The Benefits Of Being Religious

Being religious can help socially disconnected individuals find purpose when lacking relationships, according to a recent study.

Research published in the Journal of Personality last month found that "religious beliefs can compensate for the purpose in life that social relationships would otherwise provide."

Researchers analyzed three studies on whose data included over 19,000 respondents, which found that socially disconnected people who were religious compensated for their lack of social ties through faith because their beliefs provided "greater purpose to turn to" and "divine figures that can substitute for social relationships."

"Consistent with our hypotheses, religious beliefs were of minimal influence on purpose in life for socially connected individuals, who already held higher levels of purpose than socially disconnected individuals," noted the study's results.

"However, for socially disconnected individuals, being highly religious predicted higher levels of purpose in life."

Researchers concluded that their findings indicated that while "people primarily derive purpose from social relationships, socially disconnected individuals may leverage their religious beliefs for purpose and social comfort until they can reconnect."

Todd Chan, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Michigan and one of the study's authors, told in an interview last week that religious beliefs "may benefit people who are disconnected over time."

"... our research here shows that having a belief system that 'substitutes' for some of the functions of human relationships, like feeling valued and supported by God, may allow people who feel disconnected to restore some of this purpose that social relationships would normally provide," explained Chan.

"The main benefit appears to be when people feel disconnected and need to leverage the reassuring tenets of religion and their relationship with God."

Chan also warned that while religious beliefs may offer some compensation for social disconnection, "it did not restore purpose to a level comparable to that of people who feel socially connected."

"Regardless of religiosity, people who feel socially disconnected report much lower levels of purpose in life than people who feel socially connected," continued Chan.

"Leveraging God and religion may be a way of coping with disconnection in the interim that is better than nothing, but these results certainly do not suggest that people should rely upon religion or God for purpose over people. Quality human connections are still a primary and enduring source of purpose in life."

A different study published in June found that conservatives have greater purpose in life than liberals, and the relationship was stronger among social conservatives than economic conservatives.

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