Jesuit Academy Ignatianum in Kraków, ul. Kopernika 26, Poland; - PDF

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Religions 2013, 4, ; doi: /rel Article OPEN ACCESS religions ISSN The Role of the Meaning of Life and Religious Experience of God s Presence

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Religions 2013, 4, ; doi: /rel Article OPEN ACCESS religions ISSN The Role of the Meaning of Life and Religious Experience of God s Presence and God's Absence Amongst Students with Different Levels of Conscience Sensitivity Stanisław Głaz Jesuit Academy Ignatianum in Kraków, ul. Kopernika 26, Poland; Received: 23 January 2013; in revised form: 17 February 2013 / Accepted: 26 February 2013 / Published: 26 February 2013 Abstract: The aim of the author's own research was: (a) defining the level of meaning in life and the level of religious experience (God's presence and God's absence) in groups of students with high and low levels of conscience sensitivity and (b) showing the connection between meaning in life and the level of religious experience (God's presence and God's absence) in groups of students with high and low levels of conscience sensitivity. The study was conducted in among university students in Kraków. The subject group consisted of students of several non-catholic public and state universities. All participants were Polish born, culturally homogeneous, and stemmed from families of average affluence. The age of the respondents ranged from 21 to 25. Two-hundred and forty sets of correctly completed questionnaires were used for the results analysis. Keywords: meaning in life; religious experience; conscience sensitivity; students Introduction Research results so far show a lack of a uniform opinion among psychologists about the origin of religious experience. For instance, it is thought that St. Paul's vision near Damascus was a result of a dysfunction of the occipital lobe of the cerebral cortex [1]; that religious experience is a result of a conflict between id and ego [2]; and that religious experience can be invoked by psychedelic substances [3,4]. Therefore, Pahnke [5] embarked on a study of psychedelic experience. He was determined to find out whether experiences invoked by such substances bear any resemblance to the experiences of mystics or whether they differ. Such subjective states invoked by chemical substances Religions 2013, have been described by many scientists [6,7]. For some, such an experience is positive; in others, however, it can lead to irrevocable mental dysfunctions or personality changes [3,8,9]. Religious experience is a kind of communion with a force perceived as divine [10]; it is a feeling of sacredness and dependence at the same time [11]. It is experiencing 'something more', i.e., experiencing a higher, divine reality [10,12]. Religious experience can be simple or mystical in character. In a mystical experience which is more intense a feeling of delight, elation, revelation, even ecstasy appears, and the relation that is established between a human being and Transcendence is deep [13]. According to researchers, a human being can experience God's presence as well as God's absence. During this experience, he or she acquires new knowledge about himself or herself, other human beings and about God. The experience of God's presence is accompanied by feelings of happiness and satisfaction, whereas while experiencing God's absence a man feels forlorn by God, dissatisfied and is in fear [14,15]. Clark [16] and James [10], in analyzing mystics' texts, pointed to important features of religious experience mystical in character. These include: 'inexpressibility' which means a difficulty or inability to put in words states that a person felt during a mystical experience; passiveness a mystic feels captured by a higher force beyond him; brevity although its results are long-term, the intensity of the experience itself is short-lived. The subject of meaning in life can be considered on two levels: as one of the human needs and as a state of meaning in life, i.e., a sense of meaning in life [17,18]. A human being fulfills his or her meaning in life by striving for perfection within a certain community [19]. Meaning in life is up-dated by self-accomplishment of 'one's own potentialities' [20]. It is supposed to be revealed in pursuing one's own interests [21,22]. Meaning in life is related to 'will of the sense', which constitutes in a dynamic tendency motivating a man to take action in order to fulfill his or her needs [23]. The meaning has got its specific features [24]: being common as it appears in any everyday situation and in every man's life; being particular in a given situation it can be ascribed to a particular person; being unique and inimitable what has not been done cannot be done ever again; continuity and changeability every day expects a person with a different sense, and some sense always exists. Investigating the subject of meaning in life also requires considering the concept of conscience. It is a kind of base line that regulates the update of a sense of meaning in life [18]. Conscience is in a way an instrument of security in life [2]. It can be authoritarian or humanistic in character [25]. The authoritarian conscience is the internalized voice of an external authority, which includes parents, tutors, or any other person who represents a certain set of moral values in a given society. The humanistic conscience, however, is a voice present in every human being. It is a voice of loving care of oneself. Conscience is defined by two specific dimensions: transcendent and immanent [24]. It is more than the mere 'I'. It emerges from transcendence and constitutes its voice. It is transcendent in a sense that it points out to realities that are beyond us, such as beauty, good and the Absolute. Conscience can be considered structurally and dynamically [26]. The structural side of conscience is shaped during ontogeny and relates to the sphere of cognitive appraisal. The dynamic side qualifies conscience as a conscious act thanks to which a human being on the basis of the information about a planned act, relying on a system of moral norms generates an evaluative-imperative judgment about the act he or she has just performed. Religions 2013, Conscience is a conscious part of the inner (psychological-spiritual) reality of a human being. It makes judgments about what is morally right or wrong, it directs a man towards values. It is an organ of meaning in life; it brings it out. On the one hand, conscience comprises a set of rules according to which a person assesses his or her own conduct with regard to the internalized moral norms and values; on the other hand, though, as a control system, it signals whether a given activity