Religiousness and Self-Actualization - an Empirical Study

By Kamath, B. Jyothsna; Ashok, H. S. | Journal of Psychosocial Research, July-December 2015 | Go to article overview

Religiousness and Self-Actualization - an Empirical Study


Kamath, B. Jyothsna, Ashok, H. S., Journal of Psychosocial Research


INTRODUCTION

The origin of psychology is traceable to philosophy which deals with the subtle and intricate nature of man. However the focus of psychologists to study behavior from a scientific perspective resulted in models and paradigms that were far removed from the theoretical and philosophical perspective. Psychologists of the 21st century realized the serious limitations of existing methodologies to study the behavior and began emphasizing consideration of the qualitative and subjective experiences to understand human nature. The result was humanistic psychology and positive psychology, which have the goals of understanding the development of each individual's potential and personal psychological growth. Humanistic psychology extends beyond the psychoanalytic focus on unconscious motivators of behavior, and the behaviouristic emphasis on the conditioning processes that produced overt behavior. Humans are believed to be innately good and capable of exercising free will to achieve their highest potential. This is termed as self-actualization and is considered the highest human motive, which involves the development of the essential human nature - a unified personality, identity and the attainment of full humanness (Maslow, 1971). The study of the positive psychological strengths of the normal healthy individual is the concern of the emerging area of positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Religion has been one of the various means through which man has attempted to understand the nature, role and goal of the self (Ofodile, 2005). The advent of religion in human history may have occurred out of a cognitive imperative of the human mind to rationally account for and explain events (Voland, 2009). Modern western psychology has even termed religion as a natural product of normal mental growth (Elkind, 1971).

In recent decades, religion has been described as a pathway to the highest human potentials (James, 1902), making sense of the world (Eliade, 1958), a source of balance, a basis of wisdom and maturity (Erikson, 1963), harmony and wholeness, and finding pathways in the world (Pargament, 1997). Not only does religion encompass privately held beliefs and practices of an individual, but it also shapes collective living by being either a harmonizing or sometimes, a divisive influence (Berger, 1967). While such spiritual strivings are formally like any other psychological motivations-they involve affect, desire, cognition, volition, etc. - they are unique in their object or goal, being 'centered on the search for the sacred' (Zinnbauer, Pargament & Scott, 1999).

The common thread that binds both religious and humanistic perspectives is the description of the effective personality as characterized by a high yet realistic degree of self-regard, a positive pattern of social relationships involving appreciation of and respect for the individuality of others, and a clear sense of identity which is associated with a progressive and constructive philosophy of life.

In eastern indigenous psychology, and especially in Indian psychology, religion has a major role to play in personal growth. The core self is regarded as essentially divine, in the sense of the spiritual. Religion and religious practices are an important, if not the only, means to self-realization. Practice of specific paths of self-realization broadly termed as Yoga have varying religious components, a study of which can provide a clearer picture of the role of religiousness in the accomplishment of the highest human goal.

A review of literature indicates that the study of religion, religiosity and religiousness had for long been relegated to the fringes of mainstream psychology on account of various factors (Stark & Bainbridge, 1985; Freud, 1961). However, religious variables have recently received great attention across cultures for their role in behaviour and personality, psychotherapy, physical and mental health outcomes (Abdel-Khalek, 2010) through mediating variables like relaxation, health-promoting behaviours, operation of positive emotions and provision of social support. …

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