Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 14, Issue 1–2, pp 16–25 | Cite as

Religious Doubt and Mental Health Across the Lifespan

  • Kathleen GalekEmail author
  • Neal Krause
  • Christopher G. Ellison
  • Taryn Kudler
  • Kevin J. Flannelly


The current study examined the connections among religious doubt, mental health, and aging in a nationwide sample of individuals 18 years and older (N = 1629). Findings indicate that that religious doubt emerging from the recognition of suffering and evil in the world has a deleterious impact on mental health. Results also show that as people grow older, religious doubts continue to be associated with psychopathology, but the magnitude of this association becomes weaker across age categories. In other words, the impact of doubt on mental distress declines as one ages. These effects were found across various measures of mental distress, including depression, general anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, paranoia, hostility, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Findings are explored within the context of psychosocial development and the experiential trajectory of religious maturity.


Aging Religious doubt Mental health Religion Psychopathology 



This research was funded in part by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The authors also wish to thank The HealthCare Chaplaincy’s Research Librarian Helen Tannenbaum and Research Assistant Kathryn M. Murphy.


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regressions: Testing and interpreting interactions. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  2. Antonovsky, A. (1987). Unraveling the mystery of health. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  3. Baltes, P. (1991). The many faces of human ageing; toward a psychological culture of old age. Psychological Medicine, 27, 837–854.Google Scholar
  4. Berger, P. (1969). The sacred canopy. Garden City: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  5. Clore, V., & Fitzgerald, J. (2002). Intentional faith: An alternative view of faith development. Journal of Adult Development, 9(2), 97–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S. G., & Aiken L. S. (2003). Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Inc.Google Scholar
  7. Collins, Randall. (2004). Interaction ritual chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Davison, M. L., Bershadsky, B., Bieber, J., Silversmith, D., Maruish, M. E., & Kane, R. L. (1997). Development of a brief, multidimensional, self-report instrument for treatment outcomes assessment in psychiatric settings: Preliminary findings. Assessment, 4, 259–276.Google Scholar
  9. Dein, S., & Stygall, J. (1997). Does being religious help or hinder coping with chronic illness: A critical literature review. Palliative Medicine, 11(4), 291–298.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Derogatis, L. R., & Cleary, P. A. (1977). Confirmation of the dimensional structure of the SCL-90: A study in construct validation. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 33, 981–989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Derogatis, L. R., Rickels, K., & Rock, A. (1976). The SCL-90 and the MMPI: A step in the validation of a new self-report scale. British Journal of Psychiatry, 128, 280–289.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ellison, C. G. (1991). Religious involvement and subjective well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 32(1), 80–99.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ellison, C. G. (1994). Religion, the life stress paradigm, and the study of depression. In J. S. Levin (Ed.), Religion in aging and health: Theoretical foundations and methodological frontiers (pp. 78–121). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Erikson, E. H. (1959). Identity and the life cycle. New York: International Universities Press.Google Scholar
  15. Erikson, E. H. (1964). Insight and responsibility. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  16. Erikson, E. H. (1965). Youth: fidelity and diversity. In E. H. Erikson (Ed.), The challenge of youth (pp. 1–28). Garden City, NY: Anchor.Google Scholar
  17. Erikson, E. H. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
  18. Forsyth, J. (1997). Faith and human transformation. New York: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  19. Fowler, J. W. (1981). Stages of faith. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  20. Fowler, J. W. (1996). Faithful change. Nashville: Abingdon Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fry, P. S. (2003). Perceived self-efficacy domains as predictors of fear of the unknown and fear of dying among older adults. Psychology and Aging, 13(3), 474–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Publishing.Google Scholar
  23. Hodges, S. (2002). Mental health, depression, and dimensions of spirituality and religion. Journal of Adult Development, 9(2), 109–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hull, J. M. (1999). Bargaining with God: Religious development and economic socialization. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 27(3), 241–249.Google Scholar
  25. Hunsberger, B., Alisat, S., Pancer, S. M., & Pratt, M. (1996). Religious fundamentalism and religious doubts: Content, connections, and complexity of thinking. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 6(3), 201–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hunsberger, B., McKenzie, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S. M. (1993). Religious doubt: A social-psychological analysis. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 5, 27–51.Google Scholar
  27. Hunsberger, B., Pratt, M., & Pancer, S. M. (2001). Adolescent identity formation: Religious exploration and commitment. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 1(4), 365–386.Google Scholar
