Religious engagement and varieties of self-regulation: broadening beyond belief and restraint
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Within the psychology of religion, research suggests that religious engagement influences self-regulation, i.e., a person’s ability to pursue goals. Theoretical explanations for this relationship tend to oversimplify both sides of the connection, construing religious engagement narrowly in terms of beliefs and interpreting self-regulation as a matter of self-interested restraint. These conceptual specifications are challenged by perspectives within religious studies that are committed to analyzing religions as ordinary social phenomena and by evidence from psychological studies of normative behavior. This dissertation employs these insights to broaden the theoretical scope of the study of self-regulation through a series of interdisciplinary reviews and an empirical study. To test the relationship between self-regulation and religious engagement, the dissertation presents a cross-sectional study of an online sample of 412 participants. Each participant completed five previously established psychological surveys and experiments that index: how conventional they consider their religiosity; the degree to which they are embedded in obligatory relationships, roughly called “social density”; their endorsement of what Moral Foundations Theory calls “binding” moral intuitions; emotional regulatory capacity; and delayed discounting rates, a common proxy for impulsivity. A series of hierarchical linear regressions showed that conventional religiosity was associated with both emotional regulation and delayed discounting. Delayed discounting and emotional regulation, however, were not associated. Statistical mediation analyses showed that the relationship between conventional religiosity and emotional regulation was fully mediated by social density, but the connection between conventional religiosity and delayed discounting was not influenced by any of the other variables. Collectively these results support the primary argument of this dissertation – that the theoretical focus within psychological research on religious engagement and self-regulation has become unduly narrow in its construal of both concepts. This dissertation concludes by reflecting on these results in light of what we know about formalized inquiries of this kind from the philosophy of science.
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