Stress is a necessary part of life, and many turn to religion to cope (Pargament et al. 2000). But what leads someone to use certain forms of religious coping? We believe a person’s faith development can impact coping methods. Using Fowler’s theory, we define faith development as creating order out of chaos to evolve as an individual and find direction, using discernment, commitment, and relating to others based on chosen values, including but not limited to religion (Paloutzian, 1997).
Although no quantitative studies have compared Fowler’s conception of faith development with religious coping, a few studies have examined similar variables. Horstmann and Tonigan (2000) examined faith development in terms of stages of AA completed, but found no correlation with deferring and collaborative religious coping. A significant positive relationship was obtained between collaborative religious coping and time abstinent, and a negative relationship between deferring coping and involvement in AA, which may suggest some association between religious coping and faith development. Bussema and Bussema (2000) interviewed 17 participants with a psychiatric disability and found that participants at stage 3 faith had more hope and strength to persevere in the face of stress, but were less likely to use meaning-making forms of coping than those in other stages. Participants in stage 4 struggled at times with feeling secure in their faith.
The present study used a quantitative measure of faith development to compare specific forms of religious coping - seeking religious direction and spiritual connection – in persons at different faith stages. Although there are six stages, the first and last stages are not represented in our study, as few adult participants are in these stages (Barnes et al. 1989). We suspected persons in stages two and three would have less spiritual connection than stages 4 and 5, because persons in the former follow what their parents say, without a strong relationship to God, and therefore would not look to connect to a higher power when coping. We hypothesize that participants in stage 4 would seek more religious direction than stages 2, 3, and 5. In stage 4, individuals are discovering their own religion, whereas in stages 2 and 3 they tend to follow their parents’ religion and beliefs, and in stage 5, they have already settled on their beliefs. Thus we’d expect stage 4 individuals to seek out new religious paths more than those in other stages.
There were a total of 435 college students attending two universities on the Midwest and West-Coast. The sample was mostly female (71.2%), with a mean age of 22.13 years (SD 7.02). In terms of ethnicity, 71% of the sample was European-American, 12.6% Hispanic-American, 7.6% Asian-American, and 4.6% were African-American. Eighty percent were never married, and 16% were married/cohabiting. Pertaining to household income, 62.5% of the participants indicated they made below $50,000 dollars. When asked if they believe in God, 92.6% said yes. Eighty percent identified as Christian (Catholic or Protestant), with 38.1% attending church a few times a year, and 19.3% never attending. Twenty percent prayed or meditated daily, 15% prayed a few times a week, and 16.6% a few times a year. Religiosity was average, with 16% not religious at all, 30.5% were slightly religious, 41.4% moderately religious, and 12.3% believed themselves to be very religious.
The survey included demographic questions for age, gender, ethnicity, household income, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and marital status. The present study utilized a modified version of the RCOPE, including the three highest loading items in the Pargament et al. (2000) factor analysis. This included 75 items rated on a scale from 1-4 (1=not at all; 4=great deal). The current research also used the Faith Development scale (Barnes et al. 1989), which contains 9 “forced choice” items where the participant choose one of two answers based on Fowler’s theory of faith development.
Students in psychology courses were asked to partake in an online study for extra credit. Interested students provided their email address to the professor, who gave the information to the researchers. Those who signed up for the study were emailed a link and a password for the survey. The survey contained a number of validated measures besides those described in the current study, including scales assessing daily spiritual experiences, mystical experiences, Christian orthodoxy, stress, general outcomes from stress, anxiety, hostility, and depression. Participants were emailed the same survey two months later as a follow up study.
We computed a one-way ANOVA comparing seeking religious direction and spiritual connection scores of participants based on their faith development stages. A significant difference was found among stages of faith development and seeking religious direction (F (3,331) = 13.06, p < .001). There was also a significant difference found among stages of faith development and spiritual connection (F (3,331) = 20.17 p < .001). Tukey’s HSD was used to determine the nature of the differences between the stages of faith development and religious coping. This analysis revealed that stage 5 people use spiritual connection as a form of religious coping less (M=5.16, SD =2.44) than people of stage 3 (M =6.76, SD =2.92) and 4 (M = 6.0, SD = 2.55). It was also found that stage 5 people seek religious direction as a form of religious coping less (M =6.92, SD = 3.65) than stage 3 (M =9.14, SD = 3.92) and 4 (M = 7.9, SD = 3.41) people. (See Figure 1.)
*Insert Figure 1 Here*
The results of this study did not follow our expectations that the higher the level of faith development, the more use of spiritual connection and seeking religious direction as forms of religious coping. People at the fifth stage of faith development are believed to have the most mature form of faith outside of stage 6 (transcendence), which is fairly unattainable. Seemingly contradictory to this statement this study shows that they use spiritual connection and seek religious direction less than those at stages 3 and 4. It is possible that people at stages three and four seek more religious direction because they are attempting to “find their religious identity.” At stages three and four the person is in an adolescent stage in their faith striving to draw from their family and their own personal experiences. Because of this they seek out many forms of religious coping through others and their own imagination.
The results of this study are confounded by the fact that the participants are college aged students from the Midwest and west coast which limits our generalizability for age, culture, and religious background. We also used the Faith Development Scale (Barnes, Doyle, & Johnson, 1989) which is a slightly outdated measure in comparison to the Faith Development Stage Scale Version 3 (Leak, 2008). This measure has more evidence for reliability and variability than the Faith Development Scale.
Just like physiological growth religious growth happens differently for different people and has unexpected results. The research discovered from this study will give therapists or anyone who might want to understand faith development a better understanding of them and how to categorize a person to a stage. And from this they can understand and even advise different coping strategies. In future research it would be beneficial to have more generalizability across personal characteristics such as age, religious background, and culture. A longitudinal study could check for said confounds.
Barnes, M., Doyle, D., & Johnson, B. (1989). The formulation of a Fowler scale; an empirical assessment among Catholics. Review of Religious Research, 30, (4), 412- 420.
Bussema, K. E. and Bussema, E. F. (2000). Is there a balm in Gilead? The implications of faith in coping with a psychiatric disability. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 24, (2), 117 124.
Horstmann, M.J., & Tonigan, J.S. (2000). Faith development in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): A
study of two groups. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 18, (4), 75-84.
Leak, G. K. (2008). Factorial validity of the Faith Development Scale. International Journal For The Psychology Of Religion, 18,(2), 123-131.
Paloutzian, R. F. (1996). Invitation to the Psychology of Religion (2nd Ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the RCOPE. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 519-543.