Spiritual Transcendence and the Scientific Study of Spirituality

Article excerpt

There is no doubt that spirituality has become a "hot" topic in the social and physical sciences. This increasing professional interest parallels the growing prevalence and salience of spirituality among the general public. Surveys reported in the popular news media indicate that nearly 80% of Americans believe in the power of prayer to improve the course of illness (Wallis, 1996). Health care workers also strongly believe in the power of spirituality and/or religiosity(1) to influence the course of medical and psychological interventions as well as the rate of recuperation from chronic illnesses (Feher & Maley, 1999; Kirkpatrick & McCullough, 1999; Rose, 1999). Perhaps the clearest demonstration of the value of spirituality in the area of rehabilitation concerns treatment for chemical dependency (e.g., Borman & Dixon, 1998; Green, Fullilove, & Fullilove, 1998; Warfield & Goldstein, 1996), where this construct is seen as the central curative factor in recovery. Despite such encouraging initial findings, not all the data are supportive (e.g., Fitchett, Rybarczyk, DeMarco, & Nicholas, 1999), and there are certainly many issues, both theoretical (e.g., George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000) and empirical (e.g., Bateson, 1997), that still need to be addressed. At the heart of many of these issues is the need for psychometrically sound measures that can be useful in empirically documenting the unique contribution of spirituality in predictions of salient life outcomes. The purpose of this report is to present the Spiritual Transcendence scale and to demonstrate its potential value for rehabilitation research.

Issues in the Measurement of Spirituality

In response to this growing attention, there has been an explosion in the number of scales available to measure spirituality (see Hall, Tisdale, & Brokaw, 1994; MacDonald, Friedman, & Kuentzel, 1999; MacDonald, Kuentzel, & Friedman, 1999 for reviews of a variety of instruments). Such a cornucopia of constructs has raised two important issues for the field. First, there is the question of conceptual redundancy. To what degree do these various measures capture distinct aspects of the individual? To the extent that these different scales are simply the reiteration of a common construct, the field will suffer under the burdens of excessive terminology and conceptual disarray. Further, there are concerns about both the psychometric integrity of these scales and their lack of validity evidence (Gorsuch, 1988; Hall, Tisdale, & Brokaw, 1994). The second issue concerns whether these constructs represent new aspects of psychological functioning or whether they are just a repackaging of already established individual difference variables. Van Wicklin (1990) questioned whether spiritual measures were only the "religification" of existing personality constructs. What added value does spirituality bring to the discipline?

These are important questions that address our field at a fundamental level. If spirituality is to become an important part of our field, then it needs to be demonstrated that a consideration of one's spirituality and religiosity opens a new arena of understanding previously untapped by traditional psychological methods. Such an empirical case can only be made once sound psychometric instruments become available. I have argued that this process can be expedited if researchers in the area of spiritual research employ the models, methods, and measures of mainstream psychology (Piedmont, 1999b). This integrative approach will accomplish two things. First, it will improve the quality of work done in the spiritual/religious domain. In his insightful critique, Bateson (1997) estimated that research in spirituality is approximately 30 years behind what is occurring in the field in general. Religious researchers lack many of the more sophisticated theoretical models and empirical techniques that define current research efforts. …