NEW YORK -- A common assumption is that a time of crisis triggers growth in religious faith, but a study finds an even greater advance in faith comes after the crisis has subsided.
In that aftermath of "general dissonance" in a person's life, growth in faith is more likely than at the height of anxiety, researcher Constance Leean said.
She said that faith is aroused more during periods of counseling and support that people get after a crisis and in other periods of general unrest than at times of acute distress itself. Faith develops "when people begin to raise questions about the meaning of life and about their priorities," she said.
These are among conclusions of a study project, "Faith Development in the Adult Life Cycle," directed by Kenneth Stokes of Minneapolis and sponsored by the Religious Education Association.
Leean, a research evaluator of the Lutheran Church in America, supervised in-depth interviews with 41 individuals about their lives and faith as part of the study. In addition, a representative telephone survey was made by the Gallup organization of about 1,000 people.
The study found that involvement in a church or synagogue does not appear in itself to assure growth in faith, but religious organizations help to the extent they encourage a person's "spiritual quest."
Many respondents claimed their faith is nurtured more by experiences outside the church or synagogue, Leean said, adding:
"Personal spiritual disciplines as well as exhilarating and transcendent events are common resources in people's descriptions of spiritual growth," she said.
She said the study shows churches and synagogues are not offering members sufficient opportunities for structured spiritual reflection and guidance.
The study found that faith develops particularly when people have some memorable experience with a different culture or when they are "encouraged to share stories of their faith with others," she said.
In both instances, just as in unsettling times or periods of readjustment after a crisis, faith seems most apt to bloom when people are pulled out of their usual preoccupations -- by another person or culture.
"Opportunities to stretch one's mind," such as in advanced education or other learning experiences, also were found to enlarge faith.
Getting problems resolved through psychological counseling also boosted development of faith, and a clear relationship was found between maturity of faith and psychological well-being.
Faith also is enhanced by development of social conscience such as involvement in political or other community projects to improve conditions in society, the study found.
The study turned up several differences between men and women in faith development, finding that women have a keener understanding of symbolism in life than men and are more open-minded to other people's views. Also, women lag "slightly behind" men in moral judgment, she said, although this was detected as the weakest area for both sexes.