White Racial Identity Development and Religious Orientation

By Sciarra, Daniel T.; Gushue, George V. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

White Racial Identity Development and Religious Orientation


Sciarra, Daniel T., Gushue, George V., Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


During the last 40 years, researchers have studied the relationship between psychological development and religion (see Worthington, 1989 for an extensive review of the literature regarding psychological and religious development). For example, studies have investigated religious practice from the perspective of Piaget's theory of cognitive development both in children (Elkind, 1964; Long, Elkind, & Spilka, 1967) and in adolescents (Allport, Gillespie, & Young, 1948; Goldman, 1964; Pealting, 1974). Other studies have examined the relationship between religion and moral development (Bull, 1969; Clouse, 1978), Erikson's theory of psychosocial development in children (Steele, 1986) and in adults (Whitehead & Whitehead, 1979), and transition theory (Hall, 1986; Spero, 1987). Although these authors have not concluded that religious development is a necessary part of psychological development, research over the years has established a connection between these two dimensions for those who profess religious belief.

More recently, attention has been given to the ways in which race and culture influence the development of beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and values. In particular, Helms (1984, 1990c, 1990d, 1995) has proposed models of racial identity development for people of color and for Whites that seek to describe the psychological experience of race for each and to anticipate how differing racial identity statuses will affect individuals' cognitions and behaviors in a variety of settings, for instance, in counseling dyads (Carter, 1995; Helms, 1984, 1990a), in organizations (Kirkland & Regan, 1997), and in families (Gushue & Sciarra, 1995). Racial identity theory has become a significant and influential framework for understanding an individual's psychological development in a society that is becoming increasingly aware of its racial diversity.

Another recent development has been a keen interest in issues of spirituality and religion as part of the counseling process (Holt, Houg, & Romano, 1999; Kelly, 1995; Worthington, Kurusu, McCullough, & Sandage, 1996; Zinnbauer & Pargament, 2000). Some see this appreciation as an aspect of multicultural awareness (Pate & Bondi, 1992). The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), in the latest 2001 standards, requires counselor education programs to show how their curricula deal with religious and spiritual development. Burke et al. (1999) have suggested ways in which spiritual and religious issues can be integrated throughout the CACREP core curriculum. Within the common core area of Human Growth and Development, these authors have suggested an examination of the "connections between the major domains of human development (e.g., cognitive, psychosocial, moral) and the development of spiritual/religious belief and practice" (Burke et al., 1999, p. 252). These authors have further proposed that one of the ways to understand this connection is through research that focuses on spiritual and religious development, while Zinnbauer and Pargament (2000) have called for research examining various approaches to religion and spirituality.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, the distinction between spirituality and religion is an important one. Richards and Bergin (1997) defined spirituality as "experiences, beliefs, and phenomena that pertain to the transcendent and existential aspects of life" (p. 13), in contrast to religion, which they describe as "theistic beliefs, practices, and feelings that are often, but not always, expressed institutionally and denominationally as well as personally" (p. 13). These definitions express the strong interrelationship between spirituality and religion, whereby the latter can be seen as a subset of the former. This study, in agreement with Burke et al. (1999), uses both terms according to the definitions just cited (Richards & Bergin, 1997). …

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