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Religion as a Context for Character Development with Sarah Schnitker

Dr. Sarah Schnitker is a Professor of Psychology and Nueroscience at Baylor University, where she directs the science of virtues lab. She previously researched as an associate professor in the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Theological Seminary. As a principle investigator, Sarah has secured more than $3.5 million in research funding through the John Templeton Foundation for a number of projects with various aims, including understanding gratitude towards God and fleshing out a foundation for the scientific study of patience. In this podcast, we discuss her work which focuses on the role of religiosity as a fertile context in which virtue and character develop in adolescents.

APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). (2020, September 22).  Religion as a Context for Character Development with Sarah Schnitker [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from


Note: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.

Amber Cazzell (01:19):

Going to be discussing a topic that really a lot of Sarah's, um, research kind of center centers around or touches upon in one way or another, but a particular paper that I read of hers and that we'll be discussing and kind of working from a is called religion, spirituality and thriving, transcendent, narrative, virtue, and telos. And it's in the journal of research on adolescents published with Pam King and Benjamin Houltberg in 2019. Um, so in this paper, Sarah, you're, you're really making the argument that religion and spirituality is one context in which character and virtue might develop. And, um, I want to take some time to unpack just as you do in the paper, what is meant by virtue and character and flourishing, and then diving into religion and spirituality. And, um, in this paper, you even have a section it's called, starting at the end, telos and thriving. And I thought that that was great and I really appreciated it. So could you like situate for me, um, what you mean by thriving in the first place?

Sarah Schnitker (02:40):

Yeah, so, you know, I really do want to acknowledge my collaborators on this paper, Pam King and by Ben Houltberg. Um, this really was a group effort. Um, and actually this paper came out of many years of conversations coming up from kind different disciplinary backgrounds and figure out what what's, what do we really need to understand? And what's missing, um, right now. Um, right. And I think especially Pam King has always argued that if we think about psychology and especially developmental psychology, um, we need to have a bigger goal than just the absence of mental illness or even just people's personal happiness that we want to be thinking about what is it to have a thriving person, someone who's really flourishing in life and really constructing that, not at the individual level, but also thinking about groups of people that it's not just my own happiness or my own wellbeing, but it's that I'm fitting into this developmental system. Um, the systems can be at many different levels. So, um, a family system, a school, a classroom broader society, um, and that if we wanted to look at someone and say, they're thriving, it's that they're actually working to, um, improve their context and improve the lives of other people as well.

Sarah Schnitker (04:15):

And, um, I think so often in our studies, we're just looking at what happens and aren't considering, um, what should happen. Um, now it's tricky, right? Because as scientist, we aren't trying to make normative judgments about ideal States of the world. Um, yeah, I think we have those implicitly as researchers, uh, of what we think is the ideal kind of end goal, um, for human life. And so just trying to articulate what that means, um, but articulating that it needs to be the person and their context, um, and that you can't separate the two when you're thinking about how you create a good society and a good person, um, they're very much together and connected to each other. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell (05:08):

I really found it insightful. There's there's a little section in the paper. I'll just read it. Um, I really enjoyed it. It says we adopt a contextualized approach and define telos as a process that perpetuates a growing goodness of fit between persons and their contexts building upon developmental science. We emphasize that human development occurs through reciprocal person context interactions, through which we optimize their chance through which people optimize their chances of actualizing their purposes resulting in different developmental paths across the lifespan. I really, I have never heard someone conceptualize flourishing as a goodness of as a goodness of fit. Um, I found that I found that insightful. I found that really insightful. Like I just wonder if you could expand upon that and say more of what you're thinking when I see goodness of fit, I instantly start to think about statistics, but I actually found that to be sort of helpful.

Sarah Schnitker (06:10):

Developmental psychologist to think about this a little bit better than social and personality psychologist. Um, but I think right, it's about do I fit well in this environment, in this? Do I benefit this environment? And I think, you know, sometimes when you look at someone and say there, you can look at it and say, Oh, they're languishing. They're not doing that well, thanks so often in Western culture, if we want to blame the individual and say, Oh, they need to work harder, they need these virtues. Um, instead of realizing, it's also the context that needs intervention and that is the whole system that might be broken. And if we want to create virtuous people, we actually need to create virtuous context. Um, not just think about the one individual. Um, but how does the whole group, um, work together and, um, you know, I can even think about in our scientific pursuits as a lab, it's not that any one member is necessarily virtuous.

Sarah Schnitker (07:22):

They are, but it's also that we've created norms and a culture and a context that really helps each person to bring their own strengths and let them shine. Um, and I think that's what we're looking for. And sometimes there's a mismatch, I think, between an individual and her context. Um, some people find, Oh, you know what, my ideals and meaning system don't align with this particular group, I'm going to choose to go elsewhere. And that's a place I can thrive and experience my own wellbeing, but also contribute to this group. Um, and I think it's hard though, cause it makes it very complicated to do research. So that's the challenge is you can't make, um, yeah, it's a little trickier. So

Amber Cazzell (08:12):

How do you think about, um, I'm thinking of researchers like Rick Schrader and this idea that, you know, values seem to vary culture to culture. Um, what do you make of that and character in light of inevitable conflicts in value systems as we sort of move about, especially in increasingly, Um, smaller and smaller world digitally, you know?

Sarah Schnitker (08:41):

Yeah. It's tough. You know, I, I do take the perspective that our virtues are contextually bound to a certain extent, um, as a psychologist reading philosophy, which is always dangerous. Um, right. I really like MacIntyre's approach, um, that book after virtue that talks about, um, we really what virtues we value and what those mean it does have this local, um, flavor to it. And I think, you know, when I look at Shweder's work or new Johns Haidt's work on moral foundations theory, um, you know, I, I do think there are some universals that tend to emerge, right? We always see, um, care and harm as part of a moral domain. Um, and I think that's from our shared, um, evolutionary history or history as the species, right, where we have brains that tend to produce certain types of systems, um, and certain types of moralities.

Sarah Schnitker (10:03):

And so there is diversity, but there also does seem to be a common core, um, across all cultures that we can, um, say, yep, this is pretty much virtuous everywhere. So I think, you know, when we're thinking about virtues, one approach we've taken is, um, okay, what's the core that we can always look for. Um, and then especially with the intervention work I've done with collaborators, um, we'll actually try to contextualize to a particular context and say, what are the virtues in this context? And before we even start an intervention, um, to assess what people care about in that context and how that group, um, defines a virtue. So for example, with Ben Houltberg when he was at USC university of Southern California in their performance science Institute, um, we were developing some interventions for USC student athletes, um, started first by asking coaches and athletes, which of these virtues are most important to you? Um, what is virtuous here, um, and design it and an intervention around that. Um, rather than assuming we actually knew.

Amber Cazzell (11:16):

Yeah, that's really interesting. So that's actually one of the things on that virtue circumplex project, Sarah, um, I've been working on this project for a while now. I'm trying to understand the relationship between various virtues to one another and relationship between virtues and vices. And anyway, we, um, administered this survey with a bunch of different words that we presumed were virtuous and, um, you know, kind of as a Testament, I think I'm this up to culture. Maybe, maybe listeners will disagree. But one thing that we found is that when people were rating their friends on the virtue, the on avert, what we were thinking of as a virtue of being, um, traditional, like almost like respect for tradition, it was, it was statistically behaving like a vice, like people were scoring it as though it was ad vice. And, um, I just thought that that was, as I was reading through your paper, Sarah, it kind of, it kind of made me laugh thinking about what you were saying here, what is saying what Nancy Snow is said about just how culturally contextualized some of these things are. Cause I could imagine that maybe in more Eastern cultures, tradition is something that's admired.

