strain was positively associated with psychological distress and loneliness, and negatively associated with optimism; and (2) religious involvement attenuated these associations, but only among respondents with less than or equal to a high school education. We discuss the implications and limitations of our findings and outline avenues for future research.
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Many people rely on religion to deal with the stressors in their lives. The purpose of this study is to examine a religious coping resource that has received relatively little attention—reading the Bible. We evaluated three hypotheses: (1) reading the Bible moderates the relationship between stress and hope; (2) people who read the Bible more often are more likely to rely on benevolent religious reappraisal coping responses; and (3) individuals who rely on benevolent religious reappraisals will be more hopeful about the future. Support was found for all three hypotheses in our analyses.
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Does religious involvement (i.e., attendance and salience) mitigate the association between combat casualty exposure and sleep disturbance among US military veterans? To address this question, we analyze cross-sectional survey data from the public-use version of the 2011 Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Military Personnel. Results from multivariate regression models indicate: (1) Combat casualty exposure was positively associated with sleep disturbance; (2) religious salience both offset and moderated (i.e., buffered) the above association; and (3) religious attendance offset but did not moderate the above association. We discuss study implications and limitations, as well as some avenues for future research.
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Durkheim argued that religion’s emphasis on the supernatural combined with its unique ability to foster strong collective bonds lent it power to confer distinctive social benefits. Subsequent research has confirmed these propositions with respect to religion and mental health. At the same time, meditation has been linked to mental health benefits in intervention-based studies. Our investigation offers a unique test of two comparable inhibitors of anxiety-related symptoms in the general population, namely, prayer versus meditation. Using data from the 2010 wave of the Baylor Religion Survey, we find that frequent communal prayer is correlated with an increased incidence of anxiety-related symptoms whereas worship service attendance is negatively associated with reported anxiety. Attendance also combines with communal prayer to yield anxiety-reducing benefits. Meditation, measured as a dichotomous indicator, is unrelated to reported anxiety in our sample of American adults. Our study underscores the selective efficacy of collective forms of religious expression, and points to several promising directions for future research.
Collected and translated by John B. Thompson, this collection of essays by Paul Ricoeur includes many that had never appeared in English before the volume’s publication in 1981. As comprehensive as it is illuminating, this lucid introduction to Ricoeur’s prolific contributions to sociological theory features his more recent writings on the history of hermeneutics, its central themes and issues, his own constructive position and its implications for sociology, psychoanalysis and history. Presented in a fresh twenty-first-century series livery, and including a specially commissioned preface written by Charles Taylor, illuminating its enduring importance and relevance to philosophical enquiry, this classic work has been revived for a new generation of readers. © Maison des Sciences de l’Homme and Cambridge University Press 1981.
Although numerous empirical studies show that religious involvement is associated with better health and longer life expectancies, researchers have virtually ignored possible links between religious involvement and sleep. To spark greater attention to this important and understudied area of sleep research, we review previous population-based studies, propose an initial conceptual model of the likely pathways for these associations, and offer several avenues for future research. Our review and critical examination suggests that religious involvement is indeed a social determinant of sleep in the United States. More religious adults in particular tend to exhibit healthier sleep outcomes than their less religious counterparts. This general pattern can be seen across large population-based studies using a narrow range of religion measurements and sleep outcomes. Our conceptual model, grounded in the broader religion and health literature, suggests that religious involvement may be associated with healthier sleep outcomes by limiting mental, chemical, and physiological arousal associated with psychological distress, substance use, stress exposure, and allostatic load. As we move forward, researchers should incorporate: (1) more rigorous longitudinal research designs, (2) more sophisticated sleep measurements, (3) more complex conceptual models, (4) more comprehensive measurements of religion and related concepts, and (5) more measures of religious struggles to better assess the “dark side” of religion. Research along these lines would provide a more thorough understanding of the intersection of religious involvement and population sleep.
Scholars have long theorized that religious contexts provide health-promoting social integration and regulation. A growing body of literature has documented associations between individual religiosity and health, as well as macro-micro linkages between religious contexts, religious participation, and individual health. Using unique data on individuals and county contexts in the United States, this study offers new insight by using multilevel analysis to examine meso-micro relationships between religion and health. We assess whether and how the relationship between individual religiosity and health depends on communal religious contexts. In highly religious contexts, religious individuals are less likely to have poor health, while nonreligious individuals are markedly more likely to have poor health. In less religious contexts, religious and nonreligious individuals report similar levels of health. Consequently, the health gap between religious and nonreligious individuals is largest in religiously devout contexts, primarily due to the negative effects on nonreligious individuals’ health in religious contexts.
Psychological entitlement is a stable personality trait known to predict a range of concerning outcomes in people’s lives. Recent research has suggested that entitlement might have domain-specific manifestations such as romantic entitlement, academic entitlement, and sexual entitlement. The present work sought to examine such a domain specific manifestation in the religious and spiritual realm. This new manifestation was called divine entitlement. The present studies sought to validate this construct and demonstrate its associations with concerning, domain-relevant outcomes. In 2 studies using 6 samples (Study 1, total N = 556; Study 2, Total N = 2,113) divine entitlement was validated as a construct and the Divine Entitlement Scale was developed and validated as a brief measure of this construct. Subsequent structural equation models found that divine entitlement also has a positive, predictive relationship with spiritual struggles with the divine. Through this association (divine entitlement with divine struggle), there was also an indirect association of divine entitlement with psychological distress more broadly. Collectively, these findings illustrate that entitlement may also be exhibited in a domain-specific manner in one’s religious and spiritual life and that this domain-specific manifestation may also have concerning outcomes in both religious and spiritual life and mental health more generally.