Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2013 Volume 9 :: Article 5
2013 Volume 9, Article 5
Can Sense of Coherence Be Modified by Religious/Spiritual Interventions?: A Critical Appraisal of Previous Research

Author: Florian Jeserich (University of Bayreuth)

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In an interdisciplinary review of twenty-one German- and English-language intervention studies, the effectiveness of spiritually/religiously based interventions is evaluated statistically by measuring the participants' sense of coherence (SOC). Although Aaron Antonovsky considered a change in the SOC-29 score of no more than (+/-)5 points possible, the intentional modification of the SOC-29 median through religious/spiritual interventions ranges from 3.5 to 21 points. In studies using the SOC-13 questionnaire, the SOC increase ranges from about 2 to 7.5 points. Although it is possible that, for example, small sample sizes and biographical factors skew the statistics, the fact that the experimental groups' SOC score was in all cases higher than the control groups' SOC score strongly suggests that the improvement in SOC can be traced to the religious/spiritual practices. However, there seem to be no difference between the efficacy of spiritually/religiously based interventions and that of secular interventions. Moreover, some studies indicate that an intentionally modified SOC might not be stable over time. After reconsidering why I decided to categorize therapeutic programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as religiously/spiritually based interventions, I propose and criticize an ad hoc model of the SOC-enhancing effect of MBSR. I then discuss the potentials and shortcomings of this segment of research and develop perspectives for methodologically more sophisticated investigations.

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