Home > Psychology > Beyond Allport’s Paradox: The Religion and Prejudice Equation: Part Three

Beyond Allport’s Paradox: The Religion and Prejudice Equation: Part Three


The following is adapted from an essay submitted to the Department of Psychology, University of Carleton, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the B.A. with Honours degree.  Read Part One here, and Part Two here.

Religiousness vs. Spirituality

Clearly, social scientists face many challenges when applying religion as a variable to other factors such as prejudice. In an attempt to clarify how religion should be studied, researchers have begun to assess how individuals and religious professionals view religion and spirituality. Despite these admirable pursuits, these investigations are revealing just how complex these challenges are, and that there appears to be little consensus.

In a study conducted by Zinnabauer, et al. (1997), individuals (N = 346) from various religious and secular institutions were surveyed about the meaning of religiousness and spirituality. Several measures, including closed and open-ended questions were conducted. Participants provided written definitions of religiousness and spirituality, answered Likert-type scales measuring their degree of religiousness/spirituality, and chose the most personally relevant statement designed to assess the interdependence of religiousness and spirituality in their beliefs. Overall, the results suggest that religiousness and spirituality were viewed as interdependent, but separate terms, both of which encapsulate the sacred.

A more recent study by Marler and Hadaway (2002) supports these results by showing that most individuals do not differentiate between religiousness and spirituality. In this study, 64% of Protestant participants responded that they considered themselves religious and spiritual. Only 27% of the respondents viewed themselves as one or the other.

In another study designed to explore concepts and definitions of religiousness and spirituality, Marler and Hadaway found that 63% of participants believed that religious and spiritual were distinctive, but codependent ideas. The samples from these studies consisted of self-identified marginal Protestants. These are Protestants who considered themselves affiliated with the tradition, but who may not adhere to rigorous practices, such as attending church frequently. The researchers cautiously conclude that their samples may identify more with being spiritual than religious because they consider themselves less religious than their counterparts who may adhere more strictly to traditional religious practices.

Yet, another study suggests that spiritual and religious may be two independent constructs. Saucier and Skrzypinska (2006) explored two constructs, tradition-oriented (TR) and subjective-spirituality (SS), which they hypothesized related to religious and spiritual respectively. Their sample of 375 participants was assessed on over twenty different measures including: attitude scales, authoritarianism measurements, social dominance orientation ratings, Big Five personality inventories, and various demographic elements. In general, the results of their comprehensive study demonstrate that TR and SS were separate facets. Further analysis suggests that the word spiritual may actually muddle self-report assessments, but that words such as religious and mystical carry more concrete distinctions for people. In addition, the term spiritual can often diverge into two areas: one associated with the tradition and authority of institutional religion; the other associated towards a more subjective and individualized mystical belief system. They argue that religious and spiritual should not be treated as similar measurements, and that a distinction needs to be made between TR and SS systems of belief.

Finally, a pilot study by Hyman and Handal (2006), confirms the inconsistencies present in the previous three studies surveyed in this paper. Researchers surveyed a small sample of religious professionals (N = 32) from the three major monotheistic traditions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Their analyses showed that even among religious professional no consensus could be determined as to whether religion and spirituality were independent or interdependent terms. Thus, it appears that the research into defining religiosity is as paradoxical as the research which attempts to correlate religiosity with other factors, such as prejudice.


Social scientists who study religion have many challenges facing them. One important consideration might ask whether it is even possible for researchers to reach a consensus on the construct of religion given its fluid nature of changing across time and cultures. It might also be considered as to what, if any steps, researchers need to make in order to develop more meaningful investigations.

The challenge of defining religiousness is certainly an issue that will plague these studies, but it should not negate the necessity to find more consistent approaches. One way in which this may be accomplished is through more research that assesses what religion means to individuals and groups. To date, there have been only a handful of studies that address these challenges. These research investigations must account for not only the traditionally religiously-affiliated, but also individuals of new religious movements, the SBNR affiliated, and those of the irreligious persuasion. While this will certainly provide more complex data, it may also provide more accurate representations of thoughts, practices, beliefs and behaviours of religiosity.

Religious identification also changes with time and culture. How people thought of their religious selves half a century ago is much different than how this identification is made today. It will, in all likelihood, change again in the future. Religious identification is also vastly different from one global context to the next. For example, the place of religion in the life of the individual in North America will differ dramatically from that of someone in Asia or Middle Eastern nations. Thus, it would be prudent of researchers to account for these variations and be mindful that research may have to be confined to the context under which it is being studied. This may mean ongoing issues that limit applications across populations.

While reductionist approaches to studying religion have been becoming the norm in modern investigations, the complexity of religion may not be suitable for such methods. Conversely, broader research approaches do not necessarily equate to more reliable results. The value of understanding religious phenomenon as it means to people and groups in different times and cultural contexts is even more pronounced. If religion changes with time and culture, then research approaches must also adapt to accommodate for the fluidity of religious phenomenon. Finding an appropriate balance that reduces religion for sake of ease in studies, while maintaining the essences of religious diversity is paramount for future researchers in the psychology of religion. Researchers must also be mindful of overly broad definitions that could erroneously incorporate other phenomenon not related to the sacred. This is indeed a monumental task facing researchers – one that admittedly may be elusive. Nevertheless, these limitations are important to consider in future research.

Another area of particular concern with research investigating religious phenomenon in relation to items such as prejudice is the role of social, cultural, and political factors. Religious prejudice investigations cannot claim relevancy unless these extraneous factors are also examined. Assuredly, these factors will change, much like the concept of religion does. They play a vital role in understanding what influences religious prejudice to flourish. Without accounting for the influence of these variables, researchers will be left with investigations that may be only marginally applied across time and populations.

Despite these seemingly insurmountable issues, research into religious prejudice is vitally important. The consequences of such prejudice can lead to marginalization, violence, and in some cases fatalities. Developing a more robust understanding as to how and why religious prejudices arise is an important first step in finding methods to combat this serious social problem. As previously identified, this issue is on the rise. It is doubtful that without appropriate research that it will merely diminish. Through empowering investigations into religious prejudice with more insightful and relevant studies, researchers will be poised to provide more applicable solutions to ensuring a more peaceful co-existence among the various religious groups. The prospect of peace is assuredly one of the most valuable pursuits that social scientists can endeavor toward.

M. xo


Marler, P. L., & Hadaway, C. K. (2002). “Being religious” or “being spiritual” in America: A zero-sum proposition? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(2), 289-300. doi:10.1111/1468-5906.00117

Saucier, G., & Skrzypinska, K. (2006). Spiritual but not religious? Evidence for two independent dispositions. Journal of Personality, 74(5), 1257-1292. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00409.x

Zinnbauer, B. J., Pargament, K. I., Cole, B., Rye, M. S., Butter, E. M, Belavich, T. G., . . . Kadar, J. L. (1997). Religion and spirituality: Unfuzzying the fuzzy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 36(4), 549-564.

Hyman, C., & Handal, P. J. (2006). Definitions and evaluation of religion and spirituality items by religious professionals: A pilot study. Journal of Religion and Health, 45(2), 264-282. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27512927

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