Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Relationship between Religion and Anxiety: A Study among Anglican Clergymen and Clergywomen

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

The Relationship between Religion and Anxiety: A Study among Anglican Clergymen and Clergywomen

Article excerpt

The 20-item anxiety scale proposed by the Eysenck Personality Profiler (EPP) was completed by 1,148 Anglican male clergy and 523 Anglican female clergy during their first year in ordained ministry. The data demonstrate that male clergy recorded higher scores on the index of anxiety than men in general. Female clergy recorded lower levels on the index of anxiety than women in general. These findings are consistent with the findings from earlier studies that male clergy tend to project a characteristically feminine personality profile while female clergy tend to project a characteristically masculine personality profile.

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The relationship between religious faith and anxiety has for a long time been of interest both to theologians and to psychologists. On the face of the matter, Christian theologians and certain psychological theories seem to propose diametrically opposed hypotheses about the relationship.

On the one hand, biblical theology may seem to suggest that religious people who put their faith in God should show a lower level of anxiety or worry. For example, the Psalmist in the Old Testament promises that those who dwell in the shadow of the most high will live without fear (Psalm 91, RSV).

      You will not fear the terror of the night,
      or the arrow that flies by day,
      or the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
      or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

In the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6, Jesus teaches his followers that faith displaces anxiety.

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will
drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.... Look at the birds
of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet
your heavenly Father feeds them.

Certainly, according to this theological perspective, the hypothesised relationship is a negative correlation between religion and anxiety.

On the other hand, certain psychological theories may seem to suggest that religious people who put their faith in God should show a higher level of anxiety or worry. For example, Freud construed religion as an attempt to resolve the father-child conflict. Religion was presumed to be an outgrowth of insecurity and God a personification of the father image who ultimately would provide for the needs of his children and punish them for their misdeeds. Freud (1957) attributed religion to a person's basic insecurity and religion was therefore considered to be a prime symptom of neurosis. Certainly, according to this psychological perspective, the hypothesised relationship is a positive correlation between religiosity and anxiety.

Empirical studies in the psychology of religion have so far failed to resolve this divergence of opinion. On the one hand, it is far from difficult to identify studies which report a positive association between religion and anxiety, including Wilson and Miller (1968), Hassan and Khalique (1981), and Luyten, Corveleyn and Fontaine (1998). On the other hand, it is equally easy to identify studies which report a negative association between religion and anxiety, including Williams and Cole (1968), Sturgeon and Hamley (1979), Hertsgaard and Light (1984), Morris (1982), and Peterson and Roy (1985). A third group of studies failed to find any association at all, either negative or positive between religion and anxiety, including Heintzelman and Fehr (1976), Fehr and Heintzelman (1977), Frenz and Carey (1989), and Gilk (1990).

One interesting development of this line of enquiry is to examine the levels of anxiety within a particular group of people who can be reasonably considered to be particularly committed to religion. From Galton's (1872) pioneering study on the efficacy of prayer, ordained clergy have been identified as representing just such a group. Unfortunately, empirical studies concerned with assessing anxiety among clergy also generate conflicting results. …

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