  28. Idler, E. (1987). Religious involvement and the health of the elderly: Some hypotheses and an initial test. Social Forces, 66, 226–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Idler, E. L. (1995). Religion, health, and nonphysical senses of self. Social Forces, 74(2), 683–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Idler, E. L., Kasl, S. T., & Hays, J. C. (2001). Patterns of religious practice and beliefs in the last year of life. Journals of Gerontology, 56B(6), S326–S334.Google Scholar
  31. Kapleau, P. (1980). The three pillars of zen. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
  32. Kaplowitz, M. D., Hadlock, T. D., & Levine, R. (2004). A comparison of web and mail survey response rates. Public Opinions Quarterly, 68(1), 94–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kirby, S. E., Coleman, P. G., & Daley, D. (2004). Spirituality and well-being in frail and non-frail older adults. Journals of Gerontology, 59B(3), 123–129.Google Scholar
  34. Koenig, H. G. (1995). Research in religion and aging. Westport, CT: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  35. Koenig, H. G., George, L. K., & Siegler, I. C. (1988). The use of religion and other emotion-regulating coping strategies among older adults. The Gerontologist, 28(3), 303–310.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Koenig, H. G., Moberg, D. O., & Kvale, J. N. (1988). Religious activities and attitudes of older adults in a geriatric assessment clinic. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 36(4), 362–374.Google Scholar
  37. Kohlberg, L. (1984). The psychology of moral development: The nature and validity of moral stages. San Francisco: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  38. Kooistra, W. P., & Pargament, K. I. (1999). Religious doubting in parochial school adolescents. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 21(1), 33–42.Google Scholar
  39. Krause, N., & Ellison C. G. (2003). Forgiveness by God, forgiveness of others, and by well-being in late life. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42, 72–93.Google Scholar
  40. Krause, N., Ingersoll-Dayton, B., Ellison, C. G., & Wulff, K. M. (1999). Aging, religious doubt, and psychological well-being. The Gerontologist, 39(5), 525–533.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Krause, N., & Wulff, K. M. (2004). Religious Doubt and Health: Exploring the Potential Dark Side of Religion. Sociology of Religion, 65, 35–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kushner, H. S. (1983). When bad things happen to good people. New York: Avon Books.Google Scholar
  43. Lownsdale, S. (1997). Faith development across the life span: Fowler’s integrative work. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 25(1), 49–63.Google Scholar
  44. Mead, G. M. (1934). Mind, self, and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  45. Pargament, K. I. (1997). The psychology of religion and coping. New York: The Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  46. Pargament, K. I., Koenig, H. G., Tarakewhwar, N., & Hahn, J. (2001). Religious struggle as a predictor of mortality among medically ill elderly patients: Two year longitudinal study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 161, 1881.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pargament, K. I., Murray-Swank, N., Magyar, G. M., & Ano, G. G. (in press). Spiritual struggle: A phenomenon of interest to psychology and religion.Google Scholar
  48. Petersen, L. A., & Roy A. (1985). Religiosity, anxiety, meaning and purpose: Religion’s consequences for psychological well-being. Review of Religious Research, 27, 49–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Peterson, C., & Seligman M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford University Press: New York.Google Scholar
  50. Piaget, J. (1967). Six psychological studies. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  51. Pollner, M. (1989). Divining relations, social relations, and well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 30, 92–104.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Porter, S. R., & Whitcomb, M. E. (2003). The impact of contact type on web survey response rates. Public Opinions Quarterly, 67(4), 579–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schaie, K. W. (1977–1978). Toward a stage theory of adult cognitive development. International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 8, 129–138.Google Scholar
  54. Seifer, L. S. (2002). Towards a psychology of religion, spirituality, meaning−search, and aging: Past research and a practical application. Journal of Adult Development, 9(1), 61–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sitarenios, G., Rayes, M., & Morrison, J. (2000). SA-45 The symptom assessment-45 questionnaire. North Tonawanda, New York: Multi-Health Systems Inc.Google Scholar
  56. Tillich, P. (1957). The dynamics of faith. New York: Harper and Brothers.Google Scholar
  57. Wink, P., & Dillon, M. (2002). Spiritual development across the adult life course: Findings from a longitudinal study. Journal of Adult Development, 9(1), 79–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Yun, G. W., & Trumbo, C. W. (2000). Comparative response to a survey executed by post, e-mail, & web form. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 6(1), Retrieved April 19, 2005, from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathleen Galek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Neal Krause
    • 2
  • Christopher G. Ellison
    • 3
  • Taryn Kudler
    • 1
  • Kevin J. Flannelly
    • 1
  1. 1.HealthCare ChaplaincyNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public HealthUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations