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Religious Coping

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.

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