Berne Lecutre

Wrestling with the Angels: Spiritual Struggles and their Implications for Health and Well-Being

Prof. Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD
Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio 43403 USA,


Major life stressors impact people not only physically, emotionally, and socially, but also spiritually. At times, these stressors can lead to spiritual struggles. Spiritual struggles have been defined as tensions and conflicts about sacred matters within oneself, with others, or with the divine. Spiritual struggles are not signs of a weak faith or spiritual immaturity. Indeed, many of the world’s greatest religious figures experienced periods of spiritual struggle in their lives. Spiritual struggles are, instead, a natural and normal part of spiritual development.

In recent years, investigators have begun to study spiritual struggles and their implications for health and well-being. This emerging research points to several initial conclusions. First, spiritual struggles are commonplace among members of diverse religious groups, including Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. Second, spiritual struggles have been associated with declines in mental health and physical health, even higher risk of mortality. These results have emerged through studies of diverse samples dealing with a variety of major life crises. Third, spiritual struggles have also been linked to reports of stress-related growth. Many people describe their deepest struggles in life as sources of profound change and transformation. The empirical literature then suggests that spiritual struggles may be a fork in the road leading to growth in one direction or decline in the other. This leads to the final conclusion -- whether spiritual struggles lead to growth or decline may depend on the degree to which the individual has a well-integrated spirituality. Elements of a well-integrated spirituality include: (a) a concept of the sacred that is large enough to help people come to terms with life shattering events, (b) a spirituality that is flexible and open to change, and (c) access to a spiritual network that provides support rather than stigma for individuals struggling with their spirituality. This paper concludes with a review of some of the promising clinical efforts now underway to help people address their spiritual struggles before they lead to health-related problems.

Date: Friday, May 14th
Time: 18:45 -20:00