An Introduction to the Special Issue on "Disasters, Religion, and Spirituality"

By Davis, Edward B.; Aten, Jamie D. | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

An Introduction to the Special Issue on "Disasters, Religion, and Spirituality"


Davis, Edward B., Aten, Jamie D., Journal of Psychology and Christianity


The term disaster refers to "a potentially traumatic event that is collectively experienced, has an acute onset, and is time-delimited" (McFarlane & Norris, 2006, p. 4). Typically, disasters are classified into two major categories, based on whether they are natural disasters (e.g., floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) or human-caused disasters (e.g., terrorist attacks, mass transportation accidents, etc.; McFarlane & Norris, 2006). The past 50 years have witnessed a substantial increase in the frequency, intensity, and impact of natural and human-caused disasters (Centre of Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster, 2016; EM-DAT, n.d.; National Centers for Environmental Information, 2018; National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2016). Correspondingly, there has been increased attention devoted to the scientific study of disasters and how they impact people's lives (Norris, Galea, Friedman, & Watson, 2006; Rodriguez, Donner, & Trainor, 2018).

Within the field of psychology, most of this research has focused on how disasters affect survivors' mental health. However, within the past 20 years, there has been growing interest in studying how disasters affect people's religious/spiritual (R/S) health and wellbeing, as well as how survivors' religion/spirituality can affect their disaster experiences and recovery (see Aten et al., 2018b, for a review of this research).

The purpose of this special issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity is to present a series of articles on disasters, religion, and spirituality. Specifically, this issue includes three quantitative research articles (Captari et al., 2018; McElroy-Heltzel et al., 2018a, 2018b), two qualitative research articles (O'Grady et al., 2018; Schruba et al., 2018a), one practice-oriented article (Schruba et al., 2018b), and one training-oriented article (Aten et al., 2018a). Empirical studies are presented from four different types of natural disasters (a flood, a hurricane, a typhoon, and an earthquake) and three different countries (the U.S., the Philippines, and Haiti). Two of the articles (Aten et al., 2018b; Schruba et al., 2018b) have a special focus on the intersections between psychology and Christianity in a disaster context, and all the articles have implications that can be applied in the science and practice of disaster psychology from a Christian perspective.

To begin, McElroy-Heltzel and colleagues (2018a) present findings from a study of survivors of the 2016 Louisiana flood. They found evidence that benevolent views of suffering buffer against postdisaster PTSD. Second, McElroy-Heltzel et al. (2018b) explore the role of spiritual fortitude and positive religious coping in promoting positive psychological and R/S outcomes after Hurricane Matthew (2016). Their findings suggest spiritual fortitude has a direct effect on both meaning in life and spiritual well-being, but it has an indirect effect as well, via positive religious coping (i. …

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