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concept is a definition that identifies an abstract category intended to delimit a class of “like” phenomena. The definition must make it possible unambiguously to identify specific phenomena as belonging or not belonging to the class of things identified by the concept.

In practice, researchers utilize a theory to logically derive specific hypotheses. A hypothesis should be phrased in terms of concepts that refer to observable phenomenon. A measure provides one observable indication of a concept in the form of a variable from a survey data set. Of course, measures can take many forms, but we restrict ourselves to quantified measures because the ARDA is solely a survey data resource.

If a theory properly distills a clear hypothesis, which in turn is properly stated in terms of observable concepts, which in turn are accurately indicated by available measures, a researcher can analyze the relationship of measures to ultimately provide empirical support or a challenge to common theories.


a.) Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion (New York: Toronto/Lang, 1987), p. 15.
The following are possible Concepts that can be created using data from theARDA.com

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994) added a code for “religious and spiritual problem” as an official clinical designation.  The new categorization was included in response to the prevalence of religious and spiritual issues among clients in clinical settings coupled with clinicians’ lack of training on how to address such issues (Lukoff, Lu, and Turner 1992).  Such issues can be “religious” in the sense of problems and conflicts with religious institutions, or “spiritual” in the sense of individualized problems with religious belief, practice, or affect (Lukoff, Lu, and Turner 1998). Mystical experiences are also often a component of religious and spiritual problems (Lukoff 1985), emphasizing the need to more thoroughly integrate demonic aspects of religious experiences (see Stark 1965) and images of God into the broader understanding of mysticism.

More recently, conceptualization of religious and spiritual struggles has grown out of an elaboration and extension of religious coping theories (Pargament et al. 2005).  Further refining the idea of negative religious coping, religious and spiritual struggles classify and measure whether “something in a person’s current belief, practice, or experience is causing or perpetuating stress” (Exline 2013: 459).  In essence it is an attempt to more thoroughly define and distinguish the “dark sides” of religion, which may cause or exacerbate negative affect.  Conceptualized broadly, religious and spiritual struggles have been posited as occurring along three dimensions: divine, intrapersonal, and interpersonal (Pargament 2007).  These domains have been further subdivided, operationalized, and empirically validated into six types of struggles: struggles with the divine, demonic struggles, interpersonal issues with religious institutions and people, struggles with moral imperfections, problems with ultimate meaning, and religious doubts (Exline et al. 2014).  Further analyses with other common indices of religiosity and personality suggest that religious and spiritual struggles are best understood as an independent but related aspect of religiosity with unique associations to personality traits and symptoms of psychological distress (Stauner et al. 2016).

Empirical studies have found that religious and spiritual struggles are relatively common, particularly among younger populations such as college students (Bryant and Astin 2008), as well as being more common among women, the unmarried, those with insecure or anxious attachment styles, and those with higher levels of negative affect, neuroticism, and sense of entitlement (see Exline 2013). Among clinical populations, patients were more likely to report religious and spiritual struggles if they had experienced lost relationships, were victims of sexual assault, and had problematic relations with peers (Johnson and Hayes 2003).  In parametric population samples, religious and spiritual struggles are associated with symptoms of psychopathology and lower levels of social support (McConnell et al. 2006).  Such struggles are also significantly associated with depression and suicidal ideation, particularly for those experiencing religious guilt and fear (Exline, Yali, and Sanderson 2000).

Images of God and beliefs about theodicy play an important role in the negative outcomes linked with religious struggles, particularly anger toward God and theodicies used for framing suffering experiences.  Those who frame suffering as part of God’s benevolent planning experience greater religious struggles, but also experience some positive well-being outcomes by virtue of a benevolent image of God, effectively resulting in neutralizing effects; however, those who perceive suffering experiences as divine punishment may experience both negative direct and indirect effects through a punitive God image and increased levels of spiritual struggle (Wilt, Exline, et al. 2016).  It deserves note that there are also positive potentials for well-being as a result of religious struggle for those who are able to positively frame their experiences as sources of growth, a process influenced by individual levels of religiosity and neuroticism, which in turn influence perceptions of the divine (Wilt, Grubbs, et al. 2016).

Overall, the understanding and study of religious and spiritual struggles has expanded rapidly in the recent decades following its recognition as a psychological issue, with studies documenting the applicability of the concept across religious traditions (Raiya et al. 2008), as well as outlining robust links to stressors, coping styles, and physical and mental well-being (see Exline 2013 for a thorough review).


American Psychiatric Association. 1994.  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Bryant, Alyssa N. and Helen S. Astin.  2008.  “The Correlates of Spiritual Struggle During the College Years.”  The Journal of Higher Education 79(1): 1–27.

Exline, Julie J.  2013.  “Religious and Spiritual Struggles.”  Pp. 459–75 in APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality: Vol. 1 Context, Theory, and Research, edited by Kenneth I. Pargament, Julie J. Exline, and James W. Jones.   Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Exline, Julie J. Kenneth I. Pargament, Joshua B. Grubbs, and Ann M. Yali.  2014.  “The Religious and Spiritual Struggles Scale: Development and Initial Validation.”  Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 6(3): 208–22.

Exline, Julie J., Ann M. Yali, and William C. Sanderson.  2000. “Guilt, Discord, and Alienation: The Role of Religious Strain in Depression and Suicidality.”  Journal of Clinical Psychology 56(12): 1481–96.

Johnson, Chad V. and Jeffrey A. Hayes.  2003.  “Troubled Spirits: Prevalence and Predictors of Religious and Spiritual Concerns Among University Students and Counseling Center Clients.”  Journal of Counseling Psychology 50(4): 409–19.

Lukoff, David.  1985.  “The Diagnosis of Mystical Experiences with Psychotic Features.”  The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology 17(2); 155–81.

Lukoff, David, Francis Lu, and Robert Turner.  1992.  “Toward a More Culturally Sensitive DSM-IV. Psychoreligious and Psychospiritual Problems.”  The Journal of Mental and Nervous Disease 205(1): 180(11): 673–82.

Lukoff, David, Francis Lu, and Robert Turner.  1998.  “From Spiritual Emergency to Spiritual Problem: the Transpersonal Roots of the New DSM-IV Category.”  Journal of Humanistic Psychology 38(2): 21–50.

McConnell, Kelly M., Kenneth I. Pargament, Christopher G. Ellison, and Kevin J. Flannelly.  “Examining the Links Between Spiritual Struggles and Symptoms of Psychopathology in a National Sample.”  Journal of Clinical Psychology 62(12): 1469–84.

Pargament, Kenneth I.  2007.  Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy: Understanding and Addressing the Sacred.  New York: Guilford Press.

Pargament, Kenneth I., Nichole Murray-Swank, Gina N. Magyar, and Gene G. Ano.  2005.  “Spiritual Struggle: A Phenomenon of Interest to Psychology and Religion.”  Pp. 245–68 in Judeo-Christian Persepctives on Psychology: Human Nature, Motivation, and Change, edited by William R. Miller and Harold D. Delaney.  Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

Raiya, Hisham A., Kenneth I. Pargament, Annette Mahoney, and Catherine Stein.  2008.  “A Psychological Measure of Islamic Religiousness: Development and Evidence for Reliability and Validity.”  International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 18(4): 291–315.

Stark, Rodney.  1965.  “A Taxonomy of Religious Experience.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 5(1): 97–116.

Stauner, Nick, Julie J. Exline, Joshua B. Grubbs, Kenneth I. Pargament, David F. Bradley, and Alex Uzdavines.  2016.  “Bifactor Models of Religious and Spiritual Struggles: Distinct from Religiousness and Distress.”  Religions 7(6), 68: 1–30.

Wilt, Joshua A., Joshua B. Grubbs, Julie J. Exline, and Kenneth I. Pargament.  2016.  “Personality, Religious and Spiritual Struggles, and Well-Being.”  Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 8(4): 341–51.

