NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity

Last night, I was listening to Coast to Coast AM. The host mentioned a study in passing which caught my interest. The study was about the impact of NDEs on spirituality and religion. He said the results of NDE experiencers was the opposite of those church attenders who never had an NDE. After their NDE, experiencers were increasingly interested in spirituality and yet their church attendance decreased. On the other hand, non-experiencers over time (as they aged?) became less interested in spirituality all the while attending church more often.

I tried to find this study, but was unable to find it. NDEs is the topic of tonight’s show on Coast to Coast Am. The guest is Pin van Lommel who has written about the topic, but I don’t know if the study is discussed in one of his books. I did find other research which was related. In the following paper, I found a description of research showing that belief in the paranormal is negatively related to religious participation.

The Polarization of Psi Beliefs:
Rational, Controlling, Masculine Skepticism Versus Interconnected, Spiritual, Feminine Belief
J. E. Kennedy
pp 31-2

There are mixed findings and opinions from research on the relationship between religion and paranormal beliefs. National surveys in Canada and Iceland found that religious interests or beliefs were associated with belief in the paranormal (Haraldsson, 1981; Orenstein, 2002). These results are supported by other studies (see Thalbourne & Houtkooper, 2002). However, a national survey in the U.S. found that the correlations between religious and paranormal beliefs were largely nonsignificant (Rice, 2003). Various other studies found no relationship or mixed results between religion and belief in the paranormal (reviewed in Irwin, 1993; see also Orenstein, 2002; Rice, 2003).

These inconsistencies apparently reflect the fact that certain measures of religion are related to psi beliefs and others are not. Orenstein (2002) reported that belief in the paranormal was positively related to religious faith but negatively related to religious participation in a representative national survey in Canada. For those who had high religious belief but low church attendance, 78% scored high on 6 paranormal belief questions. For those who had high religious belief and high church attendance, 24% scored high on paranormal beliefs. For those who had low religious belief and low church attendance, 11% scored high on paranormal beliefs.

So, what does that mean? My guess is that this connects to Ernest Hartmann’s research on boundary types. Thick boundary types would prefer organized religion because it’s clearly defined in its social structure and in its belief system. However, thin boundary types prefer more open-endedness and inconclusiveness which goes against most organized religion, especially of the highly organized variety such as the Catholic Church. Research shows that thin boundary types are more open to non-ordinary experiences (i.e., spiritual, paranormal; et cetera). An NDE, by definition, is a thin boundary experience in that it’s a very personal experience of thin boundary between life and death.

Even if you don’t believe in religion or the paranormal, I think this type of research is interesting in what it says about human nature. A thick boundary person simply is less comfortable with spirituality and the paranormal. If the thick boundary person is religious, they’re more likely to label the non-ordinary as evil or at least consider it highly suspect. If a thick boundary person isn’t religious, they’re likely to deem claims of non-ordinary experiences as false or meaningless or else to rationalize them away merely brain malfunctions. In this way, the religious fundamentalist and the atheistic fundamentalist would find themselves in similar opposition to the spiritual believer and paranormal experiencer.

14 thoughts on “NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity

  1. What a great post. I’ve missed Coast to Coast AM lately. Spirituality is an interesting topic, but way to many people take too much of their own POV without doing a lot of real reading or research. Books like Sun of gOd: Discover the Self-Organizing Consciousness That Underlies Everything by Gregory Sams, can be a great way to start.

  2. How fascinating that just by chance I came across your article. Half asleep, I listened to last night’s Coast to Coast (Nov. 4), and was particularly interested because the issue has been discussed in my Religion and Sociology Class. I am pleased to have some researched data to describe the connections between religion and beliefs in the paranormal.

  3. http://www.mendeley.com/research/spiritual-experience-church-attendance-bereavement/

    “Examines the empirical relationships among spiritual experience, church attendance, and bereavement adjustment in a sample (N = 85) of individuals grieving the death of a significant person in their lives. Results indicate that those participants evidencing high levels of spiritual experience showed lower levels of problematic grief affect. Notes that church attendance appeared to influence grief adjustment only to the extent that it was positively correlated with spiritual experience. Discusses implications for pastoral caregiving.”

  4. Studies show that conservatives tend to more often experience emotions such as fear and disgust. This might correlate to the connection between anxiety and religiosity.


    “So what’s the connection to one’s personal degree of religiosity? Using sophisticated imaging machines, the number of type 5HT-1A serotonin receptors in the brain was discovered to be inversely correlated with self-ratings of religiosity and spirituality. People who respond negatively (e.g., with excessive anxiety or depression) to the challenges of everyday life have fewer 5HT-1A receptors (just like the mice I discussed above) and are more likely to find comfort in religious faith and practice. Moreover, a series of studies have demonstrated that people with certain serotonin receptor profiles suffer more often with social anxiety disorder, which is characterized by an extreme fear that other people are thinking bad things about them. Fortunately, people who have fewer of these 5HT-1A receptors also tend to respond more positively to placebos or affirmative suggestions than people who do not have these types of serotonin receptors in their brain. Taken together, these findings suggest that people who yearn for more spiritual leadership in their lives may have inherited fewer type 1A serotonin receptors than those who never express such yearnings. If true, these data might explain why children tend to echo the religiosity of their parents.”

