Social Indicators Research

, Volume 98, Issue 3, pp 501–517 | Cite as

Spiritual Struggles and Psychological Distress: Is There a Dark Side of Religion?

  • Christopher G. Ellison
  • Jinwoo Lee


A growing literature examines the correlates and sequelae of spiritual struggles. Particular attention has been focused on three specific types of such struggles: (a) divine, or troubled relationships with God; (b) interpersonal, or negative social encounters in religious settings; and (c) intrapsychic, or chronic religious doubting. To date, however, this literature has focused primarily on one or another type, leaving open the possibility that these are highly correlated and may tap a single, underlying dimension. Further, because studies have relied mostly on small, specialized samples, it is not clear whether the associations between spiritual struggles and psychological functioning vary across key subgroups in the US population. Using data from the 1998 NORC General Social Survey we address these issues. Findings reveal strong and independent associations between each type of spiritual struggle and psychological distress, and they also show that these patterns are robust across most population subgroups, except for variations by age and marital status. Implications, study limitations, and directions for further research are identified.


Mental health Religion Spirituality Spiritual struggle Doubt Negative interaction 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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