Popular Sources of Meaning as a Challenge to Studying Belief and Spirituality

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Social scientists clearly acknowledge the complex place of belief in shaping human conduct. Educationists and practitioners increasingly acknowledge the search for meaning in their students and research participants. There has been a great upsurge in secular academic interest in meaning in the context of traditional religions, but the research in this area often is framed in term of organizational commitment and attendance. At the same time, much of social science, for example academic psychology, places little positive emphasis on the inclination to seek spiritual meaning in areas that extend beyond formal religion. What research there is suggests that large proportions of people admit to a belief in a range of factors that can be labeled ‘otherworld phenomena’ and that this gives meaning to their lives. This paper takes the premise that this popular search for meaning does more that help individuals cope in an uncertain world, which is the common psychological perspective. It argues that popular aspects of meaning, or contemporary popular spirituality, reflect traditional elements of spirituality and religion, such as compassion, engagement and ritual. Studies on contemporary belief in angels will be used as the example of a contemporary popular spirituality. The paper concludes that social scientists, especially psychologists, need to be less judgmental in their approach to studying people’s beliefs, and take some risks. A genuinely inclusive approach to studying coping is necessary in order to have a broader and more accurate understanding of people in today's world.


Keywords: Spirituality, Belief, Contemporary Search for Meaning
Stream: Psychology, Cognitive Science and Behavioural Sciences
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Prof. Carmen Moran

Professor of Psychology and Head of School, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Charles Sturt University
Wagga, New South Wales, Australia

Carmen Moran is a psychologist and long time academic, now working at Charles Sturt University in inland New South Wales, Australia. She has held a variety of academic positions at various institutions, and has also worked a psychologist specialising in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Her research interests are centred on stress and coping. Underlying all this research is the question: How do people manage to cope as well as they do, given the problems that life throws at us? Within this framework she has studied and published in the areas of anxiety disorders, stress and coping in the emergency services, and humor as a coping strategy in extreme environments. Another area of interest is humor and war, which was a natural development arising from her observations with emergency service workers. Because her work on humour took her in the area of ‘a search for meaning’, she became interested in and now researches the nature of spirituality and coping.

Ref: I08P0710