RELIGIOUS COPING IN TWO SAMPLES OF
As the psychology of religion developed at the end of the nineteenth century, the relation between religion and mental health already was a main topic. James, Hall, Leuba and Starbuck studied questions like: 'Is conversion a sign of pathology or is it on the contrary an attempt to integrate an unstable self?', and 'To what degree are intense religious and mystical experiences connected with mental health and to what degree with psychopathology?' Recent empirical studies suggest “that religious commitment may play a beneficial role in preventing mental and physical illness, improving how people cope with mental and physical illness, and facilitating recovery from illness” (Matthews et al. 1998, 118).
In line with this tradition, we have been studying for about a decade the influence of religion on the lives of people suffering from mental health problems. Because of the lack of empirical evidence in the Netherlands regarding this question, we started a research project among outpatients in 1992 (see chapter 2; Pieper & Van Uden 1993a; 1993b; 1993c, Van Uden & Pieper 1996). We studied several groups of outpatients. At that time we were in particular interested in the degree of positive versus negative influence of religion on mental problems. Our main conclusions were: in about 40% of cases religion has a positive influence on mental problems; in about 35% of cases religion has a negative influence on mental problems. The positive influence could be understood in line of Pargament's religious coping theory (Pargament 1997). For religious persons in times of mental crisis religion is a powerful tool for managing this crisis. Other authors have come to similar conclusions. “Religion may serve as a pervasive and potentially effective method of coping for persons with mental illness, thus warranting its integration into psychiatric and psychological practice” (Tepper et al. 2001, 660). Fitchett et al. (1997) found that a large