Religious Orientation and Meaning in Life: an Exploratory Study
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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EARNSHAW, E. L. A. (2000). Religious Orientation and Meaning in Life: an Exploratory Study. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved May 26, 2017 .

Religious Orientation and Meaning in Life: an Exploratory Study
EMILY L. EARNSHAW
CENTRAL METHODIST COLLEGE PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: STEVEN QUACKENBUSH (SQUACKEN@CMC2.CMC.EDU)
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the relationship between life attitudes and religious orientations. Although there are numerous sources of meaning in life, many individuals often cite religious experiences as sources of personal meaning. Numerous studies have examined religiosity as a predictor of health and psychological well-being. However, few studies have examined religious orientation as a predictor of meaning in life. In the present exploratory study, intrinsic religiosity, extrinsic religiosity, and quest were considered as predictors of life purpose, will to meaning, death acceptance, future meaning, existential vacuum, goal seeking, and life control. Following a delineation of the results, implications for theorists interested in the relationship between religious orientation and meaning are fully discussed.

INTRODUCTION
Meaning in life is an issue that confronts virtually every person at some point in his or her development. In some instances, the question itself becomes one`s meaning and thus sustains an individual through periods of profound suffering. The need for meaning is a central theme in Victor Frankl`s (1984) existential personality theory. Frankl (1984) believes that the healthy individual is primarily motivated by the desire to find meaning and purpose in his or her personal existence. According to Frankl (1984), the human ideal is to discover a source of meaning in life, in spite of the fact that life carries with it the possibility of intense suffering and the inevitability of death. Indeed, Frankl`s (1984) report of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II demonstrate how essential meaning is to human existence: "...human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and...this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death. I asked the poor creatures who listened to me attentively in the darkness of the hut to face up to the seriousness of our position. They must not lose hope but should keep their courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and meaning." (p. 104) The inhumane conditions and circumstances in which the men and women in Nazi concentration camps desperately clutched to meaning illustrate the importance of discovering a source of personal meaning beyond mere existence. The concentration camp stripped people of all they had except for the hope of future meaning. Thus, they had to learn to accept the possibility of death and to see life as purposeful in every instant, not knowing the length of time that life would be sustained. Though most have not experienced life in a concentration camp, the search for meaning is also manifest in far more mundane life circumstances. At one time or another most people ask questions like "What makes my life worth living?" (Debats, Drost, & Hansen, 1995, p. 360). Although there are numerous sources of meaning in life, many individuals experience religion as a compelling source of personal meaning. According to Batson and Ventis (1982) "...for literally millions of ... people the most significant, the most joyful, the most meaningful moments of their lives have been religious" (p. 4). Nevertheless, there are many ways of being religious, and a sense of meaning in life may not be reflected in every religious orientation. Batson and Ventis (1982) have argued that religious orientation can be understood in terms of three dimensions: extrinsic religiosity, intrinsic religiosity, and quest. Each of these dimensions reflects a different motivation for being religious, and thus may differentially predict various aspects of personal meaning. Intrinsically oriented persons take religion seriously as an end in-itself, while extrinsically oriented persons view religion as a useful means to an end (Allport, 1966, as cited in Wulff, 1991). A quest orientation, finally, leads people to honestly face complex existential questions whatever the costs may be (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991).The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between life attitudes and religious motivations. First, there will be a brief discussion of meaning. Second, theory pertaining to religious orientations will be discussed. Third, the method and results of a study conducted at Central Methodist College by the author will be reported. In this exploratory study, intrinsic religiosity, extrinsic religiosity, and quest were considered as predictors of life purpose, will to meaning, death acceptance, future meaning, existential vacuum, goal seeking, and life control. Following a delineation of the results, implications for theorists interested in the relationship between religious orientation and meaning will be fully discussed.

