Who explains Hurricaine Katrina and the Chilean earthquake as an act of God? The experience of extreme hardship predicts religious meaning-making
Stephens, Nicole, Stephanie Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus and MarYam G. Hamedani
Two studies utilized firsthand accounts from survivors of two major natural disasters—Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Chilean earthquake in 2010—to investigate (1) how people make sense of their disaster experiences and (2) who understands these events in religious terms. We found that describing the disasters as an act of God was among the most common explanations. Moreover, the degree to which survivors encountered extreme hardship—unpredictable, disruptive, and uncontrollable experiences—predicted explanations of the events as an act of God. These findings held even after controlling for demographic factors (educational attainment and race/ethnicity) known to be associated with religiosity. Notably, objective experiences (e.g., seeing dead bodies) were better predictors of religious meaning-making than relatively subjective psychological reactions to those experiences (e.g., fear). These studies extend the literature by examining how experiences of hardship in real-world contexts underlie religious meaning-making and suggest that religiosity emerges, in part, from variation in individual experience.
Stephens, Nicole, Stephanie Fryberg, Hazel Rose Markus and MarYam G. Hamedani. 2013. Who explains Hurricaine Katrina and the Chilean earthquake as an act of God? The experience of extreme hardship predicts religious meaning-making. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology. 44(4): 607-619.