Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Beliefs about Life-after-Death, Psychiatric Symptomology and Cognitive Theories of Psychopathology

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Beliefs about Life-after-Death, Psychiatric Symptomology and Cognitive Theories of Psychopathology

Article excerpt

The present study examined the association between mental health and pleasant and unpleasant beliefs about life-after-death, using data from a national web-based survey of U.S. adults. Regression analyses were conducted on five pleasant and two unpleasant after-life beliefs using six classes of psychiatric symptoms as dependent variables: anxiety, depression, obsession-compulsion, paranoid ideation, social anxiety and somatization. As hypothesized, pleasant afterlife beliefs were associated with better, and unpleasant beliefs were associated with poorer mental health, controlling for age, gender, education, race, income and marital status, social support, prayer and church attendance. The results are discussed in the context of cognitive theories of psychopathology and psychotherapy that propose that many psychiatric symptoms are caused and moderated by beliefs about the dangerousness of, or threat of harm posed by, various situations. Suggestions are made for future research that differentiates between psychiatric symptoms that may be influenced to varying degrees by cognitive input, and therefore beliefs.

A 1991 review of the literature on religion and mental health revealed a degree of ambiguity about the association between them, some of which appeared to be attributable to methodological differences in measuring religion (Gartner, Larson, & Allen, 1991). Despite this ambiguity, one clear finding that emerged from methodologically sound studies was a strong positive relationship between religious participation and mental health. Over the years, attendance at religious services--often called "church attendance"--has been one of the most widely used measures of religion in research on religion and physical and mental health, and numerous studies consistently have found that church attendance is positively related to both (Larson & Larson, 2003).

A meta-analysis of recent studies on religion and mental health that were published between 1990 and 2001 provides some very interesting findings (Hackney & Sanders, 2003). In light of the reviews by Larson and his colleagues, the most interesting one may be that measures of institutional religion, such as "church attendance" show the weakest association with psychological adjustment compared to other measures of religion. Hackney and Sanders (2003) classified the independent variables in 35 studies into three categories: institutional religion, which mainly included participation in public religious services and rituals; ideological religion, which encompassed attitudes and values and the salience of religious beliefs; and personal devotion, which included attachment to God, intrinsic religious orientation, and personal prayer and devotion. Their analysis suggests that institutional religion exerts the least influence on psychological well-being, whereas personal devotion exerts the most influence on well-being, with ideological religion falling somewhere in between.

Hackney and Sanders' (2003) results indicate that the salubrious effects of personal religious conviction and beliefs are greater than the typical association found between well-being and participation in public-religious activities. This is a particularly important finding since research on religion and health has tended to ignore religious beliefs (George, Ellison, & Larson, 2002; George, Larson, Koenig, & McCul-lough, 2000). Indeed, we were able to identify only four studies in Hackney and Sanders' sample that measured specific religious beliefs (Dorahy et al., 1998; Poloma & Pendleton, 1990; Rasmussen & Charman, 1993; Schafer, 1997). All four studies measured beliefs about God and three of the four also asked people if they believed in life-after-death--specifically, heaven and hell (Poloma &C Pendleton, 1990; Rasmussen & Charman, 1993; Schafer, 1997). Two other studies in their sample measured participants' strength of religious beliefs, in general, but did not ask about specific beliefs (Blaine & Crocker, 1995; Pressman, Lyons, Larson, & Strain, 1990). …

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