Sarah Schnitker (12:43):

Definitely. And you know, I even, I think I've been attuned to this issue since I began grad school. So my first year I started studying the virtue of patience, which you'll know very few people study in positive psychology. I remember when I started, I had four references and one of them was Charles Darwin on the expression of the patience. So, and I, I very quickly realized patients, um, isn't really considered a virtue by a lot of people in United States in particular. Um, interesting. You're allowed to say, Oh, I don't have any of that to be impatient and seen almost as you're a go getter and you don't let anyone keep you down and you don't suffer, you beat everything. You're, you've got the best technologies you don't have to wait. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell (13:37):

Yeah. I am time bound. Right? Like a lot of these things. So contextualized to certain generations and times like, um, Blaine Fowers is always fond of reminding me that Aristotle did not think humility was a virtue. He always gets a chuckle out of that, but it's, it's kind of true. And, um, I can see that, like I, I've been also reading this book called the quest for moral compass. It's like this global history of morality and ethical thought. It's actually, I mean, shout out to the book, it's actually a great book. Um, I've found it incredibly enlightening to learn about the history of morality across, I mean, globally. It's great, but anyway, same, same thing. You know, you can see how these different virtues arise out of these different ethical traditions that aren't always shared. They're not always shared. Um, anyway, okay. Sorry. Was there something you wanted to say?

Sarah Schnitker (14:42):

Good transition. So I think, you know, this issue is part of the reason we wrote this paper about, should we define a little bit differently than we have in the past? Um, and that's to say our ideas brand new, we definitely, um, have people who have resonate with the way we're talking about virtue, but it was finding a way to incorporate that the meaning system matters when defining a virtue is a lot of what motivated us, um, to write this piece, um, absolute sense to give psychological language and to think about it within the personality system, um, the way instead to just be like, Oh, it's pluralistic. We can't do anything to say no, there's, let's actually think about what this looks like inside a person, um, and how we need to start studying this, um, in a way that allows us to attend to this dimension.

Amber Cazzell (15:42):

Right. Right. And so I think like one of the things that you've really, um, or at least in the paper really hit home to me was this idea of, of why, uh, transcendent narrative identity or, um, just, just more identity or life, narrative purpose, why these things are also constituent of a virtue in some way. Um, so let's, let's flesh that out a little bit more. Um, well actually, you know what, I'm getting ahead of myself, let's back up and first talk about what you mean. Cause we have been using the word virtue a lot. Now we've spoken about like, okay, well thriving or flourishing and this goodness of fit and like edification between the self and the context kind of occurs, um, as a result of virtue. But what do we actually mean when we're using that word here?

Sarah Schnitker (16:45):

Yeah, that's a good, tough question. Um, so you know, different psychologists are using it quite differently. Right. And I think it's been an issue ever since positive psychology began, um, meaning about virtue, just personality traits. Like what does it mean to have the virtue of patience versus just being really conscientious or agreeable or whatever. Right. We've studied these positive human dimensions for awhile. Um, the way we think about virtues, um, which I think aligns well with philosophy's view, um, is that these are not actually traits. Um, and the way we typically think about personality traits, um, and instead they come on a different level of personality. So, um, for those of you who don't think about personality theory, all that often, and just think personality and big, big five traits, right? That's I think what we most know about, but, uh, most theories of personality that are widely, um, adopted today.

Sarah Schnitker (17:56):

Um, so McAdams and pals, um, and even Costa and McCrae in their more recent updates of personality, um, identify at least three levels of personality. Um, and each of these levels contains unique information, um, and interacts with the other levels. So the most basic level is these traits like attributes. So kind of very stable dispositions. Um, what we normally think about and measure when we think about personality and honestly, a lot of the virtue measures have measured virtues as traits. I think it's problematic. And then the second level is what we call characteristic adaptations, um, which is very jargony of course. But I think we're trying to describe there is these are in some ways the habits or the schemas or the, the typical ways we act in the world. Um, so can't tour back in 1990, you talked about, you know, traits would be what personality is or what it has.

Sarah Schnitker (19:07):

So it's that more basic quality, whereas characteristic adaptations would be what a person does. So it's more about their activity and their engagement with their context. Um, so things like motivations goals, defense mechanisms, habits, and I put virtues in this category as well. Um, if McAdam, so by being at the level of characteristic adaptations, um, it's more something that's changeable. It can be something that you develop, um, it's less biologically, um, bound or not bound, but less kind of determined by genetic predisposition, um, and more something that can be cultivated. Um, and so we agree with people like Lapsley and Narvaez, um, and others that if we're going to take seriously, the idea of habitus from Aristotle, um, then we really should be thinking about virtues at this characteristic adaptation level rather than the trait level. Yeah. And then the third level though, I think is the one that really is interesting, which is the narrative identity, um, or the story of the self that each person tells me about their life and the way we construct our life story, the content of it, um, the meaning system that really energizes us that is a whole other the level of information.

Sarah Schnitker (20:42):

Um, and I think that's where we are a little bit unique in our theory of virtue and saying not only is it having particular types of habits that, um, leads to thriving and flourishing of relationships and are moral, but you have to have those habits tied to a story that is, um, bigger than the self. So we use the term transcendent. Um, you could use the term moral, um, that, you know, it's something that's not self centered is that it's centered on something bigger. Um, and I know that sounds ambiguous because you have this pluralism of what is moral and what is, but all the moral systems, it's not just about me. So that's something that's consistent about all of them. Um, it's about the group maybe, or about a deity or about, um, curity or about caring for other people, but they all are beyond style. And so I think with thinking about virtues, they need to be these adaptive habits, these characteristic adaptations, um, that are used for something beyond itself.

Amber Cazzell (22:01):

That is a really, that is really interesting. So like what, what is the relationship between like transcendence or beyond the self as particularly related to virtue, as opposed to, um, I don't know, like vice even like what, what makes it kind of have this special relationship? I'm curious why this level is necessary for virtue.

Sarah Schnitker (22:35):

Yeah, because I think, well, I think vices, you can have without involving the narrative, right. You can just have bad habits. So, um, the example of patience, uh, virtue, I study a lot. Um, so it's very easy to be impatient. All you have to do is lose your temper or get really frustrated. Right. And, um, it doesn't matter what your reasons are for getting frustrated. Um, you're impatient, right? Even if I had, if it's for the sake of another person, um, I still have failed to be patient, whereas you could have the correct habits. So we could think about an assassin who is killing someone for money, um, being very patient, showing the good skills of patients, regulating their emotions, staying calm, keeping their breaths calm so they can shoot well. Um, but they have the second condition of doing this for some moral reason, um, to be considered truly patient, um, that needs to be satisfied.

Sarah Schnitker (23:48):

And we wouldn't say they're patient, we would say they're just really good at regulating their emotions. Yeah. So really interesting. And how so let's, let's shift gears now to, um, religion and spirituality as a context for, for virtue development. So I know that Pam King has spoken about this a lot. Was this originally kind of Pam King's thing?

Amber Cazzell (24:15):

It was hers, but I've also kind of early in my work, even as a grad student was looking at religion and spirituality as well. But first you develop. So one of my early studies, um, as a BA, uh, Baba men's and Justin Barrett had a grant from the John Templeton foundation, and that was the grad student research on it. Um, research assistant on it. Um, we were looking at how religious, uh, conversions and changes in spirituality as a result of going to religious summer camps affected virtue development across time, um, from teenagers involved, it's an organization called young life.

Sarah Schnitker (24:56):

So it's an evangelical group. And, um, just looking about what happens to this about a third of them every summer report, some kind of spiritual transformation, um, and saying how that changes people, does it, what happens and, um, kind of fascinating work, difficult work.

Amber Cazzell (25:19):

I bet. So what, what did you find in that study?

Sarah Schnitker (25:22):

We found that, um, having the mountain top experience, reporting the conversion at camp didn't affect virtue development, as much as continued spiritual growth over time after camp. So, um, you know, it's interesting that yeah, just having this one off experience doesn't really change your character, um, but continue to grow spiritually, um, that was correlated with those changes in virtue.

Amber Cazzell (25:58):

Um, yeah, that sorta makes sense to me. I mean, right. That, and plus those like conversion moments are so rare. It just seems like it's hard to sustain the momentum of changing,

Sarah Schnitker (26:16):

but for some people though, I think it really does motivate them to actually engage in personal reflection over time. They're like, is that emotionally salient experience that is kind of the catalyst for the other kinds of spiritual change? Um, I don't think it's that it does nothing. Um, it's more that then you have to have something else alongside of it. That makes sense. Yeah. So interesting too, with that work, uh, real quick, they, we also found, um, that we could predict who was going to have a conversion at camp.

Amber Cazzell (26:54):

Oh, interesting.

Sarah Schnitker (26:55):

Yes. And it actually goes all the way back to William James and Edward Starbuck and their theories of conversion. Um, wow. Uh, the adolescents who had a lot of conflict amongst their personal goals were more likely to have a conversion at camp and the adolescents who had, um, lower meaning on the personal goals, they were pursuing also more likely to have a conviction. Um, but just knowing that it actually fits with our kind of characteristic adaptation idea is that global measures like personality trait type measures, of meaning were not predictive.

Sarah Schnitker (27:38):

So it was more of looking at this characteristic adaptation level of personality about personal goals, um, that predicted who would have a conversion.

Amber Cazzell (27:48):

Wow. That's um, that's super cool. So forgive my ignorance. So William James, and Starbuck, what, what was their Siri that kind of undergirds?

Sarah Schnitker (28:00):

So they said for adolescents, um, a conversion is a very typical experience that helps with identity development and the U S especially, um, and probably other, primarily religious cultural context. So when people have a sense of kind of disintegrated itself and they don't have a lot of coherence having religious conversion or her spiritual transformation, um, it provides this higher order meaning system and goal, but then helps to organize the rest of the goal system, um, and helps them to have a sense of, uh, identity and kind of coherent the month, things that might otherwise seem to be conflicting.

Amber Cazzell (28:44):

Um, interesting. So adolescents, did you look into how adolescents who had like conflicting goals, whether their goal contents changed at all? Or did they just, we weren't able to.

Sarah Schnitker (28:59):

We really wanted to, but we found it was very difficult to get adolescents, to engage our followup survey. We had to make that a lot shorter, um, and doing the whole goals measure. So first they have to list their goals and then rate them that was just too taxing for that followup. Um,

Amber Cazzell (29:21):

What's your hunch, do you think that I think they were shifting.

Sarah Schnitker (29:25):

I think maybe they were shifting a bit. Um, but I think it also was maybe they were still pursuing the same goals, but we're able to reconceptualize them. So for example, you could imagine an adolescent has a goal to like get good grades in school and then also has a goal to be a good friend, right? So a teenager, like those aren't necessarily complimentary or conflicting, but you can action how those could be seen as conflicting for a teenager, right. That I need to spend all my time with my friends and go to this party to get good grades. I need to spend time studying. And so maybe for a team that's seen as conflicting, but perhaps then like a teenager has a religious conversion and says, I'm supposed to honor God with my work and my relationships. They can see these actually, well, I've worked hard to honor God. I love people to honor God. So now these are more congruent goals. If the goals themselves had not changed is what our suspicion is. Um, and based on the other goals research out there and that you can kind of conceptualize schools at different levels and it's helpful to have a higher order level, um, to make sense of what feels like a complex.

Sarah Schnitker (30:46):

Um, I know I do that my own life a lot. So my, my academic work, my goal as a mentor and researcher, and then my role as a mother, I feel like those two can very easily feel conflicting. Um, cause time is limited. Um, by having a higher order goal, I can connect them and actually see them as enhancing each other.

Amber Cazzell (31:09):

Yeah, yeah. Um, that's yeah, that's interesting. And it makes intuitive sense to me. Um, okay. