Assessing Religiosity Research Paper Starter

Assessing Religiosity

(Research Starters)

Religiosity refers to the intensity and consistency of one's practice of a religion. Religiosity has been found not only to inform an individual's attitudes toward what constitutes moral behavior in practice but also to shape the structure of a society itself. Religiosity is assessed by asking about religious beliefs, measuring membership in religious organizations, and measuring attendance at religious services. However, the research results in studies of religiosity are inconsistent, often due to problems in developing adequate and consistent operational definitions of the term. Better and more consistent measures are needed for replicable results, including the development of dimensions of religiosity.

Keywords Demographic Data; Doctrine; Mysticism; Operational Definition; Piety; Religion; Religiosity; Socioeconomic Status (SES); Spirituality; Survey; Validity

Sociology of Religion: Assessing Religiosity


Views on religion and its adherents vary widely. For Karl Marx, religion was the opium of the people, and Sigmund Freud opined that religion is an illusion which derives its strength from its readiness to fit in with our innate wishful impulses. Not everyone, of course, agrees with such opinions. American philosopher George Santayana, for example, said that religion in its humility restores man to his only dignity, the courage to live by grace, and Patrick Henry called religion the duty which we owe to our creator. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this wide variation in opinion, ranging from personal experience in a religion to personal experience with the adherents of a religion or religions.

Defining Religiosity

Religiosity is the state of being religious or the measurement of the intensity and consistency of one's practice of a religion. The term religiosity can also be used to refer to an excessive devotion to religion. In addition, the sociological term religiosity is often confused with terms more difficult to operationally define, such as piety and spirituality.


Piety is religious devotion to and reverence for the supernatural being or beings worshipped in a given religion, or the devoutness and dutifulness to the forms and obligations of one's religion. Although sometimes used interchangeably, the definition of piety differs from that of religiosity in the reason people perform pious acts. Piety typically implies that the religious acts — whether they be prayer or meditation, study of sacred texts, or observable acts in the world — are done because of an underlying belief in the doctrine and faith statements of a religion. The actions that characterize religiosity, however, can be done without the same level of belief. For example, one can go to church every Sunday for the sake of one's children or parents or because one's spouse attends. Although this would be a measure of religiosity, it does not make any statement about why the person is performing this act (i.e., because of the spouse or because he or she believes in the teachings of the church). Similarly, the person who attends church because of his or her spouse would often be judged to be higher on a scale of religiosity than the housebound person who does not attend church but truly believes in the doctrines and teachings of the church.


The term spirituality is also often confused with the concept of religiosity. However, spirituality deals directly with a concern for intangible aspects of the soul or the spirit as opposed to the more tangible, quantifiable considerations of measures of religiosity. For example, a person who was high on the quality of religiosity might regularly attend religious services because he or she felt it to be an obligation for non-religious reasons, while a spiritual person might not attend religious services regularly because he or she had not found one that subscribed to the same spiritual principles or emphasized the mystic aspects of the religion that are typically not experienced in public. Further, a person can be spiritual — i.e., have a great focus on things of the spirit over material things — and not adhere to any religion.


Measuring Religiosity

Part of the problem in measuring religiosity is operationally defining the underlying construct. Certainly, using religious words or consistently practicing the obligations of one's religion are good approximations of one's faith or beliefs, but they are only approximations. By their very definition, however, the more theological concepts of piety and spirituality are difficult to operationally define because they are concerned with the intangible, and often with things that cannot be well-expressed in human language. This does not mean that measures of religiosity are meaningless. However, it must be remembered that these are approximations only of the underlying construct. Further, religiosity is an umbrella term that can be used to examine various aspects of the underlying construct. As a result, definitions of religiosity are often too vague to yield replicable research results. It is important to remember these facts when interpreting the research literature on religiosity. As mentioned above, different people may perform the same religious act for vastly different reasons. Depending on the research question being investigated, it is important that these subgroups be separated to truly understand the factors affecting people's behavior.

In general, religiosity is measured in several general ways: religious beliefs, membership in religious organizations, and attendance at religious services. Religious beliefs can be measured by using surveys to collect data concerning how strongly a person agrees or disagrees with various statements about the tenets of one or more religions or the degree to which they practice various religious obligations. One example of such a data collection instrument is the Santa Clara Strength of Religious Faith Questionnaire. This ten-item questionnaire inquires about respondents' view of their religious faith and its implications for their lives through such statements as,

  • "My religious faith is extremely important to me,"
  • "I consider myself active in my faith or church," and
  • "My faith impacts many of my decisions.'

Respondents rate each of the ten statements on a four-point scale ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The survey is written to be neutral regarding religious preference through the use of such phrasing as "faith or church" rather than the more explicitly Christian term "church." However, the survey instrument has a very definite monotheistic bent: one question asks respondents about their "relationship with God," which limits the usefulness of the scale for practitioners and believers in polytheistic religions.

Another example of a survey instrument designed to measure religiosity is the Inclusive Christian Scale (Cutting, 2007). Obviously from its title, this instrument also is not applicable to the great mass of adherents to non-Christian religions. However, it more expressly operationally defines the meaning of religiosity for Christians than does the Santa Clara Questionnaire. In addition, the Inclusive Christian Scale attempts to better define the dimensions of religiosity. The Inclusive Christian Scale collects demographic data on gender, age, marital status, race/ethnicity, education, state of residence, current denomination and denomination of childhood, and ordination status. This section is followed by fifty-six questions that respondents rate on a six-point scale ranging from "not very important for me" to "very important for me."

The questions investigate six dimensions of religiosity that have been found in previous research studies. The "Evangelical" dimension asks questions about the respondents' practices in prayer, evangelism or outreach, and faith as a source of strength. The "Christian Conservative" dimension collects data on...

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