Wilt, Joshua A., Julie J. Exline, Joshua B. Grubbs, Crystal L. Park, and Kenneth I. Pargament.  “God’s Role in Suffering: Theodicies, Divine Struggle, and Mental Health.”  Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 8(4): 352–62.

The most influential conceptual study of mysticism remains William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience ([1901-2] 2010), which argues that there are unifying traits of different ecstatic experiences, which include: 1) ineffability (being beyond words); 2) noesis (perception of insight beyond rational intellect); 3) transiency (impermanence of such experiences); and 4) passivity (a sense of being controlled by a higher power).  Additional items added by later scholars include: 5) perception of the oneness of all things; 6) sense of timelessness; and 7) the perception that the individual self is not the “true I” (Happold 1963; see Hood and Francis 2013).

Using this conceptual framework, Hood (1970, 1975) developed a psychometric battery of questions to assess different dimensions of religious (ecstatic) experiences, which was further divided into three different dimensions based on the work of Stace (1960), as well as empirical assessments with factor analysis (Hood, Morris, and Watson 1993).  The scale has been successfully replicated and validated across cultures and religious groups (Hood et al. 2001; Hood and Williamson 2000), as well as among those who are not actively participating in religious communities (see Hood 1976). Alternative scales operationalizing Happold’s (1963) dimensions have also been developed and validated (Francis and Louden 2001), including abbreviated versions (Francis and Louden 2004).

Returning to James’ ideas, Hood (2016) has argued for the conceptual and empirical validity of the unity or “common core thesis” that similar aspects of emotion and perception undergird a wide array of ecstatic experiences across traditions, culture, and time.  Other scholars note that what makes an ecstatic experience “religious” is where (or what) the experiencer perceives as the source of the experience (Proudfoot 1985).  As a result, the apparent differences between “religious” and other types of ecstatic experiences, such as those deemed “paranormal,” “transcendent,” “psychedelic,” etc., are better understood as the product of cultural distinctions applied by religious institutions and individuals rather than inherent features of the experiences themselves (Baker, Bader, and Mencken 2016).


Baker, Joseph O., Christopher D. Bader, and F. Carson Mencken.  2016.  “A Bounded Affinity Theory of Religion and the Paranormal.”  Sociology of Religion 77(4): 334–58.

Francis, Leslie J. and Stephen H. Louden.  2000.  “The Francis–Louden Mystical Orientation Scale (MOS): A Study Among Roman Catholic Priests.”  Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 11: 99–116.

Francis, Leslie J. and Stephen H. Louden.  2004.  “A Short Index of Mystical Orientation (SIMO): A Study Among Roman Catholic Priests.”  Pastoral Psychology 53(1): 49–51.

Happold, F. C.  1963.  Mysticism: A Study and an Anthology.  London: Penguin.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr.  1970.  “Religious Orientation and the Report of Religious Experience.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 9(4): 285–91.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr.  1975.  “The Construction and Validation of a Measure of Reported Mystical Experience.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 14(1): 29–41.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr. 1976.  “Mystical Experience as Related to Present and Anticipated Future Church Participation.”  Psychological Reports 39(3): 1127–36.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr. 2016.  “The Common Core Thesis in the Study of Mysticism.”  Oxford Encyclopedia of Religion.  DOI: 0.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.241.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr. and Leslie J. Francis.  2013.  “Mystical Experience: Conceptualizations, Measurement, and Correlates.”  Pp. 391–405 in APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality: Vol. 1. Context Theory and Research, edited Kenneth I. Pargament.  DOI: 10.1037/14045-021.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr., Nima Ghorbani, P. J. Watson, Ahad F. Ghramaleki, Mark N. Bing, H. Kristl Davison, Ronald J. Morris, and W. Paul Williamson.  2001.  “Dimensions of the Mysticism Scale: Confirming the Three-Factor Structure in the United States and Iran.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40(4): 691–705.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr., Ronald J. Morris, and P. J. Watson.  1993.  “Further Factor Analysis of Hood’s Mysticism Scale.”  Psychological Reports 73: 1176–78.

Hood, Ralph W., Jr. and W. Paul Williamson.  2000.  “An Empirical Test of the Unity Thesis: The Structure of Mystical Descriptors in Various Faith Samples.”  Journal of Christianity and Psychology 19: 222–244.

James, William (1901-2) 2010.  The Varieties of Religious Experience.  Lexington, KY: Pacific Publishing.

Proudfoot, Wayne.  1985.  Religious Experience.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Stace, W. T.  1960.  Mysticism and Philosophy.  Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Religious doubts have been identified as having potentially harmful effects on mental health and well-being (Galek et al. 2007), although doubting can also lead to psychological growth under circumstances where doubters frame their questions positively as avenues for change (see religious quest).  Further, the connections between religious doubts and health outcomes are contingent on multiple other factors, including age, level of participation in organized religion, individuals’ levels of education, and whether doubts are openly avowed or actively denied.

In general, greater levels of religious doubts are associated with declines in personal well-being and higher rates of depression; however, these effects are much stronger among young adults, and the negative effects of doubts decline over the life course (Galek et al. 2007; Krause et al. 1999).  Among adolescents, religious doubts are negatively related to identity foreclosure and diffusion (Puffer et al. 2008).  In essence, religious doubts are associated with identity formation and change, rather than comparatively stable self-conceptions. As a corollary, doubts are a relatively common feature of religious expression in adolescents and young adults, and represent an opportunity for development, in addition to potentially negative psychological effects (Hunsberger, Pratt, and Pancer 2002).  Also in accordance with this understanding of doubting processes, older people express lower average levels of doubt than those who are younger (Krause et al. 1999).

Beyond stage in the life course, other social and psychological factors condition the expression of doubts in relation to negative mental health outcomes.  Levels of education have been found to exert a moderating effect on the negative influence of religious doubts on psychological well-being.  Specifically, the negative relationship between religious doubts and well-being is substantially reduced among those with higher levels of education (Krause 2006).  This likely reflects differential distribution of coping techniques for dealing with religious doubts, as those with lower levels of education are more likely to deny rather than avow religious doubts, pointing toward some of the social and individual mechanisms—role and social conflict accompanied by cognitive dissonance—through which doubt relates to psychological traits and states (Krause and Ellison 2009).  Avowal of doubts and framing as an opportunity for spiritual growth are key coping strategies that buffer the potential negative effects of religious doubt.  These processes are facilitated by greater levels of spiritual and social support, as well as participating in traditions or groups that welcome rather than suppress doubts.

Another mediating factor is individuals’ levels of formal involvement with religious organizations through attendance at services, volunteering, and holding official roles within the group.  The negative effects of religious doubt are stronger among more organizationally involved individuals.  Conversely, although elevated levels of depression remain among those who are not actively involved in religious organizations, the ill effects of religious doubts are significantly reduced (Krause and Wulff 2004).  Taken together, the findings from empirical studies on religious doubts coupled with studies showing the positive correlates of religious “questing” (Batson, Denton, and Vollmecke 2008; Altemeyer and Hunsberger 1992) suggest that the primary mechanisms for the negative health and well-being outcomes related to religious doubts arise from social and role conflicts rather than religious doubting per se.


Altemeyer, Bob and Bruce Hunsberger.  1992.  “Authoritarianism, Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Prejudice.”  The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 2(2): 113–33.

Batson, C. Daniel, Drew M. Denton, and Jason T. Vollmecke.  2008.  “Quest Religion, Anti Fundamentalism, and Limited Versus Universal Compassion.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 47(1): 135–45.

Galek, Kathleen, Neil Krause, Christopher G. Ellison, Taryn Kudler, and Kevin J. Flannelly.  2007.  “Religious Doubt and Mental Health Across the Lifespan.”  Journal of Adult Development 14(1): 16–25.

