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Lynn Underwood & Array Array

Religion and Resilience

Senior Research Scholar, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University
Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
June 9, 2017

Religion and Resilience


There are some people who have a certain concept of theological concept that thinks about religion in a somewhat magical way or thinks about religion in a somewhat simplistic way, not necessarily due to their own fault but the circumstances of their upbringing and that kind of simplistic approach to religion often just doesn’t it after the rubber hits the road in the difficulties it won’t hold, it has to change that that has to change and become more sophisticated and also people who maybe start out with a little more complex sense of the mystery of life are able to hit the ground and be able to be resilient in those situations and would this be a good time to maybe talk about research. There’s some research on that.

Yeah, yeah.

One of the ways of envisioning the kind of religious spiritual qualities, I developed a scale the daily spiritual experience scale and it has a bunch of questions in it that ask about ordinary experiences like aww, feeling thankful for your blessings, feeling Gods or love directly or divine love, mercy, joy, sense of religious strength and comfort.

Those kinds of things both for religious people and for non-religious people and it kind of works across a lot of people. Well, this DSES is the short form for it, has been correlated with a lot of has been looked at in studies of post-traumatic growth and you’ve written a lot about post-traumatic growth and resiliency. So for example, a study using this set of questions showed that young adults with exposure to violence but have higher scores on these experiences have more resilient functioning as adults.

Another study looked at urban early adolescence and the role of this higher scores on the scale enabled them to better after they were exposed to that. It’s been looked at with VATS and PTSD and VATS who have higher scores on the DSES are less likely to have suicidal thoughts and move so it’s suicide. So that kind of it’s been looked at in those situations where people have hit these hard situations.

If you have these resources that are not necessarily a theological picture of the world but they’re a sense of connection to the transcendent, they are a buffer in those situations and they enable a growth in people more often than not.

There’s a nice theory that I think helps to frame the the results that you’re talking about Lynn and it’s perhaps most clearly articulated by Crystal Park, who talks about the stress-related model of growth and suffering and it’s a it’s a discrepancy theory. So she says that that suffering occurs when there is a discrepancy between the meaning that we attribute to the event that causes the suffering and our meaning-making system, what we may call our worldview, right, and so the greater the discrepancy between those two the greater their suffering is gonna be.

So for example, you know I’m diagnosed with cancer and so I have this concept of an all-powerful loving God and yet I’m seeing my diagnosis of cancer as as terrible, a tragedy, something completely bad, something that’s gonna make my children you know motherless. There’s a discrepancy there, right, because how can a good and all-powerful God allow a cancer like this, right.

And so that discrepancy is what causes the suffering and so the meaning-making process needs to happen in order to reconcile the two and that can happen in two different ways. It can happen either by reappraising the situation, either by changing our perspective on the the situation that’s causing the suffering to align it with our larger worldview.

Close the gaps.

Close the gaps or it can happen the other way, it could be there our worldview changes, right, in order to accommodate it here. And I think that this goes to what Lynn was talking about in terms of some people having kind of a magical or a simplistic view of you know in terms of their religious concepts.

It’s it’s kind of an inadequate meaning-making framework and so something hard hits and it’s it’s it’s too brittle, right, it shatters, it doesn’t allow for accommodation of the event and so either the person can grow through rebuilding that or it could be that they just end up with a worldview that is shattered and nihilistic. I actually remember a client that I worked with very early on in my time as a therapist and she had been raised in some form of Christian Church and recalled teaching children’s Sunday School class or she told the children that nothing bad would ever happen to them.

That God was gonna protect them and then her sister was murdered. And that caused a huge crisis of faith as you might imagine because she had this idea this religious idea that God would never allow believers to go through anything hard and here was her sister who had died and she completely lost her faith. She was not able to rebuild a positive meaning-making system as a result of that.

So I saw her decades later and she had had kind of a depressed, bitter you know life spanning over those years because her suffering had lead to a decline the shattering of whole worldview. Now it could have been the occasion for her to rebuild a more sophisticated reality oriented you know theological worldview perspective, that’s not what happened in her case but

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