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Attribution and Coping Theories

Originating in psychological studies of religion, these approaches highlight the ways in which individuals utilize religion to cope with difficult situations and make sense of events in their lives.  Research indicates that people typically have naturalistic and religious meaning systems operating simultaneously, and how these systems are combined to make sense of events depends on the characteristics of both the individual and the event in question.  Research on attributions is typically carried out in experimental settings where subjects are presented with scenarios or vignettes and asked how they would explain and understand the situations presented.

Similarly, research and theory indicates that religious coping is more likely to occur in situations perceived as uncontrollable.  As such, levels of religious coping vary not only by individual characteristics, but also by social location (status set).  Together these theories posit that religion helps satiate human need for meaning and explanations addressing existential concerns.


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

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.

Proudfoot, Wayne and Phillip Shaver.  1975.  “Attribution Theory and the Psychology of Religion.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 14(4):317-330.

Spilka, Bernard, Phillip Shaver and Lee A. Kirkpatrick.  1985.  “A General Attribution Theory for the Psychology of Religion.”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 24(1):1-18.

The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.
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.
"Life satisfaction is a cognitive assessment of an underlying state thought to be relatively consistent and influenced by social factors" (Ellison et al. 1989).
"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.
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. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:

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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. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:

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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.
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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