When coping with significantly stressful situations some individuals have a preference for religion. Specifically, the elderly, minorities, and individuals facing life-threatening situations mention religion more frequently as a coping strategy compared to other coping alternatives (Pargament, Koenig, and Perez, 2000). We were curious to see what religious coping methods fundamentalists might use. Fundamentalists essentially believe their own set of religious values is the only true religion, that these values should not change, and any other ideas that attempt to change these values should be fought against (Wamser, Vandenberg, & Hibberd, 2011).
Studies have examined the relationship between fundamentalism, and general positive and negative religious coping. Nooney and Woodrum (2002) found that fundamentalists use more positive religious coping than moderates and liberals. However, there was no difference between these groups on negative religious coping, seeking support from the church, or experiencing frustrations with the church. Wamser, Vandenberg, and Hibberd (2011) found religious fundamentalism and deferred religious coping were positively correlated with a preference for religious treatment over psychotherapy. Thus, it appears fundamentalism is tied to positive – and possibly deferring – religious coping.
Interestingly, research has not examined how common marking religious boundaries or religious focus are as coping methods in fundamentalists. We assume religious focus (turning to beliefs and behaviors concerning the transcendent) and marking religious boundaries (clarifying acceptable and unacceptable behaviors) are more frequently used religious coping strategies for fundamentalists. These methods provide an outlet for them to cling to their traditional religious beliefs, and result in a sense of comfort and stability.
There were a total of 435 college students attending two universities on the Midwest and West-Coast. The sample was mostly female (71.2%), with a mean age of 22.13 years (SD 7.02). In terms of ethnicity, 71% of the sample was European-American, 12.6% Hispanic-American, 7.6% Asian-American, and 4.6% were African-American. Eighty percent were never married, and 16% were married/cohabiting. Pertaining to household income, 62.5% of the participants indicated they made below $50,000 dollars. When asked if they believe in God, 92.6% said yes. Eighty percent identified as Christian (Catholic or Protestant), with 38.1% attending church a few times a year, and 19.3% never attending. Twenty percent prayed or meditated daily, 15% prayed a few times a week, and 16.6% a few times a year. Religiosity was average, with 16% not religious at all, 30.5% were slightly religious, 41.4% moderately religious, and 12.3% believed themselves to be very religious.
The survey included demographic questions for age, gender, ethnicity, household income, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and marital status. The present study utilized a modified version of the RCOPE, including the three highest loading items in the Pargament et al. (2000) factor analysis. This included 75 items rated on a scale from 1-4 (1=not at all; 4=great deal). The current research also used the Revised Religious Fundamentalism Scale (Altemeyer & Hunsberger, 2004), which includes 12 items ranked on a 9-point rating scale (1= very strongly disagree, to 9, very strongly agree).
Students in psychology courses were asked to partake in an online study for extra credit. Interested students provided their email address to the professor, who gave the information to the researchers. Those who signed up for the study were emailed a link and a password for the survey. The survey contained a number of validated measures besides those described in the current study, including: scales assessing daily spiritual experiences, mystical experiences, Christian orthodoxy, stress, general outcomes from stress, anxiety, hostility, and depression. Participants were emailed the same survey two months later as a follow up study.
There is a moderate and statistically significant correlation between Religious Fundamentalism and Marking Religious Boundaries (r = .57, p < .001) and Religious Focus (r = .54, p < .001). We next used a forward regression procedure to test whether fundamentalism predicted the religious coping methods of marking religious boundaries and religious focus better than demographic variables (gender, race, income), general religious variables (self-perceived religiosity, self-perceived spirituality, frequency of prayer, and frequency of church attendance), and other variables that our research program were interested in (age and faith development).
Fundamentalism was a major predictor of religious coping, being the best predictor of marking religious boundaries and the second best predictor of religious focus (see Table 1). Interestingly, frequency of prayer was the best predictor of religious focus and the second best predictor of marking religious boundaries.
*Insert Table 1 about here*
Fundamentalism had a positive moderate correlation to marking religious boundaries and religious focus. In a forward regression, fundamentalism was the best or second best predictor amongst ten variables for religious coping. Fundamentalism usually involves dedication to one specific religion, so it makes sense that fundamentalists cope with stress by finding ways to devote themselves within their own religion.
This study is not representative of the general population because only college students of mostly traditional age were assessed. The current study only examined two theoretically relevant coping styles. There are 15 other religious coping styles, and many secular styles, which could be studied.
Further research should look to examine other demographical variables, populations, religious and secular coping styles to better understand fundamentalists. In terms of practical applications, it would be useful for therapists to note how fundamentalist clients cope with stress, and to consider bringing the methods examined in this study into therapy as resources for such individuals.
Altemeyer, B., & Hunsberger, B. (2004). A revised religious fundamentalism scale: The short and sweet of it. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 14(1), 47-54.
Nooney, J., & Woodrum, E. (2002). 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), 359-368.
Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., & Perez, L. M. (2000). The many methods of religious coping: Development and initial validation of the rcope. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 56(4), 519-543.
Wamser, R., Vandenberg, B., & Hibberd, R. (2011). Religious fundamentalism, religious coping, and preference for psychological and religious treatment. International Journal for Psychology of Religion, 21(3), 228-236.