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The Bitter and the Sweet: An Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits of Religiousness

Kenneth I. Pargament
Psychological Inquiry
Vol. 13, No. 3, Religion and Psychology (2002), pp. 168-181
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1449326
Page Count: 14
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The Bitter and the Sweet: An Evaluation of the Costs and Benefits of Religiousness
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Abstract

Psychologists have tended to view religion from a distance as a global, undifferentiated, stable process that is largely good or largely bad. This article presents a more fine-grained analysis of religion and its implications for well-being, positive and negative. The empirical literature points to five conclusions. First, some forms of religion are more helpful than others. Well-being has been linked positively to a religion that is internalized, intrinsically motivated, and based on a secure relationship with God and negatively to a religion that is imposed, unexamined, and reflective of a tenuous relationship with God and the world. Second, there are advantages and disadvantages to even controversial forms of religion, such as fundamentalism. Third, religion is particularly helpful to socially marginalized groups and to those who embed religion more fully in their lives. Fourth, religious beliefs and practices appear to be especially valuable in stressful situations that push people to the limits of their resources. Finally, the efficacy of religion is tied to the degree to which it is well integrated in the individual's life. These conclusions belie stereotypes or simple summaries about religion. Instead, they suggest that religion is a richer, more complex process than psychologists have imagined, one that has the potential both to help and to harm. Questions about the general efficacy of religion should give way to the more difficult but more appropriate question, How helpful or harmful are particular forms of religious expression for particular people dealing with particular situations in particular social contexts according to particular criteria of helpfulness or harmfulness?

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