Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Spiritual and religious motivation
What is the nature of human’s spiritual motivation and religiosity?
Religiosity refers to an individual’s dedication to organised systems of beliefs about the sacred and religious activities and rituals. However, spirituality and religiosity historically have tended to overlap as spirituality has often been experienced through religion (Hill & Pargament, 2008).
Transcendent actualisation: Humanistic and transpersonal psychology
Behaviourism and Freudian Psychoanalysis in the middle of the twentieth century were the two dominant forces in psychology (Stanislav, 2008). However, Psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow critiqued these approaches to psychology as they believed that human behaviour can not only be accounted for by unconscious instincts and interactions with the environment but also by human growth and potential (Maslow, 1969).
Carl Rogers suggested that human beings have a tendency to self-actualise that is, become everything that one is capable of becoming (Rogers, 1951). An individual who strives to reach his or her optimal sense of satisfaction or self-actualise is as described by Rogers (1951), as fully functioning. Abraham Maslow (1969) suggested that to reach self actualisation one must satisfy a hierarchy of needs including: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs and need for self actualisation. Satisfying these needs as suggested by Maslow will lead an individual to personal growth and self actualisation (Maslow, 1954).
However, Maslow suggested that the self actualisation needs to incorporate a spiritual component and in 1967 Maslow and colleagues founded the Association of Transpersonal Psychology (Stanislav, 2008). Maslow referred to transpersonal psychology as the fourth force of psychology, the first and second being Psychoanalysis and Behaviourism and the third humanistic psychology (Stanislav, 2008). This field of psychology would incorporate the spiritual component of self actualisation (Stanislav, 2008).
Maslow in 1971 introduced the concept of transcendent actualisation which refers to an individual awareness and harmony of a spiritual centre or inner being which can affect human predisposition to love, will, altruistic awareness and discovery of profound meaning in life (Hamel, Leclerc & Lefrancois, 2003). Hamel et al (2003) suggests that transcendent actualisation can be understood through different levels of consciousness and motivational characteristics. These researchers suggest that transpersonal actualisation occurs in three stages: Prepersonal, Personal and Transpersonal Growth levels.
The Prepersonal Growth Level is characterised by ordinary or subjective consciousness which is when one’s consciousness being shaped from ones drives and environmental influences (Hamel et al. 2003). This growth level is also characterised by extrinsic motivations that is, conforming to and imitating others actions and desires (Hamel et al. 2003).
Hamel et al (2003) suggest that the Personal Growth Level is characterised authentic consciousness which refers to the capability to understand and control elements of one’s personality such as expectations and beliefs. Also, the researchers suggest that it is characterised by intrinsic motivations which are motivations based on one’s internal desires and interests to develop ones personality.
Lastly, the Transpersonal Growth Level refers to stage characterised by objective consciousness or metacognition which involves a heightened awareness of stimuli based on spiritual perceptions, higher order feelings, ethical reflection and inspiration (Hamel et al. 2003). The researchers also suggest that this growth level is characterised by metamotivations which are based on an awareness of profound or spiritual values in everyday life and the harmonizing of the different components of one’s personality.
Perceived closeness to God: Attachment theory
To know and connect with a God is the central function of many religious traditions and is the ultimate goal of some spiritual individuals (Hill & Pargament, 2008). Hill and Pargament (2008) suggest that God to many individuals can be seen as someone who provides comfort and security or an attachment figure. Human beings have a genetic predisposition to form an attachment bonds with one’s primary caregiver at a young age (Bowlby 1969 as cited in Bottoms et al. 2010). The primary caregiver’s sensitivity to the child’s needs affects the child’s internal working models or cognitive representations of itself and others (Bowlby 1969 as cited in Bottoms et al. 2010).
Fujikawa, Halcrow, Hall and Hill (2009) in their study examined 483 undergraduate students’ human and spiritual attachment patterns. The researches assessed two hypotheses: firstly, that God substitutes as an attachment figure in individuals with negative human attachment patterns and secondly, that attachment patterns to human attachment figures corresponds to God attachment patterns. The results supported the correspondence and the compensation models of attachment patterns with God (Fujikawa et al. 2009). The Correspondence model holds that adult attachment to God corresponds to or reflects internal working models developed from one’s human attachment figures (Fujikawa et al. 2009). The Compensation model suggests that God attachment or religious beliefs compensate for insecure attachments with one’s primary human caregiver (Fujikawaet al, 2009).
In a similar study, Reinert (2005) examined 75 Roman Catholic seminarians’ early primary caregiver attachments, attachment to God and later sense of self in two time periods eight months apart. As expected the researchers found that low self-esteem and higher levels of shame were found in participants with reported previous avoidant attachments with their primary caregiver. Interestingly, the results showed that over the eight month period the seminarians had an increase in self-esteem and the researchers suggest that this can be attributed to attachment to God compensating for previous attachment deficits. Also, the results suggested that previous secure human attachment with a primary caregiver was associated with a grater connection with God and previous anxious and avoidant attachment with a primary caregiver was associated with an instable relationship with God (Reinert, 2005).
