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Marion E.Toscano, Cynthia M. Canner, Alina Lightchaser, Ralph L. Piedmont, Ph.D.

Examining the Relevance of Spirituality for Atheists and Agnostics

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Spirituality and religion have emerged as important psychological constructs over the last twenty years. The main question is how do we understand the relevance of these variables? This project will focus on examining two main approaches: A) the God-centric stance in which spirituality and religion are seen as being relevant and important only to individuals that identify as spiritual and/or religious, and B) the Universal Hypothesis that spirituality is an essential element of the human experience which provides individuals with a broad sense of personal meaning.

Representing the Universal Hypothesis, Piedmont (2010) created the Assessment of Spirituality and Religious Sentiments (ASPIRES) Scale, which defines spirituality as a universal psychological quality relating to how individuals create ultimate meaning. Support for this approach and scale was found in its ability to be successfully applied across cultures, languages (eg. Spanish, Tagalog, Czech, Polish, Chinese, Malay, and Korean), and faith-groups. Until this time, non-religious oriented subjects, specifically Atheists and Agnostics, have not been specifically studied. The purpose of the presentation is to evaluate the psychometric integrity of scores on the APIRES from Atheists and Agnostics (A/A). Specifically, the reliability, structural validity, and predictive validity will be examined.

Participants for this study were 469 males and 515 females, with an age range from 18 to 77 years of age, (M=36.02). The sample consisted of Caucasian (N=759), Black (N=76), Asian (N=60), Hispanic (N=50), and Other Races (N=39). For the purposes of this study, A/A (N=327), and Other Theistic Traditions which included Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Mormon, Other Christian Traditions, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Other Faiths (N=637) were compared. In addition to demographic information, participants completed: Goldberg’s IPIP50 (1992), a personality inventory; Crumbaugh’s Purpose in Life Test (1968); Andrew & Withey’s Delighted-Terrible Scale (1976); Bradburns’s Affect Balance Scale (1969); and Piedmont’s ASPIRES (2010).


Atheists have a lower mean level on all the measures of spirituality, with the exception of Religious Crisis. Alpha reliabilities were acceptable, ranging from .46 to .91. Scores were factor analyzed within each group and three factors were extracted. These factor loadings were considered identical with normative data, showing both A/A and believers understand Spiritual Transcendence in similar ways. Incremental validity was evaluated and the ASPIRES is useful for prediction above Personality for all outcome variables except for Positive Affect.


Clearly, while A/A have lower mean levels, their scores are reliable and demonstrate that A/A understand spirituality in psychologically similar ways, thus supporting the Universal Hypothesis.  The magnitude of the predictive effect for A/A is not as high as with believers Spirituality, when properly operationalized, can be a source of psychological motivation.

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