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Religiosity is a comprehensive sociological term used to refer to the involvement, interest or participation in numerous aspects of religious activity, dedication, and belief. Another term that would work equally well, though is less often used, is religiousness. Some writers use the term to indicate a high level of involvement but its correct usage implies a continuum of involvement and practice from low to high.

Numerous studies have explored the different components of human religiosity (Hill and Hood 1999). What most have found is that there are multiple dimensions (they often employ factor analysis). For instance, Cornwall, Albrecht, Cunningham and Pitcher (1986) identify six dimensions of religiosity based on the understanding that there are at least three components to religious behavior: knowing (cognition), feeling (affect), and doing (behavior). For each of these components of religiosity there were two cross classifications resulting in the six dimensions:

  • Cognition
    • traditional orthodoxy
    • particularistic orthodoxy
  • Affect
  • Behavior
    • religious behavior
    • religious participation

Other researchers have found different dimensions, ranging generally from four to twelve components. What most measures of religiosity find is that there is at least some distinction between religious belief, religious practice, and spirituality.

For example, one can believe in the truthfulness of the Bible (belief dimension), but never attend a church or even belong to an organized religion (practice dimension). Another example might be an individual who does not hold orthodox Christian beliefs (belief dimension), but does attend a charismatic worship service (practice dimension) in order to develop his/her sense of oneness with the divine (spirituality dimension). Finally, an individual could disavow all beliefs associated with organized religions (belief dimension), not affiliate with an organized religion or attend religious services (practice dimension), but believe strongly in a higher power and feel that their connection with that higher power is very meaningful (spirituality dimension). Keep in mind, however, that these are just explanatory examples of the broadest dimensions of religiosity and that they may not be reflected in specific religiosity measures.

It should also be noted that most dimensions of religiosity are correlated, meaning people who often attend church services (practice dimension) are also likely to score highly on the belief and spirituality dimensions. But, and this is the importance of delineating the different components of religiosity, individuals do not have to score high on all dimensions or low on all dimensions; their scores can vary by dimension.

Genes and environment

The contributions of genes and environment to religiosity have been quantified in twin studies (Bouchard et al', 1999; Kirk et al', 1999). Koenig et al (2005) report that the contribution of genes to variation in religiosity (called heritability) increases from 12% to 44%, and the contribution of shared (family) effects decreases from 56% to 18% between adolescence as compared to adulthood.


Main article: Neuroethology

It has been suggested that people with right hemisphere temporal lobe lesions may experience an increased religiousity due to the emotional quality of their experience[1]

Early studies in the 1950s and 1960s attempted to use EEGs to study brain wave patterns correlated with "spiritual" states. During the 1980s Dr. Michael Persinger stimulated the temporal lobes of human subjects[2] with a weak magnetic field. His subjects claimed to have a sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room."[3] Some current studies use neuroimaging to localize brain regions active, or differentially active, during religious experiences.[4][5][6] These neuroimaging studies have implicated a number of brain regions, including the limbic system, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, superior parietal lobe, and caudate nucleus.[7][8][9] Based on the complex nature of religious experience, it is likely that they are mediated by an interaction of neural mechanisms that all add a small piece to the overall experience.[8]

See also


  1. Beaumant J.G., Kenealy, P.M. & Rogers, M.J.C. (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Neuropsychology. Oxford:Blackwell
  2. "'God on the Brain?" BBC
  3. "'This Is Your Brain on God" Wired
  4. "'Neural correlates of religious experience." NCBI
  5. "' From Brain Imaging Religious Experience to Explaining Religion: A Critique." Ingenta Connect
  6. "' The new science of neurotheology." Wordpress
  7. Newberg, A., Alavi, A., Baime, M., Pourdehnad, M., Santanna, J. & d’Aquili, E. (2001). The measurement of regional cerebral blood flow during the complex cognitive task of meditation: A preliminary SPECT study. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 106, 113-122.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Azari, N.P., Missimer, J. & Seitz, R.J. (2005). Religious experience and emotion: Evidence for distinctive cognitive neural patterns. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15, 263-281.
  9. Beauregard, M. & Paquette, V. (2006). Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns. Neuroscience Letters, 405, 186-190.
  • Cornwall, M., Albrecht, S.L., Cunningham, P.H., and Pitcher, B.L. 1986. The dimensions of religiosity: A conceptual model with an empirical test. Review of Religious Research, 27:226-244.
  • Hill, Peter C. and Hood, Ralph W. Jr. 1999. Measures of Religiosity. Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press. ISBN 089135106X
  • Winter T, Kaprio J, Viken RJ, Karvonen S, Rose RJ. Individual differences in adolescent religiosity in Finland: familial effects are modified by sex and region of residence. Twin Res. 1999 Jun;2(2):108-14. PMID: 10480745
  • Kirk KM, Eaves LJ, Martin NG. Self-transcendence as a measure of spirituality in a sample of older Australian twins. Twin Res. 1999 Jun;2(2):81-7. PMID: 10480742
  • Koenig LB, McGue M, Krueger RF, Bouchard TJ Jr. Genetic and environmental influences on religiousness: findings for retrospective and current religiousness ratings. J Pers. 2005 Apr;73(2):471-88.
  • Bouchard TJ Jr, McGue M, Lykken D, Tellegen A. Intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness: genetic and environmental influences and personality correlates. Twin Res. 1999 Jun;2(2):88-98.
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