Similarities and Differences between Religiosity and Spirituality in African American College Students: A Preliminary Investigation

Article excerpt

To explore similarities and differences between religiosity and spirituality, the authors used several measures of religiosity and spirituality to examine the level of their association in 171 African American college students. Results support the multidimensionality of both constructs. An intrinsic religious orientation accounted for most of the variance in each type of spirituality; conversely, 1 type of extrinsic religious orientation accounted for almost none. The authors also found no significant differences between men's and women's scores on any of the religiosity and spirituality measures, The authors discuss implications for addressing religion and spirituality with African American clients.


Spirituality is emerging as a significant area of inquiry for physical and mental health professionals (for a review see George, Larson, Koenig, & McCullough, 2000). Defined as the degree to which individuals endorse a relationship with God or a transcendent force that brings meaning and purpose to their existence, spirituality affects the ways in which one operates in the world (Armstrong, 1996). Research in this area has consistently shown evidence of associations between spirituality and both mental and physical health (e.g., Larson & Larson, 2003). Given this important association, it is vital for scholars to better understand how spirituality relates to other variables of interest in health research, particularly religiosity.

Spirituality and Health

Several scholars have investigated relationships between spirituality and several aspects of health. For example, MacDonald and Holland (2002) investigated associations between spirituality and boredom in a sample of university undergraduate students. Using a multidimensional measure of spirituality, the authors found that existential well-being, that aspect of spirituality that provides meaning and purpose to one's life, was negatively correlated with boredom for both men and women. In another study, Hodge, Cardenas, and Montoya (2001) investigated religious participation and spirituality as protective factors against substance use for a sample of rural youth. They found that increased spirituality inhibited the youth from using marijuana and hard drugs. On the basis of this finding, they recommended that spirituality be incorporated into substance use prevention programs for adolescents. Pardini, Plante, Sherman, and Stump (2000) were also interested in correlations among religious faith, spirituality, and mental health outcomes and substance abuse. Using a sample of adults recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction, Pardini et al. found that the adults who had higher levels of spirituality also had an optimistic life orientation, higher resilience to stress, greater perceived social support, and lower levels of anxiety. These findings remained after controlling for social desirability effects. It is interesting that, in both studies cited, spirituality's role in health outcomes was different from the role of religion. In the case of the recovering addicts, "spirituality accounted for more explained variance than religious faith for most mental health outcomes" (Pardini et al., 2000, p. 351). Hodge et al. found that whereas religious participation was related to decreased alcohol use, spirituality was related to decreased marijuana use.

A small but growing body of literature focuses specifically on relationships between spirituality and health for African Americans (e.g., Brome, Owens, Allen, & Vevaina, 2000; Musgrave, Allen, & Allen, 2002). For example, Hestick, Perrino, Rhodes, and Sydnor (2001) found that African American college students who viewed spirituality as an important factor in their lives were at a reduced risk of becoming lifetime smokers. In a separate study, African American and Latino women living with AIDS/HIV reported that spirituality was an important source of strength, and this strength was associated with lower levels of depression (Simoni & Cooperman, 2000). …