Implicit Religion and the Quest for Meaning


  • Emyr Williams The University of Warwick
  • Leslie J. Francis The University of Warwick
  • Mandy Robbins The University of Warwick



purpose in life, paranormal belief, attitude toward Christianity, quest for meaning, Implicit Religion


A range of theoretical perspectives postulate that religion, in both its implicit and explicit manifestations, is associated with the quest for meaning and purpose in life. This theoretical perspective is examined by the administration of the Purpose in Life Test (developed by Crumbaugh & Maholick) to a sample of 139 undergraduate students from Northern Ireland and Wales, alongside measures concerned with contrasting views of transcendence: the Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (developed by Tobacyk) and the Scale of Attitude towards Christianity (developed by Francis). The data demonstrate that purpose in life is significantly related to conceptualisations of transcendence. The implications of these fascinating findings for nuancing the construct of implicit religion are discussed.


Aarnio, K. and M. Lindeman. 2005. Paranormal beliefs, education, and thinking styles. Personality and Individual Differences 39: 1227–1236. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.04.009

Allport, G.W. and J.M. Ross. 1967. Personal religious orientation and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 5: 432–443. doi:10.1037/h0021212

Bailey, E. 1998. Implicit Religion: an introduction. London: Middlesex University Press.

———. (ed.). 2002. The Secular Quest for Meaning in Life: Denton Papers in Implicit Religion. New York, The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd.

Bechtel, G.A. 1994. Purpose in life among gay men with HIV disease. Nursing Connections 7: 5–11.

Bègue, L. and M. Bastounis. 2003. Two spheres of belief in justice: extensive support for the bi-dimensional model of belief in a just world. Journal of Personality 71: 435–463. doi:10.1111/1467-6494.7103007

Bigler, M., G. J. Neimeyer, and E. Brown. 2001. The divided self revisited: effects of self-concept clarity and self-concept differentiation on psychological adjustment. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 20: 396–415. doi:10.1521/jscp.20.3.396.22302

Bolt, M. 1975. Purpose in life and religious orientation. Journal of Psychology and Theology 3: 116–118.

Carroll, S. 1993. Spirituality and purpose in life in alcoholism recovery. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 54: 297–301.

Chamberlain, K. and S. Zika. 1988. Religiosity, life meaning and wellbeing: some relationships in a sample of women. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 27: 411–420. doi:10.2307/1387379

Coleman, S., J. Kaplan, and R. Downing. 1986. Life cycle and loss: the spiritual vacuum of heroin addiction. Family Process 25: 5–23. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300.1986.00005.x

Compton, W.C. 2001. Toward a tripartite factor structure of mental health: subjective well-being, personal growth and religiosity. Journal of Psychology 135: 486–500. doi:10.1080/00223980109603714

Coward, D.D. 1996. Self-transcendence and correlates in a healthy population. Nursing Research 45: 116–121. doi:10.1097/00006199-199603000-00011

Crandall, J.E. and R. D. Rasmussen. 1975. Purpose in life as related to specific values. Journal of Clinical Psychology 31: 483–485. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(197507)31:3<483::AID-JCLP2270310326>3.0.CO;2-C

Crumbaugh, J.C. 1968. Cross-validation of Purpose in Life Test based on Frankl’s concepts. Journal of Individual Psychology 24: 74–81.

———. and L.T. Maholick. 1969. Manual of Instructions for the Purpose in Life Test (PIL). Munster, IN: Psychometric Affiliates.

Dezutter, J., B. Soenens, and D. Hutsebaut. 2006. Religiosity and mental health: a further exploration of the relative importance of religious behaviours versus religious attitudes. Personality and Individual Differences 40: 807–818. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2005.08.014

Dy-Liacco, G.S., M.C. Kennedy, D.J. Parker and R.C. Piedmont. 2005. Spiritual transcendence as an unmediated causal predictor of psychological growth and worldview among Filipinos. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 16: 261–285.

Dufton, B.D. and D. Perlman. 1986. The association between religiosity and the Purpose-in-Life Test: does it reflect purpose or satisfaction? Journal of Psychology and Theology 14: 42–48.