Hunsberger, Bruce, Michael Pratt, and S. Mark Pancer.  2002.  “A Longitudinal Study of Religious Doubts in High School and Beyond: Relationships, Stability, and Searching for Answers.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41(2): 255–66.

Krause, Neil.  2006.  “Religious Doubt and Psychological Well-Being: A Longitudinal Investigation.”  Review of Religious Research 47(3): 287–302.

Krause, Neil and Christopher G. Ellison.  2009.  “The Doubting Process: A Longitudinal Study of the Precipitants and Consequences of Religious Doubt in Older Adults.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 48(2): 293–312.

Krause, Neil, Berit Ingersoll-Dayton, Christopher G. Ellison, and Keith M. Wulff.  1999.  “Aging, Religious Doubt, and Psychological Well-Being.”  The Gerontologist 39(5): 525–33.

Krause, Neil and Keith M. Wulff.  2004.  “Religious Doubt and Health: Exploring the Potential Dark Side of Religion.”  Sociology of Religion 65(1): 35–56.

Puffer, Keith A., Kris G. Pence, T. Martin Graverson, Michael Wolfe, Ellen Pate, and Stacy Clegg.  2008.  “Religious Doubt and Identity Formation: Salient Predictors of Adolescent Religious Doubt.”  Journal of Psychology and Theology 36(4): 270–84.

Psychologist Daniel Batson is most responsible for conceptualizing an orientation toward religion that emphasizes “questing” (Batson, Becker, and Clark 1973).  Building on the positive psychology of Maslow (1964), Batson (1976) initially operationalized the concept as a nine-item measurement scale, which was later revised into a twelve-item scale of Quest orientation that incorporates three aspects: 1) the ability to address existential questions without reducing their complexity; 2) perceiving religious doubt as positive; and 3) openness to changes in religious beliefs (Batson and Schoenrade 1991a, 1991b).

People who are high in Quest orientation are aware of and at peace with the fact that they do not and probably will never know the truth about religious matters.  Quest orientation correlates positively with measures of religious conflict and religious doubt (INSERT LINK), but is also conceptually and empirically distinct (Batson and Schoenrade 1991a).  Questing is negatively associated with prejudice, religious fundamentalism, and right-wing authoritarianism (Altemeyer and Hunsburger 1992; Hunsgerger 1995).  Quest is also positively related to altruism and prosocial motivations (Preston, Ritter, and Hernandez 2010), with the exception of being less likely to help those perceived as intolerant (Batson et al. 2001; Messay, Dixon, and Rye 2012).

Although negatively related to measures of religious orthodoxy, some studies have also shown that secular individuals are less likely to complete the battery, suggesting the need for measurement (and perhaps conceptual) amendments when studying non-theists (Maltby and Day 1998).


Altemeyer, Bob and Bruce Hunsberger.  1992.  “Authoritarianism, Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Prejudice.”  The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 2(2): 113–33.

Batson, C. Daniel.  1976.  “Religion as Prosocial: Agent or Double Agent?”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 15(1): 29-45.

Batson, C. Daniel, J. Christiaan Becker, and W. Malcolm Clark.  1973.  Commitment without Ideology.  Philadelphia, PA: Pilgrim Press.

Batson, C. Daniel, Scott H. Eidelman, Seanna L. Higley, and Sarah A. Russell.  2001.  “’And Who Is My Neighbor?’ II: Quest Religion as a Source of Universal Compassion.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 40(1): 39–50

Batson, C. Daniel and Patricia A. Schoenrade  1991a.  “Measuring Religion as Quest: 1) Validity Concerns.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30(4): 416–29.

Batson, C. Daniel and Patricia A. Schoenrade.  1991b.  “Measuring Religion as Quest: 2) Reliability Concerns.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30(4): 430–47.

Hunsberger, Bruce.  1995.  “Religion and Prejudice: The Role of Religious Fundamentalism, Quest, and Right-Wing Authoritarianism.”  Journal of Social Issues 51(2): 113–29.

Maltby, John and Liza Day.  Amending a Measure of the Quest Religious Orientation: Applicability of the Scale’s Use among Religious and Non-religious persons.”  Personality and Individual Differences 25(3): 517–22.

Maslow, Abraham. 1964.  Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press.

Messay, Berhane, Lee J. Dixon, and Mark S. Rye.  2012.  “The Relationship Between Quest Religious Orientation, Forgiveness, and Mental Health.”  Mental Health, Religion, & Culture 15(3): 315–33.

Preston, Jesse L., Ryan S. Ritter, and J. Ivan Hernandez.  2010.  Principles of Religious Prosociality: A Review and Reformulation.  Social and Personality Psychology Compass 4(8): 574–90.

Religious coping refers to processes of coping with difficult or trying circumstances through religious means.  The most influential work in religious coping is Pargament’s (1997) theoretical and empirical synthesis, which elaborates on the religious problem-solving perspective (Pargament et al. 1988).  The religious coping perspective assumes that all people necessarily encounter difficult situations that require coping processes and that individuals proactively select from a range of coping systems and possibilities (Harrison et al. 2001).  An important and central source of coping systems is religion.  Religious coping—in both positive and negative forms—occurs universally across religions and traditions, although the styles, patterns, and prevalence of such expressions are culturally contingent (Abu-Raiya and Pargament 2015).

Religious coping occurs through some combination of the use of: 1) religious meanings ascribed to stressful events; 2) guiding the goals of coping processes; and 3) using religious methods to obtain these goals (see Pargament and Park 1995).  Notably coping can be positive, exerting salutary effects on health and well-being, or negative, increasing problems with mental health, depending on the type of religious coping practiced.  Both positive and negative coping methods tend to cluster together into more general positive and negative religious coping styles, with positive religious coping being more commonly used than negative (Pargament, Koenig, and Perez 2000).  Higher levels of negative religious coping are associated with less physical independence and lower cognitive functioning among elderly medical patients, and are predictive of declines in spiritual, mental, and physical health (Pargament et al. 2004).

Forms of religious coping that have been shown to be helpful include perceptions of guidance and support from God, congregational support, and benevolent religious framing of events as the result of God’s will or love (Pargament et al. 1990).  Conversely, some harmful forms include discontent with one’s congregation, discontent with God, and perception of events as punishment from God.  Coping styles that show mixed or inconsistent results with health outcomes include self-directed (individual’s responsibility), deferring (God’s responsibility), and pleading (asking for intervention) forms of coping.  The efficacy of these forms of coping likely depends on contextual efficacy and the level of control individuals actually have over their circumstances, as mismatches between expectations and outcomes likely results in discontent (Pargament and Brant 1998).  Coping through religious rituals have also generally shown mixed results, although higher levels of ritual involvement do increase positive religious coping, which has salutary effects, so devotionalism may facilitate positive outcomes indirectly by increasing the likelihood of positive religious coping (Nooney and Woodrum 2002).

An abbreviated, fourteen-question version derived from the larger RCOPE questionnaire was developed to facilitate greater use and inclusion of measures of religious coping in a wider array of methodological contexts, and has been found to have good internal consistency (Pargament, Feuille, and Burdzy 2011).


Abu-Raiya, Hisham and Kenneth I. Pargament.  2015.  “Religious Coping among Diverse Religions: Commonalities and Divergences.”  Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 7(1): 24–33.

Harrison, Myleme O., Harold G. Koenig, Judith C. Hays, Anedi G. Eme-Akwari, and Kenneth I. Pargament.  2001.  “The Epidemiology of Religious Coping: A Review of Recent Literature.”  International Review of Psychiatry 13(2): 86–93.

Nooney, Jennifer and Eric Woodrum.  2003.  “Religious Coping and Church-Based Social Support as Predictors of Mental Health Outcomes: Testing a Conceptual Model.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 41(2): 359–68.