MEANING
Meaning is central to who a person is. Because of its importance, meaning has been the subject of many different studies. Research suggests that meaning positively affects health (Debats, Drost & Hansen, 1995), resistance to stress (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988), and life satisfaction (King & Napa, 1998). Conversely, a sense of meaninglessness can produce negative affects including depression (Westgate, 1996). In a study of personally significant autobiographical memories conducted by Debats, Drost, and Hansen (1995), subjects who cited meaningful experiences in life reported less physical illness than did subjects who cited only meaningless experiences. Although these results may be attributable to health-promoting behaviors on the part of those who believe life is meaningful, it is also possible that those who are fortunate enough to experience health are able to engage in more meaningful activities than are individuals who are struggling with health problems. Overall, such results suggest a tendency for better health when meaning is an important aspect of an individual’s life. Meaning may also affect psychological health. According to Debats (1996) ”...there is a substantial and consistent relationship between meaning in life and psychological well-being” (p. 510). When pre-tested using measures of both meaning in life and psychological well-being, Debats (1996) was able to assess the impact of the individual’s personal sense of meaning on the success of psychotherapy. Personal meaning was positively related to improved scores on measures of well-being after psychoanalysis. This suggests that a sense of meaning in life can enhance the effectiveness of psychological treatment. Depression is an aspect of psychological well-being that is associated with meaning. According to Westgate (1996) “lower levels of existential well-being may correspond to high levels of depression” (p. 29). Debats (1996) has suggested that meaninglessness can cause great depression or a desire to harm one’s self. Thus, meaninglessness may be a significant threat to an individual’s sense of happiness and well-being. As Frankl notes, “The feeling of meaninglessness...is increasing and spreading to the extent that, in truth, it may be called a mass neurosis” (Frankl, 1978, p. 25, as cited in De Vogler-Ebersole & Ebersole, 1985, p. 304). Frankl worked to encourage the people around him to find meaning in life. He was well aware that when one gives up a sense of meaning in life, a sacrifice of psychological well-being may soon follow. The struggle against the loss of meaning was a challenge in Nazi concentration camps. Nevertheless, Frankl (1984) was convinced that such a struggle is essential if an individual is to avoid mental demise or a plunge into animalistic survival: "If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this in a last effort to save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value. He thought of himself then only as a part of an enormous mass of people; his existence descended to the level of animal life." (p. 70) To avoid this loss of dignity, one must struggle for meaning. Yet, it is important to distinguish this quest for meaning from the quest for happiness. Although a link between meaning and happiness is supported in recent studies (Debats, 1990; King & Napa, 1998), it is also important to realize meaning can exist without happiness. As Frankl’s (1984) experience illustrates, in situations where life itself is not satisfying, it is nevertheless important to strive for meaning. Perhaps one’s children or unfinished work is the only thing that will give hope in a hopeless time. Nonetheless, “he who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (Nietzsche, as cited in Frankl, 1984, p. 97). Indeed, there are many different “whys” to live for and thus, many different sources of meaning. According to Frankl (1984) every individual has the capacity and the freedom to choose meaning. A recent study by O’Connor and Chamberlain (1996) examined sources of meaning by asking individuals to discuss experiences related to personal meaning. The participants in the study cited the following as sources of meaning: relationships with people, creativity, personal development, relationships with nature, religion and spirituality, and society and politics (O’Connor & Chamberlain, 1996). Although this study suggests that there are numerous possible sources of meaning, individuals must ultimately choose a path that reflects his or her primary concern. “At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence” (Frankl, 1984, p. 143). For many individuals, the monument of their existence is religious in nature.

