Religion in Cross-Cultural Psychology

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Last updated: February 21, 2019

Religion is an array of practices and/or beliefs often capitalizing on the abstract elements of nature/environment; inclusive to this tenet is supernaturalism, cosmology, spiritualism, moralism and mysticism.

Religion, being the most basic of all socio-cultural institutions, has enormous influence on the people’s way of living regardless of the timeframe and the location. It often defines the moral codes and practices of a particular group/genre across varying cultures and as such it is often described as a ‘way of life’ or ‘public stance’.Cross-cultural psychology involves the study of human behavior and mental process under various cultural settings and as such, one of its major objective is to define possible ‘universalities’ (etic approach) and ‘variances’(emic approach) in the mental processes and behavior of individual members of the society and/or different societies or culture.

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Religion being an important element or aspect of sociological and cultural realms, it is of huge import that we fully integrate the study of religion into cross-cultural research.The subsequent paper discusses the ‘need’ or the roles of ‘religion in cross cultural research. In relation to this, one aspect of psychology—personality— is assessed for religion using different religious genres.II. Religion’s Place in Cross-Cultural StudiesIt has been a generally accepted notion that religion plays an important role on human behavior. Freud (1927), the major proponent of psychoanalytic theory, acknowledged the influence of religion on identity; that is more of a neurotic impulse attempting to get control over the sensory world. Religion occupies important roles in the standards of living of different races, cultural groups and individuals.

  As Lindebacke (1984) stipulated—[religion is a] kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought… it is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.Religion can also predict patterns of behavior for important life domains all over the world (Tarakeshwaret al, 2003). Religion for instance, play a good ‘indicator’ for patterning broad categories of [fixed] personality—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism—across different cultures.

Take for instance, considerable variances between the behavior of the Moslems and the Christians exposed to same kind of stress and environment; similarly, Buddhist Chinese and Islamic Indians would react differently given the same kind of situation.Such psychological universals—invariant patterns of thinking, feeling and acting are affected by religion and likewise, cultural context. It is inevitable that culture would likewise affect and/or shape religious beliefs and practices ((Tarakeshwaret al, 2003)..

Patterns of behavior [and its norms] for a particular religious group is defined consciously or not by its environing culture. Ultimately, religion exerts strong influences for cross-cultural dimensions primarily because it creates conflict and variances across different religious [and cultural] clusters.Religion should be fully integrated into cross-cultural studies because of the reasons stated above.

As a research tool, it occupies a substantial role; a social and cultural construct; a behavioral predictor; affected by culture; and effector of cross-cultures.IV. Personality, Culture, and ReligionOne may ask: to what degree does culture and religion affect the personality of a person? Going beyond the psychological self is the ‘social self’— an extension of personality that is hugely effected by the predisposition of environmental factors that governs the society. Religion being imminent archetypes for distinct cultures demonstrates a degree of relativity when it comes to the individual traits and, at the whole, the personality of their members. The social relationship ending with the biophysical birth, and the series of events that will naturally follow, demands that the individual react/respond to this imposed relation. Thus cultural acquisition and perception of religion is ipso facto the growth of personality. In a way, we described that some personalities may be ‘universal’, some ‘common’ and ‘others’ as ‘eccentric’. As some anthropologists would say, acculturation is acquisition of personality.

Religiosity as a cultural construct correlates to personality in a way that it defines the behavior and the morales of a person; it is a social support system where perceptions and personality play key roles for cognitive responses and eventually into established forms of behavior. Take for instance, higher post-traumatic growth is linked with those bearing stronger religious beliefs in Israeli adolescents. The idea is that religion reduces demoralisation and provides hope and meaning.

Neuroticism, one of the five big personality types, has higher predisposition towards PTG. On the holistic view, the adoption of trait/personality is identified by preference/depiction of culture and ethos tied to it.III. Individual Differences in Religion Effecting Personality TraitsThe five broad personalities provide a descriptive and non-theoretical model for personality—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism—and is used to quantify statistical aggregates which can predict an individual’s behavior. Described in the following is a summary view for the definitum of the five big traits: (1) openness is the general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience; (2) conscientiousness is the tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; (3) extraversion s characterized by positive emotions, urgency, and the tendency to seek out stimulation and the company of others; (4) agreeableness is the tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others; and (5) neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression.

The five personality traits are affected by heritability, development, sex differences, birth order, and culture (Pervin and John, 1999).Studies indicate that the ‘five personality traits’ that same factor structure and developmental trends for childhood and adulthood appear similar for all cultures. The interaction of culture and personality, as previously mentioned in the latter pages, shaped the behavior of individuals and social groups. The adoption of a particular trait is a reflection of adoptation and/or development as an output of the individual self and the cultural context. Take for instance, Protestant women have higher predisposition to pursue greater freedom than the covered fundamentalist Islams.Religion, a social construct, denotes collectivist ideology; that is individuals are integrated into groups by a set of beliefs and morales. Additionally, religion is somewhat linked into filial lineage; consequently, first-borns are found to be more religious than one can expect from latter-borns.

Saroglou (2002) found a constant link between religion and high conscientiousness, conservatism, and traditionalism.What is the personality correlates of religion? The normative concept is that individual beliefs in religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices reflect individual variations in personality traits that is some consistencies are observed between what he/she may think, feel or behave. Saroglou (2002) reveals that religious people tend to be high in agreeableness and conscientiousness. Specificity for religious dimension is observed for the other remaining traits; fundamentalism is linked to low openness to experience; extrinsic religiosity to neuroticism; charismatic religion to extraversion. Religiosity can also become a cultural characteristic adaptation to those who are genetically and environmentally agreeable and conscientious.Delving deeper into the specific facets of the NEO-P-IR model revealed many interesting outlook into the behavioral patterns for religiosity.

Competence is not necessarily for a religious individual but orderliness is. Additionally, extraversion and impulsiveness is not necessarily a trait for a religious individual. A degree of introversion is expected for openness to values and a high degree of acceptance is expected for them. Proactive and inhibitive aspects of conscientiousness were linked to conscientiousness and high anxiety and vulnerability, neuroticism factors, were positively correlated to religiosity.

Saroglou and Muñoz-Garcia (2008) conducted a study on Spanish Catholic cohorts and found that high neuroticism was associated with extrinsically religious people which was explained by their guilt and fear of the divine judgment. Except ‘warmth’ all extraversion traits were found lacking in the sample population. Additionally, low assertiveness was correlated to high emotional religion which can be explained that these individuals turn to religion for security so as to improve their self-image. Spirituality however is more inclined towards openness for novelty and fantasy than religiosity.V. Summary and ConclusionReviewed in the article are implicit reasons why religion should be fully-integrated into cross-cultural research.

Religion is a social and cultural construct; a behavioral predictor; affected by culture; and effector of cross-cultures. Herein evaluated is the implication of religion as effectors of cross-cultures and as a behavioral predictor. Herein the Five Big Traits and their specific facets are predicted for religiosity.

 ReferencesFreud, S. (1972). The future of an illusion (J. Strachey, Trans.

). New York: Norton.Lindbeck, G. (1984).

 Nature of Doctrine. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press.Pervin L. A. & O. P. John (Eds.

).(1999). Handbook of personality: Theory and research.

NY: Guilford Press.Saroglou, V. (2002). Religion and the five factors of personality: A meta-analytic review.Personality and Individual Difference,s 32:15-25.Saroglou, V., & Muñoz-García, A. (2008).

Individual differences in religion and spirituality:An issue of personality traits and/or values. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 47, 83-101.Tarakeswar N. et.

al (2003). Religion: An Overlooked Dimension in Cross-Cultural Psychology. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 34( 4): 377-394.


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