Pargament, Kenneth I.  1997.  The Psychology of Religion and Coping: Theory, Research, Practice.  New York: The Guilford Press.

Pargament, Kenneth I. and Curtis R. Brant.  1998.  “Religion and Coping,” pp. 111–128 in Handbook of Religion and Mental Health, edited by Harold G. Koenig.  San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Pargament, Kenneth I., David S. Ensing, Kathryn Falgout, Hannah Olsen, Barbara Reilly, Kimberly Van Haitsma, and Richard Warren.  1990.  “God Help Me: (I): Religious Coping Efforts as Predictors of the Outcome to Significant Negative Life Events.”  American Journal of Community Psychology 18(6): 793–824.

Pargament, Kenneth I., Margaert Feuille, and Donna Burdzy.  2011.  “The Brief RCOPE: Current Psychometric Status of a Short Measure of Religious Coping.”  Religions 2(1): 51–76.

Pargament, Kenneth I., Joseph Kennell, William Hathaway, Nancy Grevengoed, Jon Newman, and Wendy Jones.  1988.  “Religion and the Problem-Solving Process: Three Styles of Coping.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 27(1): 90–104.

Pargament, Kenneth I., Harold G. Koenig, and Lisa M. Perez.  2000.  “The Many Methods of Religious Coping: Development and Initial Validation of the RCOPE.”  Journal of Clinical Psychology 56(4): 519–43.

Pargament, Kenneth I., Harold G. Koenig, Nalini Tarakeshwar, and June Hahn.  2004.  “Religious Coping Methods as Predictors pf Psychological, Physical and Spiritual Outcomes among Medically Ill Elderly Patients: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study.”  Journal of Health Psychology 9(6): 713–30.

Pargament, Kenneth I. and Crystal L. Park.  1995.  “Merely a Defense? The Variety of Religious Means and Ends.”  Journal of Social Issues 51(2): 13–32.

The concept of the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” was first introduced in Robert Michels’ 1915 study of political parties and refers to the tendency over time of these organizations to be run by a small cadre of leaders, even if an organization intended to run as a democracy.  Michels argues that democracy is nearly impossible to maintain within an organization, because as an organization grows larger, representative democracy becomes difficult as large groups eventually will be unable to fit into a single room and make decisions quickly.  As a result, leaders will emerge to ease the decision-making process.  These leaders may initially be replaceable, but as leaders become specialized and obtain technical knowledge of an organization, they become more difficult to replace. Michels suggests the tendency to equate specialized knowledge with authority further compounds the issue, widening the gap between the leaders from those being led; a void that formal education also can widen. Thus, an oligarchy of leaders becomes entrenched, as fewer people hold the expertise and the standing needed to break the narrow circle of leadership.   The “iron” part of this law comes from Michels’ declaration that this tendency toward oligarchization is nearly universal across social structures and the cycle is unlikely to ever be broken.  The best one can do is to keep the oligarchical tendencies in check.

The iron law of oligarchy is useful for understanding the emergence and persistence of leaders within religious structures, but also may be useful for Michels’ suggestion that the best defense against oligarchization is to keep these tendencies from become too widespread.  Social movements are one way to provide a check on these systems and, as religious organizations have been central to many social movements,  this concept may help to explain the motivation for and consequences of some religious or religiously involved social movements.


Michels, Robert. 1962 [1915]. Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: Dover.

A quality of personal charm in a leader, sometimes actually or figuratively described as a divine presence.  The use of this concept owes much to Weber’s distinctions of the types of authority, which included charismatic along with traditional and rational-legal.  The effusive and amorphous nature of the concept makes it notoriously hard to operationalize, but there have been some efforts to do so (see Burke and Brinkerhoff 1981). 


This refers to the view that multiple faith traditions provide avenues to “truth” and offer forms of authentic belief and practice.  This is related to the concept of religious tolerance and is effectively the polar opposite of particularism.

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Ritual is one of the key concepts in the sociology of religion.  Emile Durkheim (1965) posited a relationship between ritual behavior and the adherence to social order, putting collective veneration of the sacred at the heart of his theory of social solidarity.   Ritual, organized around sacred objects as its focal point and organized into cultic practice, was for Durkheim the fundamental source of the “collective conscience” that provides individuals with meaning and binds them into a community.  Participation in rites integrates the individual into a social order both in one’s “day-to-day relationships of life” and in those celebrations of the collective “which bind [one] to the social entity as a whole.”  Veneration of an object held to be sacred by a community is a powerful affirmation of collective conscience and a call to obey communally defined morality.

Durkheim argued that every religious group had three features: a system of beliefs that express the sacred and define the sacred and profane; a moral community (or “cult”), such as a clan, tribe, sect, synagogue, masjid, church, etc. that develops in concert with these beliefs and enforces the norms and rules of the believing society; and a set of collective behaviors, rituals.  Rituals provide a focal point for emotional processes and generate symbols of group membership. They help people to experience a shared sense of exaltation and group transcendence.  This feeling, which is only experienced through ritual veneration, is collective effervescence. The unique condition of ritual participation is that people systematically misunderstand the emotional energy they experience in the ritual process as having a supernatural origin.  This misunderstanding thus confirms their religious beliefs and the exhilaration they experience leads them to return to their community to re-experience it through sacred rites.

Durkheim’s theory implies that (a) any object could become socially defined as sacred and (b) repeated veneration of sacred objects creates stable social relations.  His theory of rituals provides a powerful social mechanism that reinforces group coherence and produces social solidarity, but he does not explain how social groups originate or how they change, dissolve, fracture, and so on.  Innovations in social life – including the formation of new solidary groups – seem to occur only because of exogenous events, since, in Durkheim’s sense, rituals are merely forces for reproduction.  From a functionalist perspective, social and cultural innovations, however rare, are quickly normalized and institutionalized through ritual practices.

Stark and Finke (2000) jettison the functionalism of Durkheim and focus exclusively on religious rituals, rather than all repeated social interactions, arguing that confidence in religious explanations increases with ritual participation.  Rituals generally follow customs or traditions, but they are deliberate ceremonies in which the object is exchanged with a god or gods and the outcome is reinforcement of the “central ideas and ideals of the group.”  Rituals are thus intentional features of religious life and can shift with alterations in either the demand or the supply of religious goods.

Rational-choice accounts argue that rituals are ubiquitous features of social life because they provide the common focal points and common cultural knowledge that provide actors with information about how others will act.  This makes mutual assurance possible and helps actors solve the coordination problems that usually bedevil and obstruct effective collective action.  Armed with common knowledge, actors can more credibly make commitments to one another and mutually orient their actions to one another, often without the need for organization (Chwe 2001).   Cultural practices – such as rituals – that facilitate coordination develop and persist because they are, ultimately, efficient and enhance the productivity of social action.  Not surprisingly, rituals are foundational to voluntary collective action, as is especially evident in religious groups.

According to Durkheim, “[A religious group] is not a simple group of ritual precautions which a man is held to take in certain circumstances; it is a system of diverse rites, festivals, and ceremonies which all have the characteristic that they reappear periodically. They fulfill the need which the believer feels of strengthening and affirming, at regular intervals of time, the bond which unites him to the sacred beings upon which he depends.”  Rituals often venerate heroic forebears and bringers of salvation. “The hero is the symbol of a given society, the society’s progenitor in many cases and a sort of ideal summing up in one mythic individual of the chief characteristics of the various empirical members of the group” (Maus, Hubert, and Hertz 2009).  Neo-Durkheimians contend that ritual participation tends to “open up the space for community or for collective identity in its most elementary form” and link present to past in rituals understood as “iterations of events” going forward into history (Giessen 2006).  The cult helps to constitute moral boundaries, exclude strangers, provide access to goods and privileges, and define a sacred citizenship that operates across social distinctions status (Maus, Hubert, and Hertz 2009).  Yet this need not imply that integration occurs without conflict, as struggles frequently occur among the adherents of the cult for their position in it, their rival interpretations of the core beliefs and myths, and its relevance and importance to the challenges they face.