Edwards, M.J. and R.R. Holden. 2001. Coping, meaning in life, and suicidal manifestations: examining gender differences. Journal of Clinical Psychology 57: 1517–1534. doi:10.1002/jclp.1114

Eysenck, H.J. and S.B.G. Eysenck. 1991. Manual of the Eysenck Personality Scales, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Flood, M. and K. Scharer. 2006. Creativity enhancement: possibilities for successful ageing. Issues in Mental Health Nursing 27: 939–959. doi:10.1080/01612840600899832

Francis, L.J. 2007. Introducing the New Indices of Religious Orientation (NIRO): conceptualisation and measurement. Mental Health, Religion and Culture 10: 585–602.

———. and P. Hills. 2008. The development of the Meaning in Life Index (MILI) and its relationship with personality and religious behaviours and beliefs among UK undergraduates. Mental Health, Religion and Culture 11: 211–220. doi:10.1080/13674670701243758

———., A. Jewell, and M. Robbins. 2010. The relationship between religious orientation, personality and purpose in life among an older Methodist sample. Mental Health Religion and Culture 13: 777–791. doi:10.1080/13674670802360907

———. , J.M. Lewis, R. Philipchalk, L.B. Brown, and D. Lester. 1995. The internal consistency reliability and construct validity of the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity (adult) among undergraduate students in the UK, USA, Australia and Canada. Personality and Individual Differences 19: 949–953. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(95)00131-X

———. and A. Orchard. 1999. The relationship between the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity and measures of intrinsic, extrinsic and quest religiosity. Pastoral Psychology 47: 365–371. doi:10.1023/A:1021310319890

———. and M. Robbins. 2006. Prayer, purpose in life and social attitudes among non-churchgoing 13- to 15-year-olds in England and Wales. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 17: 123–155.

———. , E. Williams, and M. Robbins. In press (a). Personality, conventional Christian belief and unconventional paranormal belief: a study among teenagers.

———. , E. Williams, and M. Robbins. In press (b). Christianity, paranormal belief and personality: a study among 13- to 16-year-old pupils in England and Wales.

Frankl, V.E. 1978). The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism. New York: Simon and Schuster.

French, S. and S. Joseph. 1999. Religiosity and its Association with Happiness, Purpose in Life, and Self-Actualisation. Mental Health, Religion and Culture 2: 117–120. doi:10.1080/13674679908406340

Gerwood, J.B., M. LeBlanc, and N. Piazza. 1998. The Purpose-in-Life Test and Religious Denomination: Protestant and Catholic scores in an elderly population. Journal of Clinical Psychology 54: 49–53. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(199801)54:1<49::AID-JCLP5>3.0.CO;2-P

Gladding, S.T., E.L. Lewis, and L. Adkins. 1981. Religious beliefs and positive mental health: the G.L.A scale and counselling. Counselling and Values, 25: 206–215.

Gollnick, J. 2003. Is Implicit Religion Spirituality in Disguise. Implicit Religion 6: 146–160.

Harlow, L.L., M.D. Newcomb, and P.M. Bentler. 1986. Depression, self-derogation, substance use, and suicide ideation: lack of purpose in life as a mediational factor. Journal of Clinical Psychology 42: 5–21. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(198601)42:1<5::AID-JCLP2270420102>3.0.CO;2-9

Heelas, P. and L. Woodhead. 2005. The Spiritual Revolution: why religion is giving way to spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hills, P. and L.J. Francis. 2003. Discriminant validity of the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity with respect to religious orientation. Mental Health, Religion and Culture 6: 277–282. doi:10.1080/1367467031000101000

Howitt, D. and D. Cramer. 2000. An Introduction to Statistics in Psychology: revised second edition. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Irwin, H.J. and J.M. Young. 2002. Intuitive versus reflective processes in the formation of paranormal beliefs. European Journal of Parapsychology 17: 45–53.

Ishida, R. and M. Okada. 2006. Effects of a firm purpose in life on anxiety and sympathetic nervous activity caused by emotional stress: assessment by psycho-psychological method. Stress and Health 22: 275–281. doi:10.1002/smi.1095

Jackson, L.E. and R.D. Coursey. 1988. The relationship of God control and internal locus of control to intrinsic religious motivation, coping and purpose in life. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 27: 399–410. doi:10.2307/1387378

Joseph, S. and C.A. Lewis. 1997. The Francis Scale of Attitude towards Christianity: intrinsic or extrinsic religiosity? Psychological Reports 80: 609–610.

Junior, V. 2006. Purpose and meaning in life relative to time in recovery from alcoholism. International Forum of Logotherapy 29(2): 99–102.

Kay, W.K. and L.J. Francis. 1996. Drift from the Churches: attitude toward Christianity during childhood and adolescence. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Kennedy, J.E. and H. Kanthamani. 1995a. Association between anomalous experiences and artistic creativity and spirituality. Journal of the American Society for Psychological Research 89: 333–343.

———. 1995b. An exploratory study of the effects of paranormal and spiritual experiences on peoples’ lives and wellbeing. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 89: 249–265.

———. and J. Palmer. 1994. Psychic and spiritual experiences, health, well-being and meaning in life. Journal of Parapsychology, 58: 353–383.

Kulik, A. and L. Szewczyk. 2002. Sense of meaning of life and the emotional reaction among young people pursuing different types of meditation. Studia Psychologica 44: 155–166.

Lester, D., and S. Badro. 1992. Depression, suicidal preoccupation and purpose in life in a subclinical population. Personality and Individual Differences, 13: 75–76. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(92)90221-A

Lewis, C.A., C. Lanigan, S. Joseph, and J. de Fockert. 1997. Religiosity and happiness: no evidence for an association among undergraduates. Personality and Individual Differences 22: 119–121. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(97)88910-6

Lyon, D.E. and J.B. Younger. 2001. Purpose in life and depressive symptoms in persons living with HIV disease. Journal of Nursing Scholarship 33: 129–133. doi:10.1111/j.1547-5069.2001.00129.x

Marsh, A., L. Smith, J. Piek, and B. Saunders. 2003. The Purpose in Life Scale: psychometric properties for social drinkers and drinkers in alcohol treatment. Educational and Psychological Measurements 63: 859–871.

Newcomb, M.D. 1986. Nuclear attitudes and reactions: associations with depression, drug use, and quality of life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50: 906–920. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.50.5.906

———. and L.L. Harlow. 1986. Life events and substance use among adolescents: mediating effects of perceived loss of control and meaninglessness in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51: 564–577. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.51.3.564

Nygren, B., L. Aléx, E. Jonsén, Y. Gustafson, A. Norberg, and B. Lundman. 2005. Resilience, sense of coherence, purpose in life and self-transcendence in relation to perceived physical and mental health among the oldest old. Ageing and Mental Health 9: 354–362. doi:10.1080/1360500114415

Paloutzian, R.F. 1981. Purpose in life and value changes following conversion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 41: 1153–1160. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.41.6.1153

———. and C.W. Ellison. 1982. Loneliness, spiritual well-being, and the quality of life. In Loneliness: a sourcebook of current theory, research and therapy, edited by L.A. Peplau and D. Perlman, 224–237. New York: Wiley-Interscience.

———., S.L. Jackson, and J.E. Crandall. 1978. Conversion experience, belief system, and personal and ethical attitudes. Journal of Psychology and Theology 6: 266–275.

Pearson, P.R. and B. Sheffield. 1975. Purpose in life and social attitudes in psychiatric patients. Journal of Clinical Psychology 31: 330–332. doi:10.1002/1097-4679(197504)31:2<330::AID-JCLP2270310237>3.0.CO;2-Y

Pfost, K.S., M.J. Stevens, and A.B. Wessels. 1989. Relationship of purpose in life to grief experiences in response to death of a significant other. Death Studies 134: 371–378. doi:10.1080/07481188908252315

Piedmont, R.L. and M.M. Leach. 2002. Cross-cultural generalizability of the Spiritual Transcendence Scale in India. American Behavioral Scientist 45 (12): 1888–1901. doi:10.1177/0002764202045012011

Rappaport, H., R.J. Fossler, L.S. Bross, and D.Gilden. 1993. Future time, death anxiety, and life purpose among older adults. Death Studies 17: 369–379. doi:10.1080/07481189308252631

Richards, D.G. 1991.The phenomenology and psychological correlates of verbal prayer. Journal of Psychology and Theology 19: 354–363.

Robbins, M., L.J. Francis, and E. Williams. In press. Conventional Christian belief and unconventional paranormal belief among teenagers in Northern Ireland: a personality and individual differences approach.

Rogers, P., P. Qualter, G. Phelps, and K. Gardner. 2006. Belief in the paranormal, coping and emotional intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences 41 1089–1105. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.04.014

Rudski, J. 2004. The illusion of control, superstitious belief, and optimism. Current Psychology 22: 306–315. doi:10.1007/s12144-004-1036-8

Sarvimäki, A. and B. Stenbock-Hult. 2000. Quality of life in old age described as a sense of well-being, meaning and values. Journal of Advanced Nursing 32: 1025–1033. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.2000.01568.x

Schlesinger, S., M. Susman, and J. Koenigsberg. 1990. Self-esteem and purpose in life: a comparative study of women alcoholics. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education 36: 127–141.

Shek, D.T.L. 1992. Meaning in life and psychological well-being: an empirical study using the Chinese version of the Purpose in Life Questionnaire. Journal of Genetic Psychology 153: 185–200.

———., H.K. Ma, and P.C. Cheung. 1994. Meaning in life and adolescent antisocial and prosocial behaviour in a Chinese context. Psychologia 37: 211–218.

Sherman, A.C., T.G. Plante, S. Simonton, D.C. Adams, C. Harbison, and S.K. Buris. 2000. A multidimensional measure of religious involvement for cancer patients: the Duke Religious Index. Supportive Care in Cancer 8: 102–109. doi:10.1007/s005200050023

Sjöbery, L. and A. af Wåhlberg. 2002. Risk perception and New Age beliefs. Risk Perception 22: 751–764.

Soderstrom, D. and E.W. Wright. 1977. Religious orientation and meaning in life. Journal of Clinical Psychology 33: 65–68. doi:10.1002/1097-4679-(197701)33:1+<65::AID-JCLP2270330113>3.0.CO;2-0

Stevens, M.J., K.S. Pfost, and A.B. Wessels. 1987. The relationship of purpose in life to coping strategies and time since death of a significant other. Journal of Counselling and Development 65: 424–426.

Stien, J.A., R.L. Dukes, J.L. Warren. 2007. Adolescent male bullies, victims, and bully-victims: a comparison of psychosocial and behavioural characteristics. Journal of Pediatric Psychology 32: 273–282. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/jsl023

Stones, C.R. 1981. Personal religious orientation and Frankl’s will-to-meaning in four religious communities. South African Journal of Psychology 10: 50–52.

———. and J.L. Philbrick. 1980. Purpose in life in South Africa: a comparison of American and South African beliefs. Psychological Reports 47: 739–742.

Tillich, P. 1952. The Courage To Be. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Tobacyk, J.J. 1988. A revised paranormal belief scale. Unpublished manuscript, Ruston: Louisiana Tech University.

Waisberg, J.L. and J.E. Porter. 1994. Purpose in life and outcome of treatment for alcohol dependence. British Journal of Clinical Psychology 33: 49–63.

Watt, C., S. Watson, and L. Wilson. 2007. Cognitive and psychological mediators of anxiety: evidence from a study of paranormal belief and perceived childhood control. Personality and Individual Differences 42: 335–343. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2006.07.015

Weinstein, L. and C.C. Cleanthous. 1996. A comparison of Protestant ministers and parishioners on expressed purpose in life and intrinsic religious motivation. Psychology: a journal of human behaviour 33: 26–29.

Whitty, M.T. 2003. Coping and defending: Age differences in maturity of defence mechanisms and coping strategies. Ageing and Mental Health 7: 123–132. doi:10.1080/1360786031000072277

Yalom, I.D. 1980. Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

Zika, S. and K. Chamberlain. 1987. Relations of hassles and personality to subjective well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53: 155–162. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.53.1.155

———. and K. Chamberlain. 1992. On the relation between meaning in life and psychological well-being. British Journal of Psychology 83: 133–145.



How to Cite

Williams, E., Francis, L. J., & Robbins, M. (2011). Implicit Religion and the Quest for Meaning. Implicit Religion, 14(1), 45–65.




Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 > >>