  5. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:2XV4nFVfZCIJ:www.isreligion.org/wp-content/uploads/stark_conventional.pdf+&hl=en&gl=us

    “We know from previous research that some individuals with strong, conventional Chris­tian beliefs may also profess beliefs in paranormal phenomena incongruent withChristian beliefs (extrasensory perception, psychic abilities, communicating with thedead, etc.). What we don’t have a full grasp on is to what extent people with conven­tional Christian beliefs will also experiment with these paranormal activities. It isone thing to believe in psychic abilities, but quite another to consult a psychic. Wedraw upon different perspectives in sociology of religion and present competinghypotheses about the relationship between conventional Christian beliefs and para­normal experimentation. We use the 2005 Baylor Religion Survey and count regres­sions to model the number ofreported paranormal experiences. In general, conventionalChristian beliefs have no direct effect on the reported number ofparanormal experi­ences, but, these effects are conditioned by the level of church attendance. Amongthose who attend church often, conventional Christian beliefs significantly decreasethe reported number ofparanormal experiences. Among those who do not attendchurch, holding conventional Christian beliefs increases the number of reported para­normal experiences. Implications for theory and research are discussed.”

  6. http://users.telenet.be/allemeesch/KlinPsy/publi/Beliefs&Personality.htm

    “Religiosity was weakly correlated with Extraversion, and there was a small but significant effect size regarding Openness to Experience (Saroglou, 2002). Saroglou (2002) as well McCrae (1996; 1999) mentioned the complex but clear pattern of relation between religion and Openness to Experience. Participants who have high scores on Openness to Experience are associated with “open and mature religion” (Saroglou, 2002). Saroglou (2002) also mentioned the striking result that religious fundamentalists are associated with low Openness to Experience. This factor has to be examined in further research. However, one should take into consideration that most of the above-mentioned results have been found in studies in which researchers have been working with a uni-dimensional model. The innovative aspect of the Post-Critical Belief Scale is the proposed two-dimensional structure of religiosity. Although in line with previous research, where none of the five factors of personality correlate significantly with religiosity as it was measured by the Literal vs. Symbolic dimension, a significant correlation with Openness to Experience was found. This is in line with Duriez, Soenens, & Beyers (2003), McCrae (1996, 1999), McCrae, Zimmermann, Costa, & Bond, (1996), and Saroglou (2002) Duriez, Luyten, Snauwaert, Hutsebaut (2002), who expected Openness to Experience to be crucial in order to understand the relation between religiosity and personality.

    “In a similar approach to paranormal beliefs, Openness to Experience has been suggested as an important factor that might lead to a better understanding of religiosity (McCrae, 1999), as individuals high in this factor are thought to be characterised by a particularly permeable structure of consciousness. This has been supported by a study by Streyffeler and McNally (1998), who found liberal and fundamentalist Protestants to differ with respect to this factor, but not to any other factor of the FFM. This factor, given its definition, is hypothesised to be highly relevant for the way in which religious issues are interpreted and processed.”

    * * *

    “With respect to the religiosity subscales, Openness to Experience was significantly negatively correlated with Orthodoxy and significantly positively correlated with Relativism. This adds weight to the theories that state Openness to Experience ought to be crucial in understanding the relation between personality and religiosity (McCrae, 1996, 1999; McCrae, Zimmerman, Costa and Bond, 1996; Saroglou, 2002; Duriez, Luyten, Snauwaert and Hutsebaut, 2002). However, this result does not support previous findings by Duriez, Soenens and Beyers (2003) that Openness to Experience is significantly related to the Literal vs. Symbolic dimension.”

  7. http://www.pewforum.org/UCLA-Study-Students-Become-More-Spiritual-in-College.aspx

    “The study finds that while attendance at religious services decreased dramatically for most students between their freshman and junior years, the students’ overall level of spirituality, as defined by the researchers, increases. On hot-button social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, the study finds that students become increasingly liberal.”

  8. http://baywood.metapress.com/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,4,6;journal,139,254;linkingpublicationresults,1:300329,1

    “To assess the relative contributions of spirituality and religiosity to levels of death anxiety, the Templer Death Anxiety Scale (TDAS) [1] and the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS) [2] were administered to 134 female and seventy-four male undergraduate college students. Results of a stepwise multiple regression analyses revealed that spirituality has a significant negative relationship with death anxiety, i.e., as the degree of certainty with respect to life after death, greater levels of satisfaction with life, and greater feelings of purpose in life increase, levels of death anxiety decrease. No significant relationship was revealed between religiosity and death anxiety. Taken together, these findings suggest that the inconsistency in research findings concerning the relationship between religiosity and death anxiety may be accounted for by the variable of spirituality. An additional finding was that female participants reported higher levels of death anxiety than males.”

  9. Reblogged this on Mass Delusions a.k.a. Magical & Religious Woo-Bullshit Thinking and commented:
    Very good blog article about the difference between THICK BOUNDARY and THIN BOUNDARY personality types.

    A quote from the article: Thick boundary types would prefer organized religion because it’s clearly defined in its social structure and in its belief system. However, thin boundary types prefer more open-endedness and inconclusiveness which goes against most organized religion, especially of the highly organized variety such as the Catholic Church.

    Research shows that thin boundary types are more open to non-ordinary experiences (i.e., spiritual, paranormal; et cetera). An NDE, by definition, is a thin boundary experience in that it’s a very personal experience of thin boundary between life and death.

    Also have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundaries_of_the_mind .

    Here’s a quote from that article:

    Relationship to other personality traits: The Boundary Questionnaire has been related to the Five Factor Model of personality, and “thin boundaries” are mostly associated with openness to experience, particularly the facets of openness to fantasy, aesthetics, and feelings, although some of the content was correlated with neuroticism, extraversion, and low conscientiousness. Scores on the questionnaire are also positively correlated with absorption, transliminality, hypnotisability, and suggestibility. Thin boundaries are also associated with the Feeling and Intuition scales of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

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