Neo-Durkheimian theorists of the ritual process insist that the theory of rituals must endogenize change (e.g., through the study of failed rituals and creation of new sacred objects) and specify circumstances under which rituals fail to produce collective emotions or the focus of rituals gets redirected to a new object. Randall Collins has proposed a bold theoretical synthesis that builds upon Durkheim’s theory of moral integration through ritual and Goffman’s situational analysis.  In Interaction Ritual Chains (2004), Collins contends that rituals are powerful because they instigate social interaction based on bodily co-presence and mutual emotional attunement.  When engaged in rituals, individuals feel solidarity with one another and imagine themselves to be members of a common undertaking; they become infused with emotional energy and exhilaration; they establish and reinforce collective symbols, moral representations of the group that ought to be defended and reinforced; and they react angrily to insults toward or the profanation of these symbols.  Yet this is not a functional account of social order; drawing on Goffman, Collins shows how actors are obliged to perform in chains of ritual encounters which they can attempt to manipulate but which may also fail to produce emotional energy and attachment. In analyzing a diverse range of social behaviors from the veneration of the 9-11 “ground zero” site, to the enactment of social status differences, to drug consumption, to sexual intercourse, Collins observes similar features of common emotional entrainment, the production of symbolic focal objects that become invested with the emotional energy of ritual participants, and the continuation or transformation of social relations as rituals either link performances into chains of interaction into the future or produce dissonant emotions that lead social relations to decay.

Ritual participation does not always perpetuate social order.  For instance, growing self-consciousness is deadly to ritual participation and its fundamentally spontaneous, emotional character (Giessen 2006).   Collins observes that formal rituals sometimes fail, or decay over time, such that they produce “little or no feeling of group solidarity; no sense of one’s identity affirmed or changed; no respect for the group’s symbols; no heightened emotional energy”.  The decay of rituals provokes a sense of stale ceremonialism, inappropriateness, or even “strong abhorrence.”  When rituals feel imposed, rather than spontaneously joined, they usually provoke resentment and disgust.  The rejection of imposed rituals and the destruction of symbols associated with them seem to be typical elements in the collapse of social orders, a violent reaction to “a kind of formality that one wishes never to go through again.”

Ritual remains one of the most important concepts not just in the sociology of religion but in sociology more broadly.   Varying theoretical formulations focus on solidarity and integration, on the confidence in beliefs, and the generation of common knowledge that facilitates collective action.  Each is the foundation of a contemporary research program in the sociology of religion.


Collins, Randall. 2004. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton University Press.

Chwe, M. 2001. Rational Ritual: Culture, Coordination, and Common Knowledge.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Durkheim, Emile. [1915] 1965. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. Translated by J. W. Swain. New York: The Free Press.

Giesen, Bernhard. 2006. “Performing the Sacred: A Durkheimian Perspective on the Performative Turn in the Social Sciences.” Pp. 325-367 in Social Performance: Symbolic Action, Cultural Pragmatics, and Ritual, edited by J. Alexander, B. Giesen, and J. Mast.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mauss, Marcel, Henri Hubert, and Robert Hertz. Saints, Heroes, Myths, and Rites: Classsical Durkheimian Studies of Religion and Society. Translated and edited by A. Riley, S. Dynes, and C. Isnach. Boulder: Paradigm.

Stark, Rodney and Roger Finke. 2000. Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press.

This refers to an individual’s self-identified religious tradition or denomination of choice.  In other words, it is the established religious group or tradition which an individual most identifies with.

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Pentecostalism refers to a religious movement started in the United States in the early 20th century, with a pivotal event taking place during the Azusa Street Revival in 1906.  Since then, the movement has spread rapidly and globally, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere.  Although Pentecostal groups cross racial and ethnic boundaries, they are typically more popular among individuals of lower socioeconomic status.  There is a heavy emphasis placed on the “holy spirit” in the form of intensely emotive worship, religious experiences, and speaking in tongues.  Worship services are characterized by an informal and extemporaneous style.  Although there are some larger Pentecostal denominations such as Assemblies of God, but the movement is also characterized by independent, non-hierarchical congregations.

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This refers to the religious affiliation and ideological composition of people within one’s social network.  A wide variety of studies have indicated that social networks play an important role in social processes such as conversion to new ideological positions, apostasy, and the overall maintenance of worldviews.  Network influence can be examined in a variety of ways using both qualitative and quantitative methods.  In general, the closer those in one’s network are to the actor, and the more the relationships are valued, the stronger their influence.  Based on this body of research, the influence of social networks on religious preference, ideology, and religiosity is one of the most established findings in the sociology of religion.

This refers to the amount of racial and/or ethnic diversity within a religious group.  Studies in this area typically assess the differences between racially or ethnically diverse religious groups as compared to those where the vast majority of adherents are similar to one another (homophiliy).  There has also been a considerable amount of attention paid to the role of religion in racial division, as well as its potential role in increased tolerance and acceptance.

Closely related to the idea of “locus of control,” this concept assesses the degree to which individuals feel they have control over their own lives.  Studies of religion often investigate this in relation to how much “control” individuals feel that the divine has over their lives.

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This refers to one’s level of toleration and acceptance of members of differing religions or worldviews.  This topic has received an increasing amount of scholarly attention due to the challenges of pluralism for community integration and identity in post-industrial contexts.  This is particularly the case in relatively secularized Western Europe countries, where the question of how to accommodate highly religious minority groups, most notably Muslim immigrants, has come to the fore in recent years.

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The opposite of conversion, disaffiliation refers to the process of leaving a religious organization or disavowing one’s former religious identity.  Rates of disaffiliation have increased substantially in the Western World over the past 30 years.  It should be noted that disaffiliation refers only to whether an individual claims to belong to an established religious group, regardless of theistic or supernatural belief.  As a result debates remain about whether this indicates a privatization of religiosity or a more thorough process of secularization.  Discourse in this area revolves around issues of “believing without belonging,” and to a lesser extent “belonging without believing.” 

This concept refers to individuals who construct their worldviews and moral frameworks outside of organized religion.  A general term, it can refer to lack of religious affiliation or identity, as well as lack of theistic or supernatural belief.

This concept refers to beliefs, views, or experiences–typically perceived as supernatural in nature, but not necessarily so–that exist beyond the institutional boundaries of both science and organized religion.  This term is an umbrella that encompasses a wide range of views.  Beliefs and practices considered “New Age” or that encompass alien visitation and the existence of monsters are sometimes lumped into “the paranormal,” although Bainbridge (2004) suggests that there distinguishable constituent groups and beliefs. These views constitute an available pool of beliefs beyond institutional science, from which new religious movement sometimes draw.

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Tension refers to the amount of tension or difference between a religious group and its surrounding sociocultural environment.  Religious economies theorists posit that religious demand in a population reflects a “normal curve” regarding the amount of tension sought in a religious group.  They assert that most people prefer a group with medium tension, i.e. one that sets a person apart enough to instill a strong sense of group identity, but not one with so much tension that ties to the outside world are cut.  A higher number of people will prefer such groups over groups in high tension and also over those with tension so low that members are indistinguishable from mainstream culture.  It is important to note, however, that these theorists posit that at least some people will prefer both high and low tension religious groups.

Tension is also used to explain individual commitment to groups in that a higher cost of membership is proposed to produce higher levels of commitment.  At present tension has not been measured in any substantial or convincing manner.  The closely related concept of strictness is usually used to represent tension.  The greatest difficulty in measuring tension is that its measurement is dependent on both the religious group and its surrounding environment.

