The Dedication to the Sacred (DS) Scale: Adapting a Marriage Measure to Study Relational Spirituality

By Davis, Don E.; Worthington, Everett L., Jr. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

The Dedication to the Sacred (DS) Scale: Adapting a Marriage Measure to Study Relational Spirituality


Davis, Don E., Worthington, Everett L., Jr., Hook, Joshua N., Tongeren, Daryl R. Van, Journal of Psychology and Theology


We describe the development of the Dedication to the Sacred Scale (DS). The measure was created to test a model of relational spirituality and forgiveness. Items from a measure of commitment in couples (Stanley & Markman, 1992) were adapted to assess a victim's dedication to a relationship with the Sacred. In Study 1 (N = 171), confirmatory factor analysis revealed good fit to a single-factor model. We removed poor items and replicated the factor structure on an independent sample in Study 2 (N = 201). In Study 3 (N = 134), the five-item DS showed evidence of construct validity. It was positively related to religious commitment and uncorrelated with social desirability. The DS predicted forgiveness after the variance from religious commitment, desecration, and offender's spiritual and human similarity were removed. Those who viewed the Sacred as a personal being had higher scores than those who viewed the Sacred as impersonal.

The current article is based on a new strategy of exploring the relationship between spirituality and forgiveness. Previous research has focused on the question, are people who are more religious more forgiving than people who are less religious (McCullough & Worthington, 1999). Instead, we ask the question, what ways of relating to the Sacred promote or inhibit forgiveness? To help answer this question, we use a model of relational spirituality and forgiveness that describes several ways a victim may perceive that a transgression has spiritual significance (Davis, Hook, & Worthington, 2008; Worthington, 2009). For one of the constructs in our model, we do not have a good measure. Thus, the current article reports on the development of the Dedication Sacred Scale (DS). For both psychological and theological reasons, we adapted a measure of marriage commitment to assess someone's relationship with the Sacred.

A New Strategy to Study Spirituality and Forgiveness

Most research on spirituality and forgiveness has focused on whether people who are more religious are more forgiving than people who are less religious (Worthington, in press). That is, most studies have treated spirituality as a personality-like trait that is relatively stable across situations and relationships. Such an approach has several drawbacks. First, by treating religiosity as a personality-like trait, researchers are not able to use causal designs. They cannot use experimental or longitudinal designs that investigate changes in spirituality if constructs are not expected to change much. Although religious beliefs, values, and practices are relatively stable, spiritual experiences fluctuate over time. Feelings of closeness, connection, intimacy, and dedication toward the Sacred (i.e., God in our context, though people may sacralize other objects; Pargament & Mahoney, 2005) may vary.

Second, if researchers want to study actual offenses, using a trait-like measure of spirituality strains a measurement principle. Measures tend to correlate most strongly when they are measured at the same level-of-specificity (Tsang, McCullough, & Hoyt, 2005). Measuring trait religiosity or trait spirituality to predict forgiveness of specific offenses measures the two constructs at different levels-of-specificity. For this reason alone, one may not find a relationship between religiosity (or trait spirituality) and forgiveness.

Third, after over 15 years of using the strategy, research has not authoritatively informed how clinicians help religious clients forgive. Researchers know that religion tends to promote forgiveness; however, little is known about when and why it promotes forgiveness, how people draw on religion to forgive, or how therapists can focus clients' attention to aspects of their religion or spiritual life that will help them achieve forgiveness when they want to forgive someone. For example, are those who are able to remain involved with the same church able to forgive better than those who change churches regularly? …

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