A psychological perspective on God-belief as a source of meaning and well-being
Van der Merwe, Eveline Karen
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The aim of this study was to explore God-belief as a source of meaning and psychological well-being qualitatively and through the review of literature. The study is embedded in the growing field of Psychology of Religion. In the first article, a literature overview regarding the field of Psychology of Religion, and specifically research done in the South African context, was reported. The key constructs spirituality and religiousness were investigated and defined. It was argued that traditional African religion and spirituality have unique characteristics and that Western, mostly Christian-based, research does not necessarily reflect the South African psycho-religious landscape. Articles published in the South African Journal of Psychology over the 10-year period 1997 to 2006 were analysed to ascertain the extent of South African research in this field. The necessity of continued research in this field in order to expand and enrich psychological discourse became clear. The second article investigated the reasons for humans' religiousness, the influence of religion on people's perspective on life and the importance of understanding the impact of religion on human functioning. It was shown that homo sapiens evolved to be religious and that religiousness therefore is a fundamental aspect of humanness. Untestable ontological and cosmological assumptions (mostly religiously informed) permeate people's worldviews and more or less unconsciously influence their decisions, their openness to new perspectives and their judgement and prejudices. This fact is not necessarily generally understood or recognised. The importance of helping professionals understanding their own assumptions and acknowledging those of their clients was illustrated in the context of education. The third article reported on the qualitative, interpretive case study in which the God-belief of a group of Christians from an African context was analysed and interpreted in terms of the participants' creation of meaning and their psychological well-being. Interviews were conducted with twelve participants, eight male and four female, ranging in age between twenty-five and sixty-five years, in sessions of between one hour and one and a half hours. The transcribed interviews, notes on personal reactions, insights, beliefs and discussions with knowledgeable individuals accumulated during the research process and noted in a research journal as well as literature were the sources of data for the thick description of the experiences of the participants. The description focused on participants' knowledge of God (God-concept), experience of their relationship with God (God-image) and their understanding of life. The contribution of their God-belief to their sense of meaning and psychological well-being was the leitmotiv of the description. The final conclusions were inter alia that the God-belief and mostly the God-image that participants hold, are a deep source of meaning, especially under unfavourable life circumstances and that aspects of participants' psychological well-being, e.g. a sense of self-worth, aspects of attachment and ability to cope with adversity, seem to stem from both the meaning that they create through their God-belief as well as the relationship they experience with their God. More South African research in the field of Psychology of Religion is called for, and professionals (e.g. therapists, clergy and educators) need to develop an understanding of and sensitivity to spirituality through their professional training.
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