A Culturally Sensitive Approach to the Relationships between Identity Formation and Religious Beliefs in Youth


Youth encounter issues of religion in the process of identity formation. However, most prior studies have focused on Christian youth in Western counties. This study examined the relationship between identity formation and religious beliefs in the Eastern national context where Buddhism and non-institutional folk religions are prevalent. Participants were 969 Japanese youth (51.3% female; Mage = 20.1). Both literal and symbolic religious beliefs were included and both a variable- and person-oriented approach were used based on the three-factor identity model. The results from the variable-oriented approach (i.e., identity processes) demonstrated that identity commitment was positively associated with literal religious beliefs, whereas reconsideration of commitment was positively associated with both literal and symbolic religious beliefs. Findings from the person-oriented approach (i.e., identity statuses) confirmed these results. Overall, this study highlights the importance of religious beliefs in the process of identity formation among youth in an Eastern national context.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan introduced around the eighth century. Its basic tenet is an integration of nature, esthetics, and religion that is represented in kami, numerous deities or spirits.

  2. 2.

    One parcel of commitment, one parcel of in-depth exploration, and two parcels of beliefs in the divine consisted of 4 items. Two parcels of commitment, two parcels of in-depth exploration, one parcel of beliefs in the divine, and one parcel of beliefs in religion in general consisted of 3 items. All three parcels of reconsideration of commitment, two parcels of beliefs in religion in general, and one parcel of beliefs in mystic forces in life and natural phenomena consisted of 2 items.


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The authors thank Kazuhiro Miyashita and Aya Takahashi for their help with data collection, and Ryo Nishiwaki, Katsuya Sakai, and Wakaba Nishida for their various suggestions and research assistance for this study.

Authors’ Contributions

KS conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, and drafted the manuscript; KM and MT participated in its design and helped to draft the manuscript; SH performed the statistical analysis and helped to draft the manuscript; EC participated in the design of the study and coordination, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


Kazumi Sugimura was supported by the JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C), 15K04070 and 18K03068.

Data Sharing and Declaration

This manuscript’s data will not be deposited. The datasets generated and analyzed during the current study are not publicly available, but are available from the corresponding author upon a reasonable request.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kazumi Sugimura.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.



Religious Belief Scale (Nishiwaki 2004 )

Beliefs in the divine

1. I feel God or Buddha helps me.

6. I believe God or Buddha always watches me.

8. I think God or Buddha exists in my mind.

9. I believe God or Buddha helps and encourages me when I am in trouble or distressed.

11. I believe in an absolute deity or Buddha.

13. I believe I am punished by God or Buddha whenever something wrong happens to me.

15. I believe God or Buddha exists.

16. I am afraid of God or Buddha whenever something unexplainable or unusual happens.

19. I believe God or Buddha is the source of all life.

21. I believe God or Buddha exists everywhere.

22. I believe I am protected by the sprits of those who were close to me and my ancestors.

Beliefs in religion in general

2. I think religion gives a spirit of mutual aid and helps develop good relationships.

4. I believe religion relieves my mental distress and heals my heart.

10. I think religion brings deep respect for all living things.

12. I think religion teaches preciousness and gratitude.

17. I think religion brings peace of mind and happiness.

20. I think religion teaches how I should live and lead my life.

25. I think religion fosters love for mankind and contributes to world peace.

Beliefs in mystic forces in life and natural phenomena

3. I believe spiritual things dwell everywhere in the universe—such as the stars, humans, animals, mountains, and forests and so on.

7. I believe there is some mysterious entity which has power beyond our thoughts.

14. I believe nature—such as the sky, sea, and mountains—has some mysterious power.

24. When I think carefully, I think I am alive here and now because some mysterious power works.

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Sugimura, K., Matsushima, K., Hihara, S. et al. A Culturally Sensitive Approach to the Relationships between Identity Formation and Religious Beliefs in Youth. J Youth Adolescence 48, 668–679 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-018-0920-8

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  • Identity processes
  • Identity statuses
  • Religious beliefs
  • Youth
  • Japan
  • Buddhism