RELIGION
In society today, individuals have a vast number of religions to choose from, many of which appear to reflect radically different beliefs and values. Further, there are many different motives for being religious. Religious orientation” is the term employed by psychologists to refer to the way in which a person practices or lives out his or her religious beliefs and values (Batson & Ventis, 1982). The two most cited aspects of religious orientation are intrinsic and extrinsic (Hovemyr, 1998). Intrinsic religiosity identifies religion as an end in itself. In this type of religious orientation, individuals live out "religious faith for the sake of faith" (Gorsuch, 1994, as cited in Hovemyr, 1998, p. 111). Strong personal convictions are what matter to an intrinsically religious person, while the social aspects of religion are not as important. Intrinsically religious persons are deeply committed to religious beliefs and values in a self-sacrificing manner (McFarland & Warren, 1992). The religious motivation for an intrinsically religious individual is found at the very core of his or her being. Extrinsically religious persons use religion as a tool to achieve non-religious ends (Nielsen, 1995). For the extrinsically religious, motives for being religious rest on social or external values and beliefs. Allport suggests that this religious orientation describes persons who pursue self-focused goals and use religion to gain social standing and endorsement (Hunsberger, 1999). Allport saw extrinsic religiosity as a less mature religious orientation than intrinsic religiosity (Hunsberger, 1999). Batson proposed the dimension of quest to add breadth to the original two forms of religiosity (Burris, 1994). The Quest orientation is founded on a willingness to question complex ideas (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991). Quest orientated persons are open to the exploration of existential questions and they leave room for new information and doubts (McFarland & Warren, 1992). Individuals who are quest-oriented seek answers to religious questions without a predetermination to find only one correct answer (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991). These three ways of being religious can differentially predict well-being, depression, and attitudes. Many researchers have examined mental or physical health variables as predictors of religious orientation (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997; Westgate, 1996; Chamberlain & Zika, 1988; Frankl, 1984; Batson & Ventis, 1982). An intrinsic orientation has been positively associated with good mental health and freedom from worry or guilt (Batson & Ventis, 1982). Research also suggests that those who frequently attend church are less likely to die prematurely of heart failure or other terminal illnesses (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997). Intrinsic religiosity has also predicted low levels of depression (Genia & Shaw, 1991, as cited in McFarland & Warren, 1992). In addition, two other studies cited by McFarland and Warren (1992) indicate that an intrinsic orientation is negatively related to depression, while an extrinsic orientation is positively related to depression. In sum, religious orientation is related to health and psychological well-being. Religious orientation can also predict social attitudes. Attitudes that have been examined in prior research include prejudice (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997) and feelings about negative life events (Pargament, Olsen, Reilly, Falgout, Ensing, & Van Haitsma, 1992). Intrinsically oriented persons are generally less prejudice than extrinsically oriented persons (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997). With respect to feelings about negative life events, the intrinsically oriented have been found to have a more “spiritual” attitude toward such events (Pargament et al., 1992). Extrinsically oriented persons, in contrast, appear to have less confidence in their ability to cope (Pargament et al., 1992). Many studies have examined religiosity as a predictor of various measures of health and social attitudes. However, few studies have examined religious orientation as a predictor of facets of personal meaning. The purpose of the present exploratory study was to examine the relationship between life attitudes and religious motivations. Specifically, intrinsic religiosity, extrinsic religiosity and quest were considered as predictors of life purpose, will to meaning, death acceptance, future meaning, existential vacuum, goal seeking, and life control.

RELIGION
In society today, individuals have a vast number of religions to choose from, many of which appear to reflect radically different beliefs and values. Further, there are many different motives for being religious. Religious orientation” is the term employed by psychologists to refer to the way in which a person practices or lives out his or her religious beliefs and values (Batson & Ventis, 1982). The two most cited aspects of religious orientation are intrinsic and extrinsic (Hovemyr, 1998). Intrinsic religiosity identifies religion as an end in itself. In this type of religious orientation, individuals live out "religious faith for the sake of faith" (Gorsuch, 1994, as cited in Hovemyr, 1998, p. 111). Strong personal convictions are what matter to an intrinsically religious person, while the social aspects of religion are not as important. Intrinsically religious persons are deeply committed to religious beliefs and values in a self-sacrificing manner (McFarland & Warren, 1992). The religious motivation for an intrinsically religious individual is found at the very core of his or her being. Extrinsically religious persons use religion as a tool to achieve non-religious ends (Nielsen, 1995). For the extrinsically religious, motives for being religious rest on social or external values and beliefs. Allport suggests that this religious orientation describes persons who pursue self-focused goals and use religion to gain social standing and endorsement (Hunsberger, 1999). Allport saw extrinsic religiosity as a less mature religious orientation than intrinsic religiosity (Hunsberger, 1999). Batson proposed the dimension of quest to add breadth to the original two forms of religiosity (Burris, 1994). The Quest orientation is founded on a willingness to question complex ideas (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991). Quest orientated persons are open to the exploration of existential questions and they leave room for new information and doubts (McFarland & Warren, 1992). Individuals who are quest-oriented seek answers to religious questions without a predetermination to find only one correct answer (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991). These three ways of being religious can differentially predict well-being, depression, and attitudes. Many researchers have examined mental or physical health variables as predictors of religious orientation (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997; Westgate, 1996; Chamberlain & Zika, 1988; Frankl, 1984; Batson & Ventis, 1982). An intrinsic orientation has been positively associated with good mental health and freedom from worry or guilt (Batson & Ventis, 1982). Research also suggests that those who frequently attend church are less likely to die prematurely of heart failure or other terminal illnesses (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997). Intrinsic religiosity has also predicted low levels of depression (Genia & Shaw, 1991, as cited in McFarland & Warren, 1992). In addition, two other studies cited by McFarland and Warren (1992) indicate that an intrinsic orientation is negatively related to depression, while an extrinsic orientation is positively related to depression. In sum, religious orientation is related to health and psychological well-being. Religious orientation can also predict social attitudes. Attitudes that have been examined in prior research include prejudice (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997) and feelings about negative life events (Pargament, Olsen, Reilly, Falgout, Ensing, & Van Haitsma, 1992). Intrinsically oriented persons are generally less prejudice than extrinsically oriented persons (Beit-Hallahmi & Argyle, 1997). With respect to feelings about negative life events, the intrinsically oriented have been found to have a more “spiritual” attitude toward such events (Pargament et al., 1992). Extrinsically oriented persons, in contrast, appear to have less confidence in their ability to cope (Pargament et al., 1992). Many studies have examined religiosity as a predictor of various measures of health and social attitudes. However, few studies have examined religious orientation as a predictor of facets of personal meaning. The purpose of the present exploratory study was to examine the relationship between life attitudes and religious motivations. Specifically, intrinsic religiosity, extrinsic religiosity and quest were considered as predictors of life purpose, will to meaning, death acceptance, future meaning, existential vacuum, goal seeking, and life control.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
A sample of 42 undergraduates (ages 17-28) from a small, midwestern college participated in the research. There were 35 female participants and seven male participants in the sample. Each student was compensated with extra credit in an undergraduate class in the social sciences.

PROCEDURE
Each participant was asked to sign an informed consent form. The participants were then asked to complete two questionnaires: the Life Attitude Profile developed by Reker & Peacock (1989) and a measure of religious orientation adapted from Allport (1967) and Batson and Schoenrade (1991). After the subjects completed the questionnaires they were fully debriefed.

MATERIALS
The Life Attitude Profile is comprised of 44 items measuring seven distinct aspects of meaning in life. The seven sub-scales include life purpose, existential vacuum, life control, death acceptance, will to meaning, goal seeking, and future meaning. Participants responded to each item on a seven point Likert scale (1= strongly disagree, 7= strongly agree). The first subscale "life purpose" reflects a sense that life is meaningful in the present. A sample item from this subscale reads: "I have discovered a satisfying life purpose." Individuals who agree with the items on this subscale tend to experience life as meaningful and view life as having potential. "Existential vacuum" refers to a void of meaning in one`s life and a lack of direction or purpose. Someone with an existential vacuum has a general desire to fill the void she or he is experiencing. A sample item from this subscale reads: "I feel that some element which I can`t quite define is missing from my life." A sample item on the "life control" scale reads: "I determine what happens in my life." This scale assesses a need for control in various aspects of life and a belief that personal power is important. Persons who agree with items on this scale find meaning by having power in every aspect of his or her life. "Death acceptance" reflects a willingness to incorporate the notion of death into the framework of life. Persons who agree with the items on the death acceptance subscale view death not as an enemy, but a part of the whole process of life. A sample item on the "death acceptance" scale reads: "Some people are very frightened of death, but I am not." When individuals strive for meaningful goals, life becomes more fulfilling and enjoyable. "Will to meaning,” reflects a belief that a meaningful life is worth struggling for, even if it can`t always be achieved. Perhaps the meaningful goal is the constant care of one`s child or the completion of an unfinished book. Though very different, each can provide an individual with significant motivation for life (Frankl, 1984). A sample item on the "will to meaning" subscale is "I am seeking a meaning, purpose, or mission for my life." "Goal seeking" doesn`t reflect the quest for meaning per se, but rather the desire to achieve goals (whether meaningful or not). For instance a person who climbs a mountain, reaches the top, and then turns around and goes home, may never raise the question regarding the meaning of mountain climbing, but may, nevertheless enjoy that challenge of simply climbing the mountain. One sample item from this scale is "I feel the need for adventure and new worlds to conquer." "Future meaning" reflects a sense that life can be meaningful, but not until some point in the distant future such as after retirement. The items on this subscale may indicate nonchalance about meaning at present, with a belief that meaning will gain importance later in life. A sample item from this scale reads: "I feel that the greatest fulfillment of my life lies yet in the future." The religion questionnaire employed in this study includes measures of intrinsic, extrinsic, and quest orientations (Allport & Ross, 1967; Batson & Schoenrade, 1991). The original questionnaires used to create this measure were obtained from Measures of Religiosity (Hill & Hood, 1999). There are 31 items on the religion questionnaire and participants were asked to respond to each item on a 9 point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree, 9=strongly agree). The intrinsic scale assesses the extent to which one`s religion is viewed as a valuable end in its own right. A sample item from this scale reads: "My religious beliefs are really what lie behind my whole approach to life." The extrinsic scale assesses the extent to which religion is valued as a means to other ends such as happiness or positive social relationships. A sample item on this sub-scale reads: "The church is most important as a place to formulate good social relationships." Extrinsically religious people find religion valuable without letting it permeate their souls. The quest scale assesses the extent to which individuals are willing to raise questions about fundamental religious issues. A quest-oriented person would agree with the item: "Questions are far more central to my religious beliefs than are answers." A quest orientation implies that an individual is willing to embrace the complexities of existential questions (Batson & Schoenrade, 1991).


RESULTS
Table 1 presents the bivariate correlations among the Life Attitude Profile subscale scores and scores on the three measures of religious orientation. As can be seen in the table, participants` tendency to report high levels of intrinsic religiosity was strongly associated with "life purpose" (r = .55; P < .001) and "will to meaning" (r = .59; p < .001). "Life purpose" and "will to meaning" were not related to either of the other two facets of religiosity (extrinsic or quest). The results also indicated a very strong relationship between "death acceptance" and a "quest" religious orientation (r = .62; p < .001), though death acceptance was not related to intrinsic religiosity or to extrinsic religiosity. Finally, future meaning was predicted by quest (r = .36; p < .05).

TABLE 1
Relationships Between Scores on the Religiosity Subscales and Scores on Subscales of the Life Attitude Profile (LAP)__________________________________________LAP Subscales Intrinsic Extrinsic QuestLife Purpose .55** .31 .31Existential Vacuum -.23 -.12 -.01Life Control .14 -.12 .31Death Acceptance .04 -.20 .62**Will to Meaning .59** -.11 .10Goal Seeking .29 -.24 .01Future Meaning .24 .15 .36*__________________________________________* p < .05, ** p < .001


DISCUSSION
Intrinsic religiosity was highly correlated with two components of meaning: life purpose and will to meaning. This pattern of results is consistent with the thesis that intrinsically religious people, who find religion to be meaningful in itself, consider the meaningful life to be both possible (high life purpose) and valuable (high will to meaning). Interestingly, "life purpose" and "will to meaning" were not related to either of the other two facets of religiosity (extrinsic or quest). Death acceptance was strongly related to a quest religious orientation. This pattern of results may reflect the fact that individuals high in "quest" are especially willing to address even the most terrifying of existential issues, including the prospect of inevitable death. Surprisingly, death acceptance was not related to intrinsic religiosity. This may be a result of the relatively young age of the present sample. Perhaps the intrinsically religious young adults in this sample are less willing or able to reflect seriously on the reality of death than are their older counterparts. The observation that future meaning was predicted by quest may reflect hopefulness on the part of those raising questions about issues of ultimate concern that a meaningful life is possible, even if concrete meaning has yet to be achieved. Even when such individuals are in the midst of existential confusion they may find hope in a vision of future meaning. Perhaps this hope comes easier to individuals who consider the possibility of more than one answer to religious questions. This finding may also reflect a youthful outlook that might change with age as the expected duration of the future diminishes. It would be interesting to see if the relationship between quest and future meaning would remain significant in an older sample. It is also interesting that extrinsic religiosity did not predict any facet of meaning. An extrinsically religious individual, who places value on religion only in terms of what other ends it will fulfill, may be less likely to consider meaning as a significant issue in her or his religious framework. Perhaps this pattern of results reflects a cycle of movement from meaningless fervor to meaningless ends and vice-versa.When questions of meaning are important in life, many people look for answers in religion. A person who puts emphasis on meaning in life can find solace in a religious orientation (intrinsic) that calls for an acceptance of religion for the sake of religion. Indeed, for an individual who experiences religion as an intricate part of daily life, faith may become synonymous with meaning. For those who are willing to question religious beliefs, solace may come in an encounter with the vastness of unanswerable questions. Individuals with a quest orientation may feel that though meaning is important, doubts and faith are equally viable sources of meaning. Indeed, for some individuals, questions may become synonymous with faith. Each of the findings in the present study is based on a sample of college students. In future research it would be interesting to see how different age groups respond to the same questions regarding life attitudes and religious orientation. It may also be interesting to examine individuals at various levels of education and status in society. Perhaps those who are more educated would find themselves more willing to question beliefs, yet less willing to accept death. Or perhaps those of a higher socio-economic status would be less willing to view religion as an end in itself.


REFERENCES
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