Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Alyssa Cheadle, Psychology

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Just a little over a year ago, our lives changed as our country fell into panic and all around us businesses and organizations shut down. Everyone but essential workers were supposed to stay home to prevent the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. Like workplaces, places of worship also closed their doors, which for some was unprecedented. Organizational decisions and norms within these places of worship such as whether to follow executive orders, socially distance, and cleaning may have influenced individuals’ opinions on how to react to the pandemic. If religious communities chose not to follow these guidelines, telling parishioners that God will protect them and bring cure, for example, this could have given false hope and put individuals at risk (Levin, 2020). If this occurred, individuals could have been influenced to take the pandemic and guidelines less seriously while in public as well, thereby putting others at risk. On the other hand, religious communities that promoted social distancing and cleaning to “protect thy neighbor” would be promoting behaviors that would contribute to preventing spread (VanderWeele, 2020).

Though there are varying ways religiousness could impact health during the pandemic, we hypothesize that more religious and spiritual individuals will better comply with COVID-19 health behaviors to protect the common good due to religiousness and spirituality. Our sample included 1,382 participants involved in a national panel managed by the Harvard Digital Lab for the Social Sciences. The participants completed a survey once between April and May 2020. A 3-item measure was used to assess COVID-19 compliance behaviors, a 1-item measure was used to assess religiousness, and a 1-item measure was used to assess spirituality. Daily spiritual experiences were assessed by a 2-item measure and concern for worship activities being cancelled was asked through a 1-item measure. Religious coping was assessed through a 4-item measure. Preliminary results indicate that self-rated religious identity and combined measures of religiousness are associated with compliance to COVID related health behaviors. However, this association is opposite of our hypothesis and indicates that as compliance increases, religious identity and religiousness decrease. This could indicate that religiousness does not have benefits on preventative health during the pandemic and differs from previous research. This research will help to determine whether there are important associations due to religiousness and spirituality during the pandemic and whether there are characteristics that improve compliance with COVID-19 health behaviors.


Work on this project was supported by a Howard R. and Margaret E. Sluyter Faculty Development Fund to support student research and the Towsley Research Scholar program to support the work of Alyssa Cheadle.

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