This refers to individuals’ levels of participation in civic society (public sphere).  Concerning religion, a central question concerns whether religious participation facilitates only participation within the context of the religious group or tradition, or also leads to higher levels of extra-group engagement.  The research literature in this area has found some difference depending on the type of religious engagement one participates in.  The idea of “social capital” is closely related to the idea of civic engagement.

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Used generally, this concept refers to all of the experiential aspects of religion.  More commonly, however, it refers to the claiming of intense experiences perceived as religious, i.e. attributed to religious sources.  Overall, religious experiences are defined by those claiming them; if they define their experience as religious in nature, researchers must rely on these reports.  However, there is some latitude in the types of experiences that researchers choose to focus on.

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Irreligion refers to individuals who are “not religious.”  This can refer to a number of different dimensions including religious affiliation, belief, practice, and identification.  Absence of affiliation refers to those who claim “no religion.”  Although often conflated with atheism or agnosticism, research indicates that people may believe without belonging, or vice versa.  Irreligion may also refer to those who never engage in religious practice or do not consider themselves to be religious.  Due to the diversity of potential paths of operationalization, conceptualization and measurement significantly influence the proportion of individuals in a given area who are considered irreligious.  Research also indicates that individuals may move in and out of irreligion over the life course.

Pluralism refers to the amount of religious diversity in a given area.  Rather than being a simple count of the number of different religions, it is typically defined as the amount of “evenness” with regard religious affiliation in an area.

Secularization and religious economies perspectives are at odds over the consequences of pluralism, with the former positing that it leads to increasing irreligion and privatization, while the latter suggests that increased religious competition fosters strength in religious organizations (cf. Berger 1967; Bruce 2002; Finke and Stark 1988, 1998; Stark, Finke, and Iannaccone 1995).  Pluralism has frequently been measured with the Herfindahl index; however the debate over the consequences of pluralism for religious vitality remains unresolved due to methodological problems resulting from the use of the Herfindahl index to predict adherence rates (see Voas, Olson, and Crockett 2002).

A person who does not report a religious affiliation or does not belong to a religious organization.  Although often conflated with atheism or agnosticism, affiliation and belief represent different forms of irreligion.  It has also been noted that many who fall into this category do so “liminally,” oscillating between nominal religious affiliation and absence of affiliation (Lim, MacGregor, and Putnam 2010).

This refers to an orientation toward transcendent or supernatural realities outside any strict doctrinal framework.  This primarily includes beliefs and practices that are internal and privatized–highlighting a personal “quest.”  Although discernible from “religion” in the organizational sense, research indicates that religion and spirituality are not mutually exclusive.  Rather, most people who consider themselves spiritual also tend to consider themselves religious; however, there are a growing number of individuals in the Western world who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.”

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The situation when a high fraction of friendships or other social relations of members of a religious group are with fellow members rather than outsiders.  This sometimes also referred to as the “density” of one’s social network.  It has been noted that social encapsulation tends to increase as a religious group’s level of tension with the surrounding socio-cultural environment increases.

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Positive or negative feelings an individual holds about members of another group, such as members of a different religion, expressed in terms of the common distance metaphor of feeling close to someone.  A battery of social distance items can be found in Glock and Stark (1966).

A breakdown of society marked by high rates of migration and by sparse or fragmented networks of social relations.  This concept is more often used in the literature on criminology.  Accordingly that is the best place to look for precedent regarding measurement and application.  Common indicators used for social disorganization include: population turnover, density, and heterogeneity (racial and/or economic), as well as crime rates, unemployment, and single-parent households.  Social disorganization is also notable for its introduction of spatial elements into criminological theory and research.

This refers to a religious organization with beliefs and practices associated with an established religious tradition, but with particularly intense or strict regulations regarding group membership.  A sect can be recognized by its association with the tradition of the majority of people in a given context, but whose members consider their faith to be more intense, pure, and consistent.  Sectarian groups typically have a high degree of ideological exclusivity and behavioral strictness

Strict and frequent performance of the public rites of religious observance, even in the absence of fervent belief. 

This would be measured by combining high scores on religious behavior with relatively low scores on belief.

This refers to staged episodes of increased religious emotion and group celebration, sometimes confused with conversion; however revival is distinguished by its collective, (sometimes) organized character.  Revivals are typically organized by established religious groups, but employ a variety of methods designed to arouse fervor that extend beyond commonplace worship services, such as “camp meetings” and para-organizational gatherings.  These are typically pitched by the faithful as efforts to re-claim “sliding” religious commitment or moral sentiments.

Also known as reaffliation, this concept refers to shifts within religious traditions. The concept of religious switching is commonly conflated with the concept of religious conversion. Reaffiliation refers to changes within a specific tradition, like changing denominations within Evangelical Protestantism. Conversion refers to changes across religious traditions, such as changing from Hinduism to Islam. 

Religious switching can be operationalized by taking into account a respondent’s parents’ religious affiliation and comparing it with the religion claimed by the respondent himself or herself. This assumes individuals share the religious (or non-religious) affiliations of parents. Using longitudinal data a researcher could also compare the religious affiliation of a respondent over time while married to someone who affiliates with a different denomination. Using religious identity or RELTRAD to locate respondents within a tradition is a common practice.

The state of a person who is unsatisfied with her currently available religious affiliation and is carrying out exchanges in search of a more satisfying affiliation, belief system, or practice.  Roof reported that seekers are characterized by a “quest” or journey mentality regarding religion.  The term is also typically associated with those particularly interested in “spirituality” and internal religious pursuits.  Some religious organizations have begun to adopt this language and attempt to be “seeker-friendly.”


Batson, C. Daniel and Patricia A. Schoenrade.  1991.  “Measuring Religion as Quest: Validity Concerns.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 30(4):416-429.

Houtman, Dick and Stef Aupers.  2007.  “The Spiritual Turn and the Decline of Tradition: The Spread of Post-Christian Spirituality in 14 Western Countries.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 46(3):305-320.

Roof, Wade Clark.  1993.  A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation.  San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco.

Roof, Wade Clark.  1999. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wuthnow, Robert.  1998. After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

“The restrictions placed on the practice, profession, or selection of religion” (Grim and Finke, 2007:636).  Critical issues involved in assessing the amount of religious regulation in a given context include the level of separation or establishment between church and state, as well as the level of repression and coercion used against particular religious traditions.  The religious economies perspective posits that less regulation of religious markets results in greater overall levels of adherence, because the market can function freely and therefore meet a wider diversity of religious demand.  Conversely, greater regulation of religion is posited as leading to monopolistic religious firms that do not need to compete as rigorously for adherents and that will therefore have less interest in serving the needs of a wide variety of parishioners.

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Within the framework of “rational choice” approaches, this is one of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. Religious producers’ behavior is posited to follow the same principles as that of consumers. Providers of religious “goods” are typically clergy or administrative denominational members.  It is assumed within this framework that their primary goal is to maximize the number of adherents or power they can hold. “Whether pastors, priests, rabbis, or imams – religious producers will tend to adjust behavior so as to maximize the return to their efforts” (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461, 464)

Religion conceptualized as a way of responding to life’s problems, in contrast, for example, to political or psychotherapeutic responses.

Without using the term, Richard F. Larson (1968) shows how to measure a religious problem-solving perspective.

This refers to an “individual’s evaluations of competing religious goods” (Sherkat 1997:69). Religious preferences as a concept is used to explain why individuals participate in different religions or choose varying styles of religion. It seeks to answer why specific religious choices are made. Generally, religious preferences are adaptive, grow stronger with consumption, and can respond to new information. Individuals learn their preferences through socialization and past experiences; immersion in religious communities causes individuals to have particular religious understandings which give religion value (Sherkat 1997:70).

Some possible operationalizations of religious preferences include how individuals view the Bible, God, or the path to salvation. Each of these are theological (and therefore cultural) issues that serve as markers to what types of religious goods individuals prefer. Worship style preference could also approximate the preferences individuals might have for religious goods. Some might desire an experiential or emotionally expressive faith, while others prefer more formalized rituals.

