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Paul Deal, Gina Magyar-Russell, Ph.D

Paul Tillich’s Theory of Faith:  A Preliminary Analysis Through Death Anxiety and Purpose in Life

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For mid 20th century existential theologian Paul Tillich, faith is the ultimate answer to the uniquely human question of how to live a meaningful and purposeful life as death conscious beings. Tillich’s concept of faith is a rich and largely untapped resource for both understanding and enhancing the quality of the human condition.

The purpose of the present study was to conduct a preliminary conceptual and empirical analysis of Tillich’s concept of faith within a social science paradigm through the existing empirical constructs of Purpose in Life (Crumbaugh, 1968) and Death Anxiety (Templer, 1970). In addition, the Assessment of Spiritual Transcendence and Religious Sentiments Scale (ASPIRES, Piedmont, 2005), which is comprised of Religious Involvement and Spiritual Transcendence, were analyzed as predictors of Purpose in Life (PIL) and Death Anxiety (DA). The hypothesis looked to confirm the theoretically driven expectation that Spiritual Transcendence would be more conducive to faith than Religious Involvement. The extent to which income and religious support (Krause, 1999) moderate the relationship between the ASPIRES and faith was also observed.

One hundred thirty-five participants from a convenience sample, of which 56% were white, 68% female, 57% Christian, 43% single, 77% employed, and 89% had some college education were included for analyses. Age ranged from 18-70 with a mean of 33 (±14.5) years. Other pertinent demographics include 62% earned < $50,000 a year, 32% earned < $10,000 per year, 38% fell within college age range of 18-23 years, and 20% were not employed. It is probable a large portion of the sample were college students.

Results of the regression analyses showed that after controlling for neuroticism, religious involvement (?R²  = .05, p <.001) and income (?R²  = .05, p <.001) were significant in predicting the death anxiety aspect of faith. With regard to the purpose in life aspect of faith, spiritual transcendence (?R² = .09, p <.001) and income (?R² = .02, p <.05) were found to be significant predictors. Results highlight that both predictors of spiritual transcendence and religious involvement play an important role in actualizing different aspects of faith. The practical value of income in sustaining faith was also supported.

While this study yielded mixed results overall, findings fostered a spirit of increased dialogue between the humanities and the social sciences around the construct of faith. Future research might further pursue how cultivating a spiritual practice and becoming religiously involved are conducive to nurturing faith and its life-giving potential.

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