Religious Fundamentalism and Psychological Well-Being: An Italian Study

By Carlucci, Leonardo; Tommasi, Marco et al. | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Religious Fundamentalism and Psychological Well-Being: An Italian Study


Carlucci, Leonardo, Tommasi, Marco, Balsamo, Michela, Furnham, Adrian, Saggino, Aristide, Journal of Psychology and Theology


This study's aims were two-fold: to contribute to an understanding of the relationship between religious fundamentalism and psychological well-being and to test the psychometric properties of the Italian adaptation of the revised Religious Fundamentalism Scale (RFS-12; Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 2004), one of the most important instruments for assessing religious fundamentalism when it is conceptualized as a cognitive process. Confirmative factor analysis and reliability and correlational analyses were conducted on a sample of 319 Catholic undergraduate students. Findings indicate that the Italian adaptation of the Religious Fundamentalism Scale, as a one-dimensional construct, represents a valid and reliable measure of religious fundamentalism. Furthermore, results highlight the positive role that religious fundamentalism plays in promoting life satisfaction and psychological well-being.

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In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in religious fundamentalism because of its many implications for historical events and socio-political issues, such as social integration and identity in multireligious societies (Herriot, 2007). The term "religious fundamentalism" was initially used between 1910 and 1915 inside a series of 80 pamphlets collectively called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth (Sandeen, 1967), published in the United States. Religious fundamentalism is a construct with different definitions given by researchers interested in the psychology of religion. Altemeyer and Hunsberger (1992) were the first to define religious fundamentalism as a cognitive process, stating that religious fundamentalism corresponds to

   The belief that there is one set of religious teaching that
   clearly contains the fundamental, basic, intrinsic, essential,
   inerrant truth about humanity and deity; that this
   essential truth is fundamentally opposed by evil forces
   which must be vigorously fought against ... and those who
   believe and follow these fundamental teachings have a
   special relationship with deity, (p. 118)

A number of researchers have focused on religious fundamentalism as a personality trait or as a series of rigid beliefs (Costa, Zonderman, McCrae, & Williams, 1985; Johnson, Butcher, Null, & Johnson, 1984; Saroglou, 2002). Individuals who hold fundamentalist beliefs or attitudes tend to be conceptualized as closed-minded (Glock & Stark, 1966; McFarland, 1989) or viewed as having a closed, centralized belief system in which orthodox beliefs are organized (Kirkpatrick, Hood, & Hartz, 1991; Rokeach, 1960).

Indeed, Openness is the most negatively correlated personality factor related to fundamentalism (Carlucci, Tommasi, & Saggino, 2011; Costa, Busch, Zonderman, & McCrae, 1986; Saroglou, 2002). Specifically, fundamentalist subjects tended to score lower on the Openness trait than non-fundamentalist subjects, both at domain and facet levels of culturally-sensitive personality inventories (Krauss, Streib, Keller, & Silver, 2006; Proctor & McCord, 2009; Streyffeler & McNally, 1998). Other personality traits, like Neuroticism (Costa et al., 1986) and Agreeableness (Costa et al., 1985; Johnson et al., 1984), were not found to have clear relationships with religious fundamentalism (Saroglou, 2002).

Psychologists have long been interested both in the ways that religious attitudes and beliefs impact people's responses to life events and in the extent to which these responses affect psychological adjustment (Hackney & Sanders, 2003). Despite the growing interest among researchers about the role of religion in mental/physical health (Koenig, McCullough, & Larson, 2001; Seybold & Hill, 2001), little attention has been devoted to the relationship between religious fundamentalism and mental health. Religious fundamentalism, like religion, can fulfill an adaptive function by providing a sense of security, meaning, and empowerment (Kinnvall, 2004). …

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