Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Does Trauma Lead to Religiousness? A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Traumatic Events on Religiousness and Spirituality During the First Three Years at University

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Kenneth Pargament, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Annette Mahoney, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Anne Gordon, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Madeline Duntley, PhD (Committee Member)


This study was undertaken with two objectives in mind: to better understand the effects of traumatic events on specific aspects of religiousness and spirituality (R/S), and to determine the veridicality of religious and spiritual changes subsequent to such events. This longitudinal investigation of emerging adults' experiences of adversity, religiousness, and spirituality followed eighty five students from their first month at a state university to the start of their fourth year of study. The relevance of religiousness and spirituality to emerging adults was reflected in the finding that approximately half of all participants reported at least some level of negative spiritual appraisals (desecration and sacred loss) of events that had occurred to them during their university career to date. In partial support of hypotheses in the first line of inquiry, trauma was a significant factor in predicting greater spiritual struggles, decreased salience, and lower apostasy at Time 2 after controlling for Time 1 R/S. Trauma at Time 1 was significant in directions suggestive of posttraumatic growth for five of eight factors of religiousness and spirituality. Negative spiritual appraisals provided stronger, but partial, support for the role of desecration and sacred loss in predicting six of eight aspects of R/S change. Desecration appraisals predicted positive R/S changes, whereas appraisals of sacred loss predicted negative R/S changes. Results regarding the second set of hypotheses supported the veridicality of reports of posttraumatic R/S change among those with high levels of trauma.