has been performed well or not [27 29]. Conscience has an important characteristic sensitivity, which is an ability of a human being to react to what seems morally right or wrong and values both in their objective and subjective dimension [30,31]. It is a human ability to acquire certain stimuli, which trigger clear reactions. They are 'directions' of a relatively permanent and specific way of behavior, a result of learning and self-upbringing, which are acquired in the process of personality development [27,32]. Research Problem Research by Buksik [32] shows that the higher the level of conscience sensitivity to oneself and to moral values, the more intense the religious attitude. The more young people are open to transcendental signs and the greater their experience of God s intimacy, the more meaningful their lives seem to be and the more life satisfaction they declare. They have better relations with their families and friends, a greater feeling of personal security, and they also seem to be more socially involved [33,34]. Another study [35] finds that the experience of a son's fear of God is vitally and positively related to the experience of being close to the world and other people and to self-trust [36]. In addition, according to the research by [37], the higher the level of social competence, the lower the level of religious experience. In order to determine the intensity of religious experience with its functions in human life, and to show its connection with various dimensions of human life, appropriate study tools were designed [38,39]. In order to determine the intensity of religious experience that is God's presence and God's absence within Christianity, the author of this paper has designed the Scale of Religious Experience as a study tool [40,41]. Studies carried out by applying the Scale among numerous groups prove that people with a high level of experience of God's presence reveal greater curiosity in seeking something new, greater involvement in pursuit of goals and a sense of meaning in life than people with a low level thereof [40]. A high level of a sense of meaning in life is revealed by males studying forestry who have a low level of experience of God's presence [42]. Other studies show that females studying philosophy have a higher level of God's presence than female students of vocational schools [43]. The analysis of yet another study reveals that a variable 'fascination with God' appears to be a strong variable accounting for the experience of God's presence [42]. The emotional sphere appears to play an important role in accounting for the variable 'experience of God's presence' [44]. Research results indicate that having an artistic bent has a considerable influence on the dynamics of religious experience [14]. Research by [33] proves that people more open to experience turn out to be more susceptible to religious experience. Intensity of religious experience strongly correlates with frequency of religious practice [45]. People with intensive religious experience far more often than others realized the significance of a positive meaning of religious experience in their lives [38,46]. The analysis of the subject indicates that meaning in life is connected with conscience sensitivity and religious experience. The existence of this connection suggests that people with a high level of Religions 2013, conscience sensitivity may be accompanied by a higher level of meaning in life and religious experience God's presence and God's absence rather than people with a lower level thereof. Research also suggests that certain variables relating to a sense of meaning in life may have a strong impact on religious experience in a group of people with a high level of conscience sensitivity, and other variables in a group of students with low sensitivity. A question arises: who should be subjects of the study? In the period of socio-economic change, looking for new solutions in one's individual and social life, departing from existing values in favor of the newly-arisen ones, it seems only essential to conduct the study among university students [45,47]. The Scale of Religious Experience created by the author of this paper [40,41] includes religious statements, which help to define the level of intensity of religious experience God's presence and God's absence. The statements refer to the Christian religion and cognition that is related to it. Religious cognition occurs in a relation, which exists between man and God. A human being can get to know himself or herself, another person or God, better, and gaining this knowledge enriches his or her personality and spiritual life. As mentioned before, meaning in life can be considered as a need of meaning in life or a state of meaning in life. The latter is connected with the subjective experience of meaning in one's own life; an emotional element constitutes its greatest part. A person with a great sense of meaning in life tends to achieve more life satisfaction and is rather creative. A need of meaning in life, however, is materialized by pursuit of goals, their attainment and affirmation of one's own life [18]. The element of pursuit prevails here. According to Buksik's theory [32], conscience sensitivity refers to oneself and to another human being as well as to values and the surroundings. It is cognitive-aspiring and evaluative in character. The definition of the study subject in this paper hence suggests investigating the existence of a relationship between particular indicators of human life such as: (1) meaning in life expressed by: (a) a sense of meaning in life (SZ), which defines a state of meaning in life, (b) attainment of goals (CZ) and (c) affirmation of one's own life (DZ), which are a sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life, and (2) religious experience expressed by the state of: (a) God's presence (OB) and (b) God's absence (NB) in groups of people with a high (H) and low (L) level of conscience sensitivity to themselves and to moral values. The aim of the study induced the author of this paper to seek answers to the following research questions: 1. Is the level of conscience sensitivity to oneself and moral values differentiated by variables: (a) relating to meaning in life: a sense of meaning in life as a state of meaning in life, attainment of goals and affirmation of life as sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life; (b) and relating to religious experience, that is experience of God's presence and God's absence? Carrying out a threshold classification of conscience sensitivity to oneself and moral values suggests that students are accompanied by a certain level of meaning in life and religious experience depending on the intensity of conscience sensitivity. 