Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Relationship between Religious Involvement and Psychological Well-Being: A Social Justice Perspective

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Relationship between Religious Involvement and Psychological Well-Being: A Social Justice Perspective

Article excerpt

Religion and its salubrious effects on a person's well-being has a long history in the social sciences, dating back to the essays by Durkheim (1915/1965), James (1902), and Weber (1915/1946). Although religion has not been a mainline topic of empirical inquiry in the gerontological social work literature, there has been growing recognition in the past two decades of the health protective effects of religious involvement on both physical and psychological well-being in later life (see Ellison & Levin, 1998; Gardner, Larson, & Allen, 1991; Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Levin & Chatters, 1998). Although there is increasing consensus among researchers and health and human services providers that religion is an important aspect of the lives of millions of people in the United States--both native and foreign-born--attention to the salubrious effects of religious involvement on the psychological well-being among older U.S. racial and ethnic groups is still in its nascent stage.

To address this gap, the purpose of this article is to examine the relationship among religious involvement, private prayer, and depression in a low-income, clinical sample of 230 older U.S.-born and immigrant Latinos residing in a large metropolitan city in the United States. Focusing attention on this group is critical for several reasons. First, the Latino population over the age of 65, which numbered 2 million in 2002, is expected to grow to 13.4 million by 2050 and will comprise the largest racial and ethnic minority population in this age group by 2028 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2001b). Second, mental health in the later years is partly influenced by one's ability to balance stressful life events, to be able to count on others for support when needed, and to maintain a positive outlook on life. Personal and social resources such as religion and religious involvement are important to how people live their lives and cope with stress. The association between mental health and religious involvement has been documented with different clinical disorders, genders, ages, denominations, and racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The study presented here furthers the literature in its substantive and methodological approach: Except for a few empirical studies, little is known about how these theoretical relationships apply to older Latin living in the United States (Hill, Angel, Ellison, 8: Angel, 2005; Levin & Markides, 1985; Markides Levin, & Ray, 1987); methodologically, the study examines the effects of religious involvement and depressive illness by using clinically determined criteria for unipolar depression; and using a within-group comparative approach, we examine the experience of U.S.-born and immigrant Latinos.

Immigrants are more likely to participate in religious congregational life than are U.S.-born Latinos (Warner & Wittner, 1998). This can be partially explained by a postimmigration phenomenon explained by Hondagneu-Sotelo, Gaudinez, Lara, and Ortiz (2004) that underscores the nonassimilationist religious practices of Latinos: "Religious identities often intensify after immigration, and distinctive immigrant and ethnic congregations, rather than assimilationist religious forms, now prevail" (p. 135). Moreover, some religious congregations, primarily aligned (although not exclusively) with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, also promote the principles of liberation theology in support of poor and oppressed people (Hondagneu-Sotelo et al.; Gutierrez, 1988; Levitt, 2001; Matovina & Riebe-Estrella, 2002; Warner &Wittner, 1998). Contemporary congregations can thus enable immigrants to partake in religious activities that reinforce their ethnic identities as well as provide a safe haven for sociopolitical activities that promote empowerment and social justice. Although liberation theology has its roots in Latin America, U.S.-born Latinos have embraced (although not without considerable debate) the theological underpinnings and social movements of liberation theorists with considerable attention to ethnic and racial identity in the United States (mestizaje or mixed European/Indian identities) and the accompanying struggle to balance disparities in power affecting access to religious, social, political, and occupational opportunities (Elizondo, 1983; Matovina & Riebe-Estrella, 2002). …

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