Ontological certainty and psychological distress : the role of religious beliefs.

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Despite prominent criticisms, scholars generally agree that religious participation conveys important potential psychosocial benefits which contribute to well-being and protect against the deleterious nature of stress. However, the sociology of religion has been reticent investigating the unique impact that adherence to religious beliefs poses to mental health, despite calls for more research in this area. Meanwhile, social theorists have long posited that ontological uncertainty, i.e. doubts about the nature of God, the afterlife, etc., poses a real threat to well-being and a small subset of research findings suggest that committed irreligiosity may provide similar benefits as committed religiosity. This dissertation tests the general proposition that adherence to ontological beliefs shares a non-linear relationship with psychological distress, and that uncertain views about the nature of reality is associated with higher levels of distress. I test this proposition in three studies, each relying on the 2012 Baylor Religion Survey, a national a nationally random survey of U.S. adults (N = 1,710). Study one uses Ordinary Least Squares regression models to predict non-linear relationships between psychological distress and images of God. Study two investigates the effect of divine relationship uncertainty using Ordinary Least Squares regression models to predict non-linear relationships between psychological distress and insecure/secure attachment to God, non-linear relationships between insecure/secure attachment to God and anxious attachment to God, and deleterious linear relationships between psychological distress and anxious attachment to God. Study three uses Ordinary Least Squares regression models to predict non-linear relationships between psychological distress and adherence to afterlife beliefs. Results reveal a consistent pattern: those who exhibit greater certainty regarding ontological matters are predicted to report lower levels of general distress and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. Those who exhibit less certainty regarding ontological matters are predicted to report the highest levels of general and psychological distress. In the conclusion, I summarize and discuss study findings in relation to existing religion and mental health literature. Theoretical, methodological and practical applications are also discussed.

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Religious beliefs. Mental health. Image of God. Attachment to God. Afterlife belief.
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