Category: Aging and Older Adults
If there is one finding consistently associated with normal aging, it is that cognition and emotions become more complex. That is, thoughts and feelings become more relativistic and multidimensional. In the context of religious orientation, a similarly increased complexity associated with normal aging has been found. Older adults become more tolerant of differences between their own faith and that of others, as well as more apt to doubt their own beliefs. In addition to increased complexity of religiosity, stressors which are common in later life (e.g., loss, functional impairment) also may affect religious complexity. When older individuals feel vulnerable, they may become increasingly less complex and fall back on more habitual patterns of religious belief and behavior. In this study, it is anticipated that increased functional impairment will reduce complexity of religious involvement. Specifically, it is predicted that religiously affiliated older adults would become less open to doubt and more doctrinaire and ritualized in their religious belief and behavior when facing increased impairment. This hypothesis is examined longitudinally in two samples – a random sample of 287 older adults drawn from the Worcester MA city census and a snowball sample of 70 African American older adults (N=357 combined sample). Of this sample, 94% reported affiliation with a religious denomination. At two times over 12 months, functional impairment (ADL on the OARS) and Intrinsic (I), Extrinsic (E), and Quest (Q) religious orientation scales (Allport & Ross, 1967; Batson, Schoenrade, and Ventis, 1993) were assessed. I, E, and Q religious orientations reflect different facets of religious activity: I is an index of the depth of religious commitment; E is an index of the use of religion to obtain social and emotional benefits; Q is an index of the extent to which individuals question and doubt their faith. I, E, and Q religious orientations typically show near zero intercorrelations when assessed in younger samples. Using SEM, the current study found that I, E, and Q factors are significantly associated in this sample (e.g., factor intercorrelations for I&E, E&Q, and I&Q equal .29, .37, and .38, respectively). Such high factor correlations indicate religious complexity, e.g., higher levels of religious commitment (I) are associated with high levels of religious questioning (Q). Among older adults facing higher levels of functional impairment, however, I,E, and Q factor correlations are significantly diminished. This suggests a reduction in religious complexity such that religiously affiliated older adults facing the stress of functional impairment may become more ritualistic in religious practice, less likely to use faith simply to obtain social and emotional benefits, and less apt to question their religious beliefs and behavior. This study may provide clinical implications by deepening the understanding of age-related functional impairment and cognitive complexity and their association with religion.