Details of Thesis

Title Reconceptualising Spirituality: The development and testing of a four-dimension taxonomy of spiritual beliefs
Author Harmer Richard James
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2009
Abstract Aim: Existing research examining spirituality in a range of contexts is inconclusive due to:(1) a confounding of spirituality and religiosity constructs; (2) a lack of clarity pertaining to how the construct of spirituality relates to other ‘like’ constructs; (3) the omission of spirituality as a variable of interest in much individual difference research; and (4) a lack of clarity in how the construct is being operationalised. This dissertation set out to address these four limitations and also to identify the points of commonality between and within four dominant spiritual practice types. In so doing, it argues that there are universal beliefs relating to spirituality that provide the opportunity to bring all spiritualities under one overarching meta‐philosophy, a common spirituality. Scope: In phase 1 of this dissertation, a series of seven studies were completed. Participants in each study constituted a convenient sample recruited via the Internet. A total of 331 respondents participated with the sample consisting of 83 males (mean age was 45.56 years; SD = 13.30) and 248 females (mean age was 41.11 years; SD = 11.49). In phase 1 of this dissertation, four general spiritual beliefs held by most spiritualities practices were identified using exploratory factor analyses. The four more universal spiritual beliefs identified included: (1) the belief that there is an order to the universe that transcends human thinking; (2) the belief that there is a meaning and purpose to one’s life that transcends life’s more materialistic pursuits; (3) the belief that there is an interconnectedness and synchronicity to all life that transcends the individual; and (4) the belief that all people are consciously (and unconsciously) undertaking a journey towards a transcended Self (upper case ‘S’). An inventory to assess an individual’s spirituality according to the four general spiritual beliefs was developed and validated. The inventory (called the Spiritual Beliefs Inventory; SBI) consisted of 26 items and demonstrated sound psychometric properties. Using a cross‐sectional study design, the four spiritual beliefs were found to have incremental predictive validity in predicting identity stage resolution across the lifespan. The spiritual belief of Life Meaning, Purpose and Direction was found to be the strongest predictor of identity stage resolution. Further, a quadratic association was found between the construct of spiritual beliefs and identity stage resolution across the lifespan. The results indicate that one’s spiritual development is spiral in nature. Finally, the content validity of the spiritual beliefs construct was demonstrated via the completion of higher‐order exploratory factor analyses. In phase 2 of this dissertation, three more studies were completed. A second homogeneous sample was used in phase 2. A total of 364 respondents participated in phase 2. The sample consisted of 115 males (mean age was 39.11 years; SD = 12.88) and 208 females (mean age was 43.63 years; SD = 11.95). First, a series of increasingly complex structural equation models were performed to confirm the factor structure of the Spiritual Beliefs Inventory. The confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) performed used a partial disaggregation approach with the best fitting model found to consist of four first‐order factors (corresponding with the four already identified spiritual beliefs) and one second-order factor (RMSEA = .071, SRMR = .037, NFI = .952, TLI = .950, CFI = .968). A total of five item pairs were identified as potentially problematic in the CFA. The temporal stability (test-retest of 12‐months) of the Spiritual Beliefs Inventory was also examined and found to be excellent (r = .701 for the Total Composite score). Finally, the presence of potential response style bias in the completion of the Spiritual Beliefs Inventory was found, with self‐deceptive enhancement correlating positively and significantly with the Total Composite score of the inventory (r = .402, p < .001). Within the context of the construct of spirituality, this finding was interpreted as evidence of the ‘resilience’ of the ego in the face of its transcendence. Conclusions, limitations and directions for future research: The outcome of this dissertation is the development and initial validation of a holistic conceptual framework for considering spirituality. Further, an inventory to assess an individual’s spirituality according to the four general spiritual beliefs was developed and validated. Finally, this dissertation promotes the value of these four spiritual beliefs in facilitating the embracing of all spiritualities available for exploration within contemporary Australian society. Four limitations of this dissertation are discussed in detail, including: (1) the make‐up of the samples utilised; (2) the source of the items used to operationalise the spiritual beliefs construct; (3) the operationalisation of conceptual complexity and spiritual presence layers of the proposed holistic conceptual framework; and (4) the use of a cross-sectional design. Recommendations for addressing these four limitations in future research are provided. Further, an examination of the predictive utility of the spiritual beliefs construct in health and organisational contexts is suggested. Finally, this dissertation recommends that future research employ a multitrait‐multimethod (MTMM) approach to assessing spirituality.
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