2. Which variables related to meaning in life a sense of meaning in life (as a state of meaning in life), attainment of goals and affirmation of one's own life (as a sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life) to what extent and in which order account for the variance of dependent variables related to religious experience, i.e., experiencing God's presence and God's absence in groups of students with a high (H) and low (L) level of conscience sensitivity to themselves and to moral values? Religions 2013, This research question aims at revealing the influence of a predicator of religious experience understood as God's presence and God's absence such as meaning in life, taking into consideration the level of intensity of conscience sensitivity to oneself and to moral values. Hypotheses The research questions suggest posing the following hypotheses: 1. Students with a high level of conscience sensitivity to oneself and moral values are accompanied by a higher level of meaning in life understood as a state of meaning in life, attainment of goals and affirmation of one's own life as a sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life as well as religious experience: God's presence and God's absence, than students with a lower level of conscience sensitivity. 2. A sense of meaning in life (as a state of meaning in life) contributes to a greater extent to accounting for the variance of experience of God's presence in a group of students with a high level of conscience sensitivity to oneself and moral values than in a group of students with a lower level of sensitivity. 3. Attainment of goals and affirmation of one's own life (as a sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life) contribute to a greater extent to accounting for a variance of experience of God's absence in a group of students with a higher level of conscience sensitivity to oneself and moral values than in a group of students with a lower level of sensitivity. Methods Applied and Their Characteristics In order to solve the research problem the following research tools were applied: (a) The Scale of Religious Experience (SRE) by S. Głaz. The author has created a research tool for measuring the intensity of religious experience God's presence and God's absence. It is comprised of a set of 37 statements religious in character and referring to the Christian religion. They take into account the following elements: the object of religion (God personalized), the subject of religion (a human being), relation personal in character. Each statement on the scale is accompanied by seven possible answers. The task of a respondent is to choose an opinion on the seven-point Likert-type scale expressing to what extent he or she agrees or disagrees with a given statement. The scale has three sub-scales. The first one describes the intensity of experience of God in general (DB); Cronbach's alpha coefficient of internal consistency is The second scale serves to measure the intensity of experience of God's presence (OB), with Cronbach's alpha coefficient of internal consistency at The third scale describes the intensity of experience of God's absence (NB). Cronbach's alpha coefficient of internal consistency is also high and stands at 0.91 [40,41]. The scale was tested on several samples, which included students of Catholic state universities as well as elderly people. The results obtained are related. The correlation coefficients are at a high level and positive ( ). In the present study, the second and third sub-scales were used. Criterion validity: correlation (p Spearman) between the Scale of Religious Experience and Prężyna's Scale of Religious Attitude is (b) The Purpose in Life Test (PLT) by J. Crumbaugh & L. Maholick. The test was constructed on the basis of Frankl s [48] existential frustration theory and noogenic neurosis. The starting point was Religions 2013, an operational understanding of meaning in life. The test consists of three parts. In the first part there is a seven-grade scale comprised of 20 statements. Number 1 stands for the optimal intensity of the lack of meaning in life, whereas number 7 indicates the strongest intensity of a positive attitude to life. In the present study, the first part of the questionnaire was used. The classification of the statements in this first part was carried out in the following way: All the statements were grouped in three sets. These are: a sense of meaning in life (SZ) this factor describes the level of intensity of a sense of meaning in life (inner satisfaction); attainment of life goals (CZ) it describes a sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life; and the last factor relates to affirmation of life (DZ), and it also describes the sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life. Cronbach's alpha coefficient of internal consistency for consecutive sub-scales ranges from 0.88 to The reliability indicator calculated using the r Pearson for the present, revised list of statements is 0.81, and 0.90 after verification with the Spearman-Brown formula [17]. (c) The Scale of Conscience Sensitivity (SCS) by D. Buksik [32] was applied in the study of conscience. It has a seven-point continuum of answer categories to each of the 31 statements. The scale also includes four buffer questions. It consists of two sub-scales. The version of the scale comprises statements meant to examine conscience sensitivity to moral values (WSI) it is an evaluative characteristic of conscience; and conscience sensitivity to moral values (WSWM) it is a cognitive-aspiring characteristic of conscience sensitivity. Cronbach's alpha coefficient of internal consistency for consecutive sub-scales ranges from 0.87 to The reliability indicator calculated using the test-retest method is Research Strategy The questions of meaning in life, religious experience and conscience sensitivity are by no means unfamiliar to psychologists investigating existential issues. However, a lack of further detailed research is noticeable, which encourages new investigation of the subject. Alongside the aforementioned methodological principles at hand, a further strategy of this study was outlined. The aim of the present study was: (a) to define the level of meaning in life: (1) a sense of meaning in life (SZ) as a state of meaning in life, attainment of goals (CZ), affirmation of life (DZ) as a sign of accomplishment of the need of meaning in life, and (2) the level of religious experience: God's presence and God's absence in particular groups of students with a high (H) and low (L) level of conscience sensitivity to oneself and moral values; (b) to show the relationship between meaning in life: (1) a sense of meaning i
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