Religious coping is religiously framed cognitive, emotional, or behavioral responses to stress, encompassing multiple methods and purposes as well as positive and negative dimensions.
Religion and spirituality translate into coping responses to stress insofar as they serve as available and compelling orienting systems and especially when stressors test “the limits of personal powers” (Pargament 1997, p. 310). Religion can provide a framework for understanding emotional and physical suffering and can facilitate perseverance or acceptance in the face of stressors. Religious coping encompasses religiously framed cognitive, emotional, or behavioral responses to stress. It may serve many purposes, including achieving meaning in life, closeness to God, hope, peace, connection to others, self-development, and personal restraint (Pargament 1997). Who uses religious coping depends on individual (e.g., degree of personal religious commitment), situational (e.g., stressfulness of the event), and cultural factors (Harrison et al. 2001). The outcomes of religious coping depend in part on the appropriateness of the coping method to the stressor (Pargament 1997; e.g., Park et al. 2012).
Early measures of coping very briefly assessed a limited array of religious coping strategies (Carver et al. 1989; Lazarus and Folkman 1984). The RCOPE religious coping scale by Pargament and colleagues expanded measurement of religious coping to include methods to find meaning, gain control, gain comfort and closeness to God, and achieve a life transformation (Pargament et al. 2000), and a brief version has shown good psychometric properties (Pargament et al. 2011). Additional measures have been developed to capture the related but somewhat broader domains of spiritual struggles (e.g., Exline et al. 2014; Wood et al. 2010). Measurement of diverse methods of religious coping permits researchers and clinicians to assess specific beliefs, experiences, or practices that differentially relate to health.
Religious coping may be active or passive in nature. An actively collaborative religious coping style in which a person considers him or herself partners with God in resolving a problem has been found to be more common and more effective than either a self-directing or passive style (Pargament 1997). Religious coping methods that have been shown to have a generally positive relationship with psychological adjustment to stress (Ano and Vasconcelles 2005), hence positive religious coping, include the collaborative style, benevolent reappraisal of the stressor, and seeking spiritual support from God, clergy, or members of one’s religious group. Religious coping is increasingly being researched in the contexts of multiple illnesses, and suspected mechanisms through which religious coping can influence health include relaxation, sense of control, and the promotion of healthy behaviors. Positive religious coping may alleviate the negative physical impacts of stress, yet more research is needed to isolate the specific strategies and mechanisms (Krause 2011). Although research has failed to show consistent relations between positive religious coping methods and physical health, future research may incorporate sophisticated design and proposed psychosocial (e.g., meaning, social support, meditation) and physiological mediation pathways (Park 2007; Seybold 2007). Moderation analyses may also help identify which individuals benefit under in particular circumstances (e.g., Pirutinsky et al. 2012).
Research has demonstrated consistent relations between negative religious coping methods and poorer mental and physical health (Ano and Vasconcelles 2005; Powell et al. 2003), including poorer health in the context of physical disease, such as increased risk of suicidal ideation in advanced cancer patients (Trevino et al. 2014) and depressive symptoms and poor quality of life in individuals with HIV/AIDS (Lee et al. 2014). Negative religious coping, also known as spiritual struggle, encompasses interpersonal, intrapersonal, and divine categories, including conflict with religious others, questioning, guilt, and perceived distance from or negative views of a higher power (Pargament 2007). Religious coping may also be a negative force in health if it interferes with receipt of necessary treatments (e.g., passive religious deferral). Although generally less common than positive coping in response to stress (Abu-Raiya and Pargament 2015), negative religious coping is common in people facing serious or life-threatening illness. As such, researchers have recommended incorporating assessment of positive and negative religious coping in clinical practice to identify those at risk for the negative impacts of spiritual struggles and have begun to develop recommendations regarding interventions targeted at spiritual struggles (Pargament 2007).
References and Further Readings
- Exline, J. J., & Rose, E. D. (2013). Religious and spiritual struggles. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (2nd ed., pp. 380–398). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping: Theory, research, practice. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Pargament, K. I. (2007). Spiritually integrated psychotherapy: Understanding and addressing the sacred. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Pargament, K. I., Ano, G. G., & Wachholtz, A. B. (2005). The religious dimension of coping: Advances in theory, research, and practice. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (pp. 479–495). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar