Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 241–261 | Cite as

The personal meaning of symbols: A method of investigation

  • Hubert J. M. Hermans
  • Rens J. P. van Loon


In light of the inherent significance of symbols and their nevertheless manifold variety of meanings, we present a method for investigation. In the theory behind this method, the person is viewed as an organized process of self-reflection, always oriented from a particular point in time and space toward the past, present, and future. As this orientation varies, different valuations emerge, with avaluation being a unit of meaning seen by the person as particularly relevant in his or her own life. A distinction is made between “symbolic” valuations, which usually have a pictorial character (for example, “I am impressed by the roots of a tree”), and “ordinary” valuations, which typically have a conceptual character (for example, “I have a strong bond with my family”). These types of experiences are combined and organized in a system of valuations, from where the symbol receives its personal meaning. We present a method of self-investigation for studying the interrelation between the valuation of symbols and the valuation of daily life, the affective properties of these valuations, their motivational implications, and their long-term development. We illustrate the proposed methodology with the case study of a woman who incorporated the “tree” as a symbol of purification into her valuation system and show how this allowed her to reintegrate certain negative experiences out of her past in her actual self.


Negative Experience Strong Bond Affective Property Personal Meaning Pictorial Character 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Institutes of Religion and Health 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hubert J. M. Hermans
    • 1
  • Rens J. P. van Loon
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychological Laboratory of the University of Nijmegen in NijmegenThe Netherlands

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