New book provides unprecedented look at role of religion over a lifetime

ting discoveries of Dillon and Wink's research is a more in-depth understanding of spiritual-seeking Americans, those who do not participate in regular traditional religious services but who would be incorrectly labeled as secular. The majority of surveys about religious behavior rely on the frequency of church attendance as a measure of a person's level of religiousness. Those who do not attend church frequently or at all usually are considered to be less religious or not religious at all. These types of results are partially responsible for the debate about whether Americans are becoming more secular.

What Dillon and Wink found is that the vast majority of those interviewed were either religious or spiritual seeking. Instead of relying on traditional measure such as church attendance, the researchers took cues from those interviewed about how they lived their lives and whether they engaged in regular spiritual seeking behaviors, such as meditation. Simply saying they were interested in spiritual endeavors was not enough to be classified as a spiritual seeking person.

Discovering and measuring this spiritual seeking behavior was important, as Dillon and Wink found that people who were spiritual were just as concerned about the well-being of others as more religious people. "Our study suggests that there is more than one pathway to the development of an ethic of care for others," they said.

And as people age, those who were highly religious fared much better than most. The authors found that people in the twilight years who were dealing with physical ailments but who had high levels of religiousness did not experience the same levels of depression as their less religious peers.

"In other areas of functioning depression, sense of control, and fear of death our data showed a more specific role for religiousness. In particular, among those who were in poor health, religiousness emerged as a strong buffer against depression and

Contact: Lori Wright
University of New Hampshire

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