Cross-Cultural Comparison of Religious Coping Methods Reported by Native Guatemalan and Kenyan Faith-Based Relief Providers

By Putman, Katharine M.; Lea, Julia C. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Cross-Cultural Comparison of Religious Coping Methods Reported by Native Guatemalan and Kenyan Faith-Based Relief Providers


Putman, Katharine M., Lea, Julia C., Eriksson, Cynthia B., Journal of Psychology and Theology


Guatemala and Kenya are both countries that have recently experienced political violence in the context of long histories of colonialization, oppression and poverty. The current study examines focus group responses of indigenous faith-based relief providers in Guatemala and Kenya describing how they utilized religion to cope with their own experience of political violence as well as to cope with stress related to providing relief services to others. In an effort to study both emic and etic dimensions of religious coping, the study also analyzes these responses within the framework of Pargament and colleagues' (1998; 2000) religious coping constructs to determine responses that are consistent with findings across other cultures (etic) and to identify and describe responses that are culturally specific to Guatemala and Kenya (emic). Guatemalan and Kenyan themes consistent with North American literature were: Religious Helping, Seeking Spiritual Support, Benevolent Religious Reappraisal, Spiritual Connections and Collaborative Religious Coping. Themes unique to Guatemala and Kenya included Acceptance and Engagement of Suffering, Cosmic Balance, Living Better, Prayer, Human Responsibility, Communal Spiritual Traditions, and Finding Solidarity Through Shared Experience. Finally, this article examines emic and etic responses within the context of literature on African and Central American theologies.

One area of focus in the field of community psychology is the investigation of factors related to stress, coping and adaptation (Sandler, Braver & Gensheimer, 2000), particularly among populations that are marginalized by society. Guatemala and Kenya are both countries that have recently experienced political violence in the context of long histories of colonialization, oppression and poverty (Gichaara, 2005; Higueros, 1995). The current study examines responses of indigenous faith-based relief providers in Guatemala and Kenya describing how they utilized religion to cope with their own experience of political violence as well as to cope with stress related to providing relief services to others. In an effort to study both emic and etic dimensions of religious coping, the study also examines these responses within the framework of Pargament and colleagues' (1998; 2000) religious coping constructs to determine responses that are consistent with findings across other cultures (eric) and to identify and describe responses that are culturally specific to Guatemala and Kenya (emic). Finally, this article examines emic and eric responses within the context of literature on African and Central American theologies.

Political Violence and Religion in Guatemala and Kenya

Guatemala endured a 36-year civil war from 1960 until 1996. Conservative sources estimate that 200,000 civilian deaths and 50,000 disappearances, or presumed kidnapping and murder, occurred out of a population of 11 million. At least 444 villages were completely razed under the scorched earth' policy; 100,000 people were exiled; and 1 million people were internally displaced (Anckermann et al., 2005). The civil war in Guatemala had grave social implications, including a disproportionate deprivation of basic health, nutritional and educational needs for the indigenous Mayans (Comas-Diaz, Lykes, & Alarcon, 1998). The conflict led to an ethnic silencing of Mayans by the mainly Ladino (Spanish speaking people with European ancestry) government in order to discourage the organization of guerilla forces. Since the end of the civil war, Guatemala has continued to experience high levels of crime and community violence (Anckerman et al., 2005).

With regard to religion in Guatemala, over time there has been an increase in religious pluralism, with four distinct religious groups emerging, including Catholics, Mayan Protestants, Ladino Protestants, and shamanic religion (Scotchmer, 1989). Indigenous Mayan religion focuses on the connection between the natural and supernatural, earth and cosmos, and the living and dead (Chiappari, 2002). …

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