Spirituality and Personality: Accumulating Evidence

By Simpson, David B.; Newman, Jody L. et al. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Spirituality and Personality: Accumulating Evidence


Simpson, David B., Newman, Jody L., Fuqua, Dale R., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


Generally speaking, research has suggested that more positive spiritual functioning is related to more positive functioning on a variety of dimensions of psychological health. In the current study, 190 religious adults completed 11 scales designed to measure different dimensions of spirituality and a measure of the Five Factor Model of personality. A principal components analysis indicated that the 11 measures of spirituality could be reduced meaningfully to three underlying components. These components were found to have a substantial relationship with the personality measures. Generally, the results are consistent with previous research suggesting that those individuals with a healthier spiritual orientation tend to display greater health on personality dimensions as well. Some continuing areas of investigation are recommended.

The importance of religion and spirituality in the lives of Americans has long been well-established. Gallup and Lindsay (1999) found that the percentage of Americans who believe in God has failed to drop below 90% over the past 50 years. Emmons (1999) stated that "spirituality and religion are an integral part of human culture, and as such, have the potential to shape individual lives and personalities" (p. 877). Piedmont (1999) even more strongly stated that "religion and spirituality are universal threads in the fabric of human experience" (p. 988).

Professional literature related to spirituality and religion has increased dramatically over the last decade. A number of excellent resources examining the relationship between religious and spiritual issues and mental health have recently been published. The Journal of Personality published a special edition focusing on religion and spirituality in 1999. In this volume, Emmons (1999) explained that personality theory and theology are both concerned with what it means to be human and should, therefore, be natural allies. Kirkpatrick (1999) agreed and suggested that the study of religion and spirituality naturally falls within the province of personality psychology.

Several authors have examined the relationship between spirituality/religion and personality (Park, Meyers, & Czar, 1998; Tloczynski, Knoll, & Fitch, 1997), and more specifically, the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality (MacDonald, 2000; Maltby & Day, 2001a; Piedmont, 1999; Rahanaiah, Rielage, & Sharpe, 2001; Saroglou, 2002). Emmons and Paloutzian (2003) argued that the FFM could provide an excellent starting point from which the relationship between religiousness and personality can be explored. Many questions remain unanswered, and Emmons and Paloutzian observed that "we do not yet know whether personality influences the development of religiousness...whether religiousness influences personality...or whether personality and religiousness share common genetic or environmental causes" (p. 393). Accordingly, it is important to understand the constructs under question.

Exploring Spirituality, Religion, and Personality

Kirkpatrick (1999) argued that psychologists seeking to understand the "whole person" cannot ignore religion and spirituality, as both are important to many people. As previously mentioned, several authors have examined the relationship between spirituality and personality in an attempt to improve the understanding of the "wholeness" of human beings. Their findings, while diverse, provide a foundation of knowledge on which to build.

Research Using Various Models and Aspects of Personality

Many researchers and authors have examined religion and spirituality as they relate to well-being, variables of psychological and personal distress, and mental health in general. For example, Gartner (1996) and Westgate (1996) reviewed literature examining the relationship between religiosity and depression and concluded from the preponderance of evidence that depression was inversely related to religiosity. However, Gartner also explored associations between anxiety and religiosity and concluded the literature offered mixed results.

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