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Model of Individual Health Effects from Religion/Spirituality: Supporting Evidence

Part of the Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach book series (RELSPHE,volume 2)


This chapter is the first of thirteen reviews in this volume providing a public health perspective on the empirical evidence relating religion and spirituality (R/S) to physical and mental health. This chapter emphasizes an essentially epidemiologic perspective, reviewings evidence bearing on a “generic” model of how an individual’s engagement in religion/spirituality may causally affect that individual’s health through pathways that include health behaviors, social connections and support, ability to draw upon distinctively religious/spiritual methods of coping, and mental health. In US-based and often in international and non-Western samples, R/S factors tend to correlate with healthier profiles on social connections, health behaviors, substance abuse, mental health, and psychological well-being. R/S coping is multidimensional and adds incremental predictiveness beyond measures of secular coping. Hundreds of studies link positive R/S coping to better adjustment, and negative forms of R/S coping to worse adjustment.

R/S factors tend to correlate favorably with conscientious personality, although causal direction remains uncertain. R/S is also positively correlated with diverse health-related character strengths that include forgiveness, kindness/prosociality, and hope.

This chapter also discusses various additional constructs often suggested for interpretation of R/S-health linkages. We conceptually disaggregate empirical evidence on prayer into evidence regarding effects on the person praying (the pray-er) and effects on the prayed-for person (pray-ee). We also note evidence for health linkages of “borderline spiritual constructs” such as meditation, mindfulness, and yoga, which exist in both spiritual and non-spiritual forms. Only a small number of studies have examined linkages between R/S and mindfulness, with several reports of positive associations.


  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Public health
  • Health behavior
  • Social support
  • Mental health
  • Religious coping
  • Substance abuse
  • Personality
  • Prayer

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-73966-3_3
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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    To avoid excess complexity, we have omitted the graphical representation of causal influences between various R/S dimensions, although discussion of such causal influence is available elsewhere (e.g., Oman and Thoresen 2007b; Thoresen et al. 2005).

  2. 2.

    For example, Peterson and Seligman (2004) observed that conscientiousness has a set of “prototypical descriptive markers… which closely resembles the qualities attributed to the prudent person by Aristotle” (p. 482), and that an influential Agreeableness facet measure can be used to assess the virtue of Kindness, and consists of items that “reflect active concern for the welfare of other people” (p. 328).

  3. 3.

    Burke et al. (2017) used improved measures to investigate predictors of spiritual meditation in a US nationally representative National Health Interview Survey, that unfortunately “did not ask specifically about religious identity or use of other religious/spiritual practices, such as prayer” (p, 3).


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Correspondence to Doug Oman .

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Oman, D. (2018). Model of Individual Health Effects from Religion/Spirituality: Supporting Evidence. In: Oman, D. (eds) Why Religion and Spirituality Matter for Public Health. Religion, Spirituality and Health: A Social Scientific Approach, vol 2. Springer, Cham.

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