Research such as Anderson, Hall, Lewis Hall and Reiner (2010) has shown that an attachment to God can have health benefits such as perceived stress. Anderson et al. (2010) in their study of 276 undergraduate students found that adult attachment and God attachment anxiety was significantly related to perceived stress levels. Also, research such as Bottoms, Hernandez and Salerno (2010) assessed if different attachment classifications to God can affect an individual’s alcohol use and coping strategies. The researchers suggest that participants with a secure attachment to God as compared to insecure attachments to God were more comfortable when dealing with problems to turn to God for support. Secure God attachment provides an additional support which may lead to regulating negative emotions in a healthier way as compared to people without this support (Bottoms et al. 2010). The results also show that the participants with positive spiritual coping styles and secure attachments with God drink alcohol significantly less as compared to individuals with avoidant God attachments (Bottoms et al. 2010).
Religious support: Extrinsic motivations
The nature of human’s spiritual motivation and religiosity can not only be explained by intrinsic motivations but also extrinsic motivations (Hill & Pargament, 2008). Intrinsic motivations of religiosity and spirituality can include living according to one’s beliefs and learning about one’s religion. Extrinsic motivations for religion can include securing social status and being part of a group or community (Hill & Pargament, 2008). Research suggests that religions can promote connectedness and caring among its members (Hill & Pargament, 2008; Cohen & Hill, 2007). Cohen and Hill (2007) suggest that religions differ in their individualistic and collectivists characteristics. Moreover, in their study Cohen and Hill (2007) found that American Protestants are more individualistic as compared to American Jews and Catholics who are more socially and community oriented.
Ellison and George (1994) assessed 2956 individuals in North Carolina to examine whether individuals who attend church frequently have more social resources then people who do not attend church frequently. The results of the study suggest the following: that frequent church attendees have more non kin social networks, more telephone and in person contacts, receive more supportive or helpful transactions such as money, goods and services and report more nurturing social interactions or sense of being cared for than do people who are not frequent church attendees (Ellison & George, 1994).
In a review of literature regarding the health benefits of religion Ellison and Levin (1998) suggest that the increased social resources individuals engaging in a religion receive can lead to health benefits. The researchers suggest that religion is a means by which individuals with a common faith, values and interests are brought together and can develop friendships. Also, religions offer informal support which can include things like pastoral advice and counselling (Ellison and Levin, 1998). This support can lead to positive influences on self esteem and self efficacy, coping mechanisms and positive emotions such as forgiveness.
The mystical experience
The mystical experience has been referred to in literature as an altered state of consciousness, meaning an experience that is different to the ordinary day to day experiences (Heriot-Maitland, 2008). A mystical experience involves a state of consciousness in which an individual comes in contact with an abstract power far greater than the individual, a realisation of an ultimate reality and a heightened state of awareness (Heriot-Maitland, 2008; Lukoff, 1985). Lukeoff (1985) suggests that the mystical experience is a desirable state which can be a life altering experience. The mystical experience has historically been experienced through practices such as meditation or contemplation, prayer and chanting (Heriot-Maitland, 2008; Forman, 1998).
The Mystical experience in literature has often been compared to psychosis or schizophrenia due to its altered state of consciousness characteristics and unusualness (Buckley, 1981; Heriot-Maitland, 2008; Lukoff, 1985). Moreover, the mystical experience can include hearing voices, Hallucinations and time distortions similar to psychotic episodes. However, the mystical experience differs from psychosis in terms of individuals being able to control the onset of a mystical experience entry out of such states (Heriot-Maitland, 2008). Also, mystical experiences can often lead to positive life consequences as compared to negative outcomes of psychosis (Heriot-Maitland, 2008).
Brain imaging research
Recent research has examined the neurological underpinnings of the mystical, spiritual and religious experience (Beauregard & Paquette, 2006). Beauregard and Paquette (2006) in their study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine the neural correlates of the mystical experience. The researchers asked the Carmelite nuns to remember and try to relive their most intense mystical experience whilst data was being collected by fMRI scans. The results of this study suggest that several brain regions and systems are activated in the mystical experience suggesting that the mystical experienced can be attributed to several brain regions. (Beauregard & Paquette, 2006).
In a study Aglioti, Fabbro, Skrap and Urgesi, (2010) examined patients self transcendence personality scores before and after brain surgery. The researchers found that damage to the left and right inferior parietal regions of the brain increased self transcendence personality scores. Aglioti et al. (2010) suggest that these results suggest that the left and right inferior parietal regions are important mediators of the personality trait self transcendence.
Spiritual and religious experience effects on hippocampal volume change have also been studied as Hayward, Koenig, Owen, Payne and Steffens (2011) examined hippocampal volume change in individuals who experienced a life altering religious experience. The results showed that a life changing religious experience can influence hippocampal atrophy later in life (Hayward et at. 2011). The researchers suggest that the hippocampal atrophy observed in individuals with life changing religious experiences may be attributed to by the stress such life experiences produce. Furthermore, this study shows that engaging in one’s religiosity can affect brain physiology (Hayward et at. 2011).
Summary and conclusions
An individual’s spiritual motivation and religiosity can be vastly different from person to person and there are many motivational forces that drive human’s spirituality and religiosity. An individual may be on the journey of self actualisation, seeking an attachment with a God, seeking to be a part of a community of people with similar beliefs and values, seeking the mystical experience and have a neurological predisposition to self transcendence traits.
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