Religious Engagement and Mental Health: New Research Sparks Debate

Religiosity and Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic has been subjected to a continuous global analysis that has touched on several angles including health, economics and sociology, politics and governance as well as geopolitics.

An article published recently brings out a different perspective on how people are coping with the effects of COVID-19 through religiosity.

The unique aspect of this study is the use of mathematical methods in studying the interplay between religiosity and mental health.

Research findings

The research was presented at the Asia Meeting of Econometric Society (AMES-CSW) 2024.

It took place at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, November 2023 issue of European Economic Review had an article written by Girish Bahal, Sriya Iyer, Kishen Shastry and Anand Shrivastava.

According to an online survey conducted on 5,178 American adults, involving oneself in religious practices significantly eased consequences of psychological disorders during the pandemic.

Key Points from the Presentation

The presenter, Kishen Shastry, highlighted during his presentation that there was a significant correlation between intensity of religiosity and access to religious services with respect to mental health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He further stated that engaging in religious congregations especially those that allowed physical attendance played a major role in enhancing mental stability.

Audience Skepticism

Despite about thirty students and scholars present at the gathering including Sanjeev Goyal from Cambridge University who was also chairing it; many still doubted after reading this research.

Some doubted whether “religiosity” is specific enough to be a cause arguing that even non-religious strong community engagement can achieve similar results.

For example, a member of audience suggested that hanging out with a big group could bring about similar positive results.

Questions on Applicability

At its beginning, this presentation started off by informing us that out 90% respondents were Christians who were surveyed over February-March 2021.

This raised eyebrows as to whether this survey would be generalized amidst various cultures with different religious systems predominantly Hinduism and Islam.

Skepticism also arose from the audience if these findings could be replicated in other nations practicing different religions.

Clarifications on Religiosity

In his contribution during the discussion, one attendee pointed out that Christianity differs from Hinduism in terms of worship practices and that Hindu practices do not have congregational components like in Christianity.

Co-author Kishen Shastry explained that their study was concerned only with attending religious gatherings and “religiosity” rather than individual spirituality.

This was an effort to resolve concerns over the findings’ suitability in various cultural contexts.

Faith or Friends?

The question of why the authors chose to concentrate on individual “religiosity” while making a case for the benefits of “community engagement” during a pandemic dominated most of the debate.

Some suggested alternatives like football fan meetings which would provide comparable support and involvement just like churches or mosques.

Shastry responded by saying religion focuses on community due to its ease of access, wide availably, and larger pool of participants.

Student Perspective

During his presentation, Gursidak Gagneja an IIT-Delhi student praised it but also emphasized more on the wider community element.

While affirming positive influence of religiosity in mental health stress, he noted that non-religious community endeavors can attain similar advantages.

In conclusion, the debate generated by this research shows the search for understanding the many-sided effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health.

Although the researchers centered on religiosity and its connection to wellbeing, other concerns linger about how broadly these results could be generalized to other cultural and religious contexts.

As such, mental well-being is a critical area for future research as various factors like religion are studied in relation to social order following global pandemic.

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  • Religious Engagement and Mental Health: New Research Sparks Debate