A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion

By Michele Dillon | Go to book overview
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Religiousness and Spirituality
Trajectories and Vital Involvement in Late Adulthood
Michele Dillon and Paul Wink

Americans today are living longer and healthier lives than earlier generations. Currently 13 percent of the U.S. population is aged sixty-five or over (Kramarow, Lentzer, Rooks, Weeks, and Saydah 1999: 22), and this expanding sector is experiencing lower rates of functional disability than was the case even a few decades ago. These trends and the aging of the populous baby boom generation understandably focus attention on the factors that are conducive to purposeful and socially engaged aging. The focus of current research is thus beginning to move beyond questions of physical health and mortality to give greater attention to the quality or character of older persons' everyday lives.

In the pursuit of “successful aging” some social scientists have begun to investigate characteristics that become particularly salient in the second half of adulthood such as wisdom (e.g., Wink and Helson 1997) and spirituality (e.g., Tornstam 1999). Other researchers have explored characteristics that are not necessarily specific to older adulthood but that nonetheless play a vital role in the negotiation of the aging process. Religiousness is one such factor because although it is positively associated with social functioning throughout adulthood, it takes on increased significance in the second half of the adult life cycle (e.g., Hout and Greeley 1987).

This chapter explores adulthood patterns of religiousness and spirituality and their association with social functioning in older adulthood drawing on our research with a longitudinal study of men and women that spans adolescence and late adulthood. We first briefly discuss our conceptualization of religiousness and spirituality. We then introduce our sample, focus on whether religiousness and spirituality increase in older age, and discuss their relations to various indicators of social functioning in late adulthood lb.


While just a few decades ago it made little sense to differentiate between religiousness and spirituality, such a distinction now seems to have become part of everyday

We are grateful to the Open Society Institute whose grant to the second author facilitated the data collection in late adulthood, and for grants to both authors from the Louisville Institute and the Fetzer Institute for our research on religiousness and spirituality.


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A Handbook of the Sociology of Religion
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