Spirituality and the Sense of Self: An Inductive Analysis

By Kavar, Louis F. | The Qualitative Report, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Spirituality and the Sense of Self: An Inductive Analysis


Kavar, Louis F., The Qualitative Report


Psychological research on the topic of spirituality has focused on particular aspects of spirituality: its role in resiliency (Krumrei, Mahoney, & Pargament, 2009), the relationship of spiritual practices to mental health (Cummings, Ivan, Carson, Stanley, & Pargament, 2014), and spirituality as a resource for coping (Bryant-Davis & Wong, 2013) or stress reduction (Shapiro, Astin, Bishop, & Cordova, 2005). Other research has considered personality type in relationship to spirituality or spiritual practice (Saroglou & Munoz-Garcia, 2008; Simpson, Newman, & Fuqua, 2007). The measures of spirituality used in research generally conceive of spirituality as something outside of the person or as a personal habit, preference, or choice (Kapuscinski & Masters, 2010). In treatment and counseling, spirituality is typically viewed as an alternative or ancillary approach requiring a special set of competencies (Vieten et al., 2013).

In addressing the problem of research on spirituality from a scientific perspective, Cairns (2011) summarized the challenge for research on this topic in this way:

   Our problem is all about perspective. We usually try to describe
   spirituality from within our acquired belief systems. This is
   self-limiting and constrains our understanding of both the origins
   of spirituality and the beliefs of others. It particularly creates
   a problem in heterogeneous communities with a wide range of
   often-contradictory explanations for life. I think we should set
   aside our various culturally driven beliefs that tell us how things
   work and what to think. With a clean slate we can start to consider
   the phenomena we describe as spirituality ... (p. 187)

Offering a similar critique of research on spirituality, Robertson (2007) contends that many investigations of spirituality in psychology and other sciences are primarily based on religious or metaphysical understandings of spirituality. In place of religious or metaphysical approaches to spirituality, he recommends pursuing research of spirituality using a paradigm of the self and the notion of personal integration of spirituality with the self.

A small number of studies have considered spirituality in terms of the self and personal identity. Morga (2014) presented a narrative analysis based on semi-structured interviews with a participant in her early 20's of Anglo Asian Muslim background. In describing her identity, Morga found that, "this narrative implies that religion, for some people, seems to have an important role in the construction of their identity.... her faith and religion seems to play a constructive role for pluralism and integration. From her narrative it seems that to enhance pluralism and integration, the fears of discrimination and Islamophobia need to be addressed through policy and practical actions" (p. 20). In other words, spirituality, expressed through identification with Islam, was a core construct of personal identity. As a core construct of identity, spirituality was an essential part of personal growth and integration as well as a foundation for approaching life challenges in this case study.

Approaching the integration of spirituality with the self from a different perspective, van Dierendonch (2012) used an experimental scenario study design and recorded the responses of 660 participants from two different samples on a survey of personal well-being of an imaginary person. This investigation found that "spirituality positively correlates with leading the good life, including moral development, meaning, and self-actualization. Spirituality positively correlated to relatedness and self-determination (p. 685). It's important to note that "the overall results showed that spirituality may provide an extra psychological dimension for people to live the good life, both in terms of desirability and moral goodness" (p. 697).

Research Problem

Despite the body of research in psychology related to spirituality, there remains a fundamental divergence in the way psychology has operationalized the construct of spirituality as opposed to the ways in which religious and spiritual traditions use the term "spirituality. …

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