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The three main economic roles that people play in religion – consumers, producers, and investors – fit together to create markets. Social outcomes (markets) constitute the equilibria that emerge from the aggregation and interaction of individual actions on both the productive and consumptive sides of religion (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:468).  Markets vary widely in the diversity of choices offered, depending on the relative population size, history, and level of regulation/repression of certain forms of religion occurring in a given context.

One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. “Consumers who give their church time and money in hopes of earning entry into Heaven are essentially investing in it. When they die, and ‘and go to their reward,’ then they believe they can cash in on this investment” (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461, 467).  This concept is employed within the framework of “rational choice” approaches to religion.

This refers to religious self-identification (Smith, 1998:233). One ongoing discussion within the sociology of religion is how to categorize religious individuals. In the past researchers have created categories, then placed individuals into them by religious affiliation or certain religious beliefs. For example, to categorize individuals as Evangelical Protestants researchers could use their religious denomination (e.g., Southern Baptist) or certain beliefs commonly attributed to Evangelicals (e.g., individuals must be “born-again” to receive salvation). However, religious identity is now being used as another way to categorize individuals, relying entirely on respondents to place themselves within a certain category. A strength of this specific categorization technique is that it ensures the individual sees the classification as appropriate, rather than just being placed there by a researcher according to a predefined typology.  There are some drawbacks to this technique, however, such as the diffuse and often political nature of certain religious terms such as “evangelical” or “fundamentalist.”

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Familiarity with a religion’s doctrines, rituals, traditions, and members (Iannaccone 1990:299).

The degree of mastery of and attachment to a particular religious culture (Stark and Finke 2000:120). 

A common practice for measuring religious human capital is to find out if individuals have been a part of a particular religion for a long period of time. This can be operationalized through respondents’ self-reported religiosity at age 12, their parent’s religious tradition, or their attendance levels at age 12. Presumably, those in the same religious tradition (found by comparing parent’s and respondent’s religious tradition), those who are highly religious or attended at high levels since childhood enjoy a greater amount of religious human capital compared to those who do not. Another possible operationalization of religious human capital is religious intermarriage. Stark and Finke (2000) and Iannaccone (1990) suggest that those with less religious human capital are more likely to religiously intermarry compared to those with more religious human capital. Church attendance and church contributions also provide a look into a person’s possible level of religious human capital.

One of the economic roles individuals play when engaged in religious behavior. Rational choice theorists posit that individuals weigh the costs and benefits of potential actions, choosing those actions to maximize their net benefits. Religiously active individuals seek rewards through social interaction in a world of uncertainty and deprivation (Iannaccone and Bainbridge 2009:461-462).  The application of rational choice assumptions to religious behavior remains controversial among some scholars (e.g. Chaves 1995), who maintain that assuming “rational action” in effect assumes away issues that warrant explanation.

A religious compensator is belief in a future reward and/or justice.  Contrasted with immediate rewards, compensators represent the promise of future reward.  According to Iannaccone and Bainbridge, “A distinctive feature of religious organizations is that they promise attainment of rewards, such as eternal life in Heaven, that cannot be delivered in the here and now” (2009:466).  Accordingly, “When humans cannot quickly and easily obtain strongly desired rewards they persist in their efforts and may often accept explanations that provide only compensators. These are intangible substitutes for the desired reward, having the character of I.O.U.s, the value of which must be taken on faith” (Stark and Bainbridge 1987:36).  Although the concept of compensators occupied a central role in early efforts to theorize religious activity from a religious economies perspective, some later efforts largely dropped this concept from the general theoretical framework (cf. Stark 1999; Stark and Bainbridge 1987; Stark and Finke 2000).

On its most basic level, religious belief refers to views toward the supernatural. Usually paired in research with measures of religious tradition and religious behavior, measuring religious belief allows researchers to gain insight into what respondents are thinking concerning the supernatural. One of the most common religious belief measures is whether or not respondents believe in God. A new strain of research is focusing not just on if individuals believe in God, but specifically what they believe God to be like. The images of God variables are used to create various scales that have proven to be highly predictive of attitudes and behavior. Probably the most common religious belief measure used in religious research is biblical literalism. This variable grouped with religious tradition and religious behavior is a common set of religious controls for any statistical model. Beyond these religious beliefs, a less-used list of other beliefs exists. Belief in Hell, Jesus, salvation, Satan, angels, demons, heaven, or the “end times” provide a rich palate of possible research opportunities dealing with religious belief.

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The type and amount of religious actions an individual exhibits. Closely tied to the concept of religiosity, religious behavior focuses upon what individuals are doing in relation to religion specifically. The most commonly used measure of religious behavior is church or worship service attendance. Research shows that the act of attending alone exerts a powerful influence on individuals. Private forms of practice such as frequency of prayer or the reading of sacred scriptures are also important considerations.  Other forms of religious behavior that can be operationalized are contributions toward, and participation in religious activities or entities outside of worship. Self-reported religious experience can also be used as a measure of religious behavior. This measure is less well-known and as such, utilized less in research.

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This refers to one’s level of religious commitment. It is most commonly measured through self-report of various practices. Frequency of attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer, and reading sacred texts are all potential indicators of religiosity.  However, beliefs such as Biblical literalism can also be used as indicators of religiosity, but they are limited in their general application due to a tradition-specific relevance.  It is also worth noting that religious groups vary in the frequency with which they require certain types of practice.  Other potential measures, such as how much money a person gives to their place of worship, are occasionally used.

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This refers to a situation in which one person lacks what referent others have, especially if this leads to frustration and a sense of injustice.  This is a classic explanation for the sociodemographic composition of church-sect dimensions, suggesting that sects compensate people psychologically for relative deprivation.  This compensation often comes in the form of ideological exclusivity, group strictness to maintain exclusivity, and religious experiences.

Based on Max Weber’s classic argument about religion and capitalism, this concept brings together supposed characteristics of Protestantism such as worldly asceticism, dedication to work, and the notion that economic success is evidence of grace.

This refers to the belief that only one’s own faith is true or that salvation can be achieved only by adherence to a particular religion.  This is sometimes referred to as (ideological) exclusivity or strictness.

Adhering to the traditional religious faith of the particular society or coherent subgroup.  This is usually assessed in reference to affirming a series of beliefs representing “traditional” religious views, such as “literalist” stances on sacred texts or belief in miracles.

A Christian orthodoxy index can be found in Stark and Glock (1968) and Batson (1976).

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Beliefs and practices classified under the label of “New Age” represent a diffuse subculture mixing spiritualist, occult, and Eastern beliefs and practices.  These views are typically syncretistic and relatively privatized in nature, dealing only peripherally with any sort of involvement with established religious groups; however, some factions of the subculture do include members who will meet periodically.  European researchers have noted the rise in these views with the decline of traditional religiosity.  The extent to which such perspectives constitute a viable new religious movement remains an open debate.

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“The psychologically healthy person is one who maintains close contact with reality” (Taylor and Brown 1988:193). 

“The perception of reality is called mentally healthy when what the individual sees corresponds to what is actually there” (Jahoda 1958:6).

Definitions of mental health, as well the best way to measure the concept, remain generally debatable.

“Life satisfaction is a cognitive assessment of an underlying state thought to be relatively consistent and influenced by social factors” (Ellison et al. 1989).

This phenomenon is marked by holding to the authority of Scripture, the veracity of supernatural miracles, exclusive salvation, and encouraging a separation from “the world” (Woodberry and Smith, 1998:28). The term fundamentalism is derived from reaction movements to the modernist and liberal strains of Protestantism that arose at the turn of the 20th century, but has since been applied to movements within different religious traditions such as Islam andHinduism (see Almond, Appleby and Scott 2003).

Christian fundamentalism tends to favor a premillenialist dispensationalism believing that the world will grow worse and worse, despite any human intervention, until Jesus Christ’s return to earth. Accordingly, fundamentalists believe in maintaining a strict separation from the world and rarely encourage a social gospel, which is usually attributed to more liberal Protestant groups.

Common ways of measuring fundamentalism is by using RELTRAD and accounting for a person’s religious tradition. Fundamentalists are most likely found in the Evangelical Protestant or Black Protestant traditions. Fundamentalists are also very likely to ascribe a literal and perfect view of the Bible. Due to the premillenialist views of fundamentalists researchers could use a belief in certain “End Times” prophecies to designate those in this strain of Christianity. A belief in Jesus and Jesus being the only way to salvation are also markers that can be used to measure fundamentalism.  This concept may also be measure by self-identification with the term fundamentalist.

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Using religious participation and affiliation to achieve practical goals, such as social status.

The frequency at which an individual performs religious rituals and comparable behaviors, notably prayer and Bible reading, often measured independently of group activities such as church attendance.  See religiosity.

A culturally deviant religious organization with novel or exotic religious beliefs and practices.  Members will have religious beliefs and practices that do not belong to the dominant religious tradition in the cultural context in question.  One can often distinguish a cult from an immigrant ethnic religion by looking at variables such as parents’ birthplace.  Cults differ from sects in that they create new belief systems rather than taking established belief systems to more intense levels. 

Cults are sometimes referred to as “new religious movements” in order to avoid the rhetorical baggage of the term cult.  Academics have also disputed the danger inherent to new religious movements, with many attempting to counter claims of “brain washing.”  Such groups may also raise important cases of symbolic boundary disputes involving religious freedom, and by implication, laws addressing religious freedom and expression. 

The view that God directly created humans and other living creatures, in opposition to the theory of evolution by natural selection from random variation.

This is often measured by a single item about the theory of evolution, coupled with the religiousness of the respondent, but ideally would be measured by a battery of items containing subscales measuring different components of the concept.  There are varying degrees of “creationism,” ranging from theistic evolution to young Earth creationism (see Scott 1997, 2009).  In recent years efforts have been made to “scienticize” creationism with the rhetoric of Intelligent Design.

“Conversion refers to shifts across religious traditions” (Stark and Finke 2000:114). This would include changing from Judaism to Christianity or Hinduism to Islam. Religious reaffiliation, changing from one style of a specific religion to another, is commonly confused with conversion. An example of reaffiliation would be changing from Southern Baptist to Methodist within Christianity or from Sunni to Shiite within Islam.

Studies focusing on the growth of cults did the most to shed light on the nature of conversion and the way individuals change their religious beliefs. The popular belief before the studies of Lofland and Stark (1965) and Barker (1984) was that individuals joining religious cults were brainwashed by leaders. These studies disproved this conception of conversion showing that initiates into new religious groups converted due to changes in their social networks. Those who converted did so because they came to a point where they knew more people in the cult or religious group than individuals not a part of the group. It was only until after conversion took place that the actual beliefs of the group were cited as reasons for the conversion.

Some common ways of measuring the concept of conversion is to ask individuals if they have ever experienced what they would describe as a conversion experience. Another avenue for exploring conversion is to compare a respondent’s parent’s religious affiliation with the respondent’s current religious affiliation or stated religious identity. This method assumes that, as a child, the respondent shared his or her parent’s religious views. A third possible measure of conversion is religious intermarriage. Over time researchers might find that a spouse converts to his or her spouse’s religion.

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Civil religion represents a diverse tradition of scholarship, but generally refers to public dimensions of religion, and especially to connections between religion and ethno-nationalism.  Robert Bellah, who is credited with coining and popularizing the concept, defines it as “a public religious dimension that is expressed in a set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals” (1967: 100).  This is typically conceptualized with regard to the sanctification of political institutions such as the veneration of the U.S. constitution or flag. 

See Gorski, who posits that civil religion exists as a middle ground between fundamentalisms seeking to merge religion and the public sphere and secularists who seek a full separation between public life and religion.  Research on civil religion is typically conducted in a comparative historical fashion, due to its imprecise conceptual boundaries.

A conventional religious organization, such as a mainstream denomination.

A church can be recognized by the fact that respondents who are members exhibit distributions of religious beliefs and practices that are comparable to those of the population as a whole.

A religious movement that emphasizes spiritual gifts and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Charismatic movements are similar to Pentecostalism, but can occur among religious traditions outside of conservative Protestantism, such as Catholicism.

The tendency to follow a strong leader or rigid social conventions.  This is typically assessed through a high value on traditional conventions, a belief in an “objective” morality, and the belief that this morality should be publicly enforced and/or imposed on others.

Unreasoning hostility toward and discrimination against Jews.

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The state of being without effective rules for living.

A breakdown at the level of the entire society, which Emile Durkheim measured in terms of economic instability.

Strain between the norms and values of a society (Robert K. Merton), as experienced by the individual, which could be measured by items about frustration in achieving conventional life goals.

A feeling of estrangement from society as a whole, or from its dominant institutions, but not necessarily estrangement from all local religious groups.

Proponents of this perspective posit that stricter churches reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. This concept is generally considered to be part of a religious economies approach to religion because it employs assumptions derived from economics regarding the relationship between individual and group behavior, but there is a distinctive research literature focusing on strictness as an intra-organizational dimension.  Kelley (1972) posited three primary aspects of strictness: 1) ideological; 2) lifestyle or behavioral; 3) policing.

The theory undergirding the concept predicts that strict religious groups will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment, while more lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit lower levels of commitment. At present, there is not a standard strategy for operationalizing and empirically assessing the concept of strictness.  Although Iannaccone (1994) used the opinions of “experts,” a more objective approach has been to examine the number of behavioral restrictions made on adherents.

There is also a potential avenue of research that examines the micro sociological mechanisms of strict religious organizations from the group processes and symbolic interaction perspectives.  Other current shortcomings in this perspective are the under-specified nature of the connection between strictness and tension with the surrounding cultural environment, and often these terms are incorrectly used interchangeably (Tamney 2005).

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This refers to the degree to which individuals want to see the public sphere “re-sacralized” by the influence of their particular religious preference.  This can range from the display of explicitly religious symbols in public spaces to governmental declarations of an official religion.

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A more-or-less coherent system of statements about the world, that often achieve some degree of consensus in a formal religious organization or diffuse religious subculture.  A broader term than religion, ideology refers to a belief system that is constructed and maintained to deal with moral issues in personal experience and social relations.  All adequately functioning humans operate from some form of belief system, which establishes the mental schemas from which they derive patterns of action.

The term ideology has often been used pejoratively to connote belief systems that are considered false or misleading.  This is especially the case from Marxist perspectives.  More recently however, some researchers have moved toward using the term in a more value-neutral manner.  See Gerring (1997) for an overview of the uses of the term. 

For a critical discussion of what stated personal beliefs (and by implication ideology) mean in relation to one’s understanding of his or her position relative to others in “social space” see (Martin 2000; Martin and Desmond 2010). 

The organizational form that dominant religious traditions assume in a pluralistic culture (Christiano et al., 2002:101). Denominationalism refers to the subdivision of a particular religion. A common example is Protestant Christianity in the United States. While each denomination ascribes to what are considered foundational tenets of the Christian faith, they maintain separate identities due to differences in what are considered peripheral issues. However, some denominations might consider that others have actually left the “true” Christian faith.

A central method for measuring denominationalism is RELTRAD. Steensland et al. proposed this typology in 2000, and it is currently the most widely accepted way of accounting for differences in religious tradition in random sample data.  Included within the typology are Evangelical, Mainline, and Black Protestants. These could be used to approximate differences believed to be due to denominationalism.  Another popular schematic was developed by Smith (1990), which is used on the General Social Survey.

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