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Religious Objects and the Coping Process

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Case Studies on Prayer Cloths as Transitional Objects in Religious Coping

image of Archive for the Psychology of Religion

This study addresses the psychological functions of physical religious objects in religious coping by presenting case studies on the use of prayer cloths. The cases are selected from a qualitative, in-depth interview study among Swedish practising Christians suffering from cancer, on religious experiences and expressions that serve in the process of coping with a life situation changed by the disease. It is argued that current psychological theories on coping and religion lack tools for understanding the role of physical religious objects in the process of religious coping. A theoretical framework that remedies this problem is suggested and applied to the case studies. The key feature of the theoretical framework is that it modifies and extends the coping theory of Kenneth Pargament by drawing on resources from object relations theory, especially the concept of “transitional object”. The results suggests that the creation and/or handling of transitional objects is a reconstructing or preserving coping method, and that prayer cloths function as transitional objects when they (a) facilitate transition/movement between the inner subjective world and the outer objective world by being charged with significance, and (b) function as a coping tool for conserving this significance.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Umeå Universityse-901 87 Umeå


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