This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Investigations into religious coping among United States veterans: A lens on measurement and implications for psychological wellbeing




Sherman, Haley

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Human Development and Family Science

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



Pew Research Institute estimates that in 2020 approximately 70% of individuals in the United States (U.S.) identified as religious with some ties to a religious community or belief system (e.g., Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist; Nadeem, 2022), and similar to the larger population, Service members in the U.S. military also identify as religious in high percentages (i.e., 70% identifying as Christian including non-denominational, Catholic, Protestant, and Mormon; National Academies of Sciences et al., 2019). Religion is multipurpose in that it may provide comfort, stimulate growth, enhance intimacy with a Higher Power, facilitate closeness with others, and/or offer meaning and purpose to life. As such, the use of religion as a resource in the context of stress, a term called religious coping, has been studied systematically in a variety of populations. Within the religious coping literature, two types of religious coping have been identified, positive and negative. Previous research shows that these forms of coping are different, but related constructs that are uniquely related to different health and wellbeing outcomes for those who value religion. In this dissertation, the constructs of positive religious coping and negative religious coping were examined through a psychometric lens and as distinct mechanisms with implications for the wellbeing of Veterans (N=170). Study 1 was a psychometric analysis of the two-factor Brief Religious Coping Scale (Brief RCOPE; Pargament et al., 2011; i.e., comprised of positive and negative religious coping subscales), that examined the suitability of the measure in a Veteran sample, and Study 2 utilized a theoretically grounded stress process lens to examine the implications of religious coping for Veterans’ self-concepts and, in turn, wellbeing. Grounded in best practices for measurement evaluation and informed by the psychometric theory of scale development and validation, the first study used a confirmatory factor analysis, t-test, and validity testing to examine the psychometric properties of the two-factor Brief RCOPE Scale (Pargament et al., 2011) in a sample of Veterans which, to our knowledge, had not been done previously. The results indicated that two distinct subscales did emerge, but in a slightly adapted manner. For the Negative Religious Coping Scale, specifically, only six items, as opposed to the original seven items, were identified as appropriate to assess the construct; the indicator attributing the devil or evil to a given stressful context (i.e., “decided the devil/evil made this happen”) was removed. The results from the Positive Religious Coping Scale indicated that all seven of the original items were appropriate for assessing the construct of positive religious coping. Implications for researchers, clinicians, and military chaplains were provided. The second study, informed by Pearlin and colleague’s (1981) Stress Process Model, employed an indirect effects path model to understand the associations between religious coping (positive and negative), self-concepts (self-forgiveness and self-efficacy), and wellbeing. First the association between positive religious coping, negative religious coping, and psychological wellbeing were examined. Then, the roles of self-forgiveness and self-efficacy were included in the model to determine if they explained the associations between religious coping and psychological wellbeing. The results indicated that negative religious coping, but not positive, was negatively associated with both self-concepts, and, in turn, these self-concepts were positively associated with psychological wellbeing. Positive religious coping was not associated with either self-concept or the outcome of psychological wellbeing, nor was it correlated with negative religious coping. Previous research suggests that positive religious coping is nuanced and not uniformly a protective factor, as was the case in this study. Therefore, while our hypotheses for positive religious coping were not supported, the overall findings can be understood within the context of previous literature. Implications for researchers, clinicians, policy makers, and religious leaders were provided. Overall, the two studies conveyed the importance of assessing the psychometric properties of scales before implementing them into theoretically constructed models and furthered both the psychometric assessment literature for the two-factor Brief RCOPE Scale and the literature on the use of positive and negative religious coping, self-forgiveness, self-efficacy, and psychological wellbeing with Veteran samples.