NEW YORK — New research shows that religion can be an important component of human development, but it doesn’t always have to be.
New University of New Orleans researchers found that religion, not morality, is the most powerful predictor of how people experience life.
The study is the first to analyze religious experience, as well as life experiences, to better understand why people are drawn to a religion and what they feel is important about religion.
“Our results demonstrate that people tend to associate religion with a positive, important role in their lives, which is not surprising given its impact on people’s well-being,” said study co-author Andrew Weisberg, a professor of psychology and sociology.
Weisberg is an assistant professor of sociology at New University, which has been studying religion since its inception in the late 19th century.
The researchers analyzed more than 8,000 people between the ages of 12 and 64, and found that the vast majority of people report a strong emotional attachment to a religious belief system.
When people were asked about their religious beliefs, nearly half of them said they felt that religion has a positive impact on their life, and they had the highest level of religious attachment.
Only about one in four people reported an attachment to moral values.
Weisberger said he suspects that this lack of religious commitment stems from the fact that religious belief is often viewed as being an “unwanted or immoral belief,” and people often struggle to reconcile the moral values of their religious upbringing with their own personal experience of suffering.
In addition to being a source of hope, religion can also serve as a tool for self-acceptance and a way for people to avoid isolation and depression.
Although religion is not the only factor associated with higher levels of religiosity, Weisber said that religious people are also more likely to have positive psychological outcomes.
For instance, the researchers found strong correlations between religiosity and self-esteem, self-reliance, and well-tolerance.
They also found that people who report having a high degree of religious belief have higher levels on measures of depression, anxiety, and stress than those who do not.
More research is needed to understand how people make decisions about their personal religious experiences, Weinsberg said.
For example, the current study looked only at religious people, but future studies could investigate the role of cultural factors in determining whether religion or morality is important to a person’s experience of life.