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Religious Beliefs and Purpose in Life: Purpose in life as a function of specific religious beliefs in a Christian population
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology.
2016 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This thesis presents a cross-sectional study of psychological meaning making processes involving religious beliefs and the construction of a sense of purpose in life. Previous research has studied the connection between religiosity and purpose in life, but has failed to adequately represent the multidimensionality of meaning and religion, resulting in a lack of understanding of the psychological processes involved in the construction of a sense of purpose in life. 

The purpose of this study was to research the connection between specific religious beliefs and a sense of purpose in life in individuals aged 25-40, by testing one hypothesis: There is a significant, positive correlation between the strength of religious belief and purpose in life, and answering two research questions: 1. What specific religious beliefs show a significant correlation to purpose in life?, and 2. How are religious beliefs used in a meaning system for the construction of purpose in life? The study employed a two-phase, mixed methods sequential exploratory design, and a meaning system theory framework, complemented by additional theoretical perspectives in phase 2. The weighting of the data was on the first, qualitative phase of the study  and the data were mixed in the final, joint analysis of both types of data. 

Phase 1 consisted of a survey, measuring the strength of religious beliefs (measured by the BVS scale) and sense of purpose in life (measured by the LAP-R and one item of the WHOQOL-BRIEF). The survey was completed by 40 respondents who self-identified as Christian and were members of various Christian congregations in the city of Stockholm and surrounding areas.

The results of phase 1 of the study firstly showed a significant, moderate, positive correlation between the strength of religious belief and purpose in life, confirming the hypothesis. The results also showed that purpose in life was positively and significantly correlated to a belief that God is an all pervading presence (tau = 0.35, p<0.05), belief in forces for evil in the universe (tau = 0.40, p<0.01), belief that human physical contact can be a spiritual experience (tau = 0.27, p<0.05), belief in life after death (tau = 0.31, p<0.05), belief that one's life has been planned out (tau = 0.33, p<0.05), belief that there is a heaven (tau = 0.30, p<0,05), belief that the human spirit is immortal (tau = 0.30, p<0.05), and belief that there is a God (tau = 0.32, p<0.05).

Phase 2 consisted of interviews with 9 of the survey respondents, yielding qualitative data that were analysed through an interpretative framework based on two hermeneutic theories. The qualitative analysis showed that religious beliefs are used to construct purpose in a meaning making process consisting primarily of three elements in a meaning system. Beliefs regarding what is ultimately good (ultimate concerns) and beliefs regarding the purpose and role of humanity (overall purpose) provides a foundation for the construction of purpose in life. The individual constructs purpose by locating himself/herself (self-definition) in relation to ultimate concerns and overall purpose. The results of phase 2 also showed that both the content and conviction of religious beliefs influence their use in the construction of purpose in life, further explicating the results of phase 1. 

The joint analysis of the two phases showed that the results from phase 2 supported the results from phase 1, both regarding the beliefs involved in the construction of purpose in life and the importance of both content and conviction in meaning making processes. 

Suggestions for further research include additional research on the connections between the various elements of a meaning system, research on the connection between religious beliefs, purpose and the development of self-definition, as well as further theoretical developments of meaning system theory, and harmonisation of meaning system theory with other, complementary theoretical perspectives. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. , 98 p.
Keyword [en]
Religious beliefs, Purpose in life, Meaning, Meaning system theory, Christianity, 25-40 year-olds
National Category
Religious Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-271127OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-271127DiVA: diva2:891199
Subject / course
Psychology of religion
Educational program
Master Programme in Theology and Religious Studies
Available from: 2016-01-08 Created: 2016-01-06 Last updated: 2016-01-08Bibliographically approved

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