Academic journal article Journal of Psychosocial Research

The Scientific Study of Spiritual Behavior: Measurement and Methodological Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Psychosocial Research

The Scientific Study of Spiritual Behavior: Measurement and Methodological Issues

Article excerpt


Recently psychologists have shown a good deal of interest in the study of spirituality, spiritual behavior, religiosity and related constructs. Gorsuch (1988) presented an excellent review in this area in the Annual Review of Psychology. A recent review by Emmons and Paloutzian (2003) noted the upsurge in interest in these constructs in the previous 15 years by both applied and basic researchers. The vast amount of data in this field in terms of theoretical insights, empirical facts and practical applications led to the publication of the Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Paloutzian & Park, 2005). In this Handbook, in addition to the basic issues, different researchers have examined the role of religion/religiosity and spirituality in diverse applied areas like health (Oman & Thoresen, 2005), mental health and psychopathology (Miller & Kelley, 2005), clinical and counseling psychology (Shafranske, 2005), workplace behavior (Giacalone, Jurkiewicz, & Fry, 2005) etc. In 2008, the American Psychological Association published a special volume of a journal, Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, which assumed regular publication from February, 2009.

Modern psychology, as a scientific and empirical discipline, has comparatively a short history of one and a half century. The well known German physicist, G. T. Fechner, who laid down the foundations of experimental psychology and mathematical psychophysics, with his monumental publication 'Elemente der Psychophysik' in 1860, was greatly interested in the scientific study of soul. Although he could not realize this dream, his work led to the emergence of a new discipline of psychophysics and the well known Fechner's law. In the early generation, the distinguished psychologists like William James, G. Stanley Hall, and Carl Jung took enough interest in the study of spirituality. Abraham Maslow, in his study of self-actualized people and peak experiences, addressed to some issues related to spirituality. Viktor Frankl's 'logotherapy' also catalyzed the emergence of interest in spiritual behavior. Nevertheless, scientific psychology, by and large, did not take enough interest in the study of spirituality. However, as noted above, the trend is changing to some extent in the past 20 years.

The issues related to the validity or 'truth' of the concepts like God, life after death, rebirth, the doctrine of karma etc. are controversial, questionable and beyond the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, the believers in God, rebirth, karma etc and the non-believers behave differently in day to day life. As such psychology, as a scientific discipline of human behavior, should also study this behavioral field. Interestingly Suneetha (1997), from clinical perspective, observed that "the concept of God may serve as a psychological defence because of the various functions attributed to it" (pp. 54) in the emotional, motivational, cognitive, moral, social, and physiological aspects.

Spirituality: Multiplicity of Definitions and Measures

Unfortunately, the concepts of spirituality and spiritual behavior are vague. Even a cursory review of this field reveals a large number of disparate definitions. Thus McGinn (1993) identified 35 different definitions of spirituality. Zinnbauer and Pargament (2005) presented nine definitions of spirituality and eight definitions of religion. Scott (as reported by Piedmont, 2005, 2007) identified 31 different definitions of religiousness and 40 definitions of spirituality. She classified the spirituality definitions into nine content areas - experiences of connectedness, processes leading to increased connectedness, system of thought or beliefs, behavioral responses to something sacred, traditional institutional or organizational structures, pleasurable states of being, beliefs in the sacred or transcendent, capacities for transcendence, and concern with existential questions. The analysis of these definitions reveals that spirituality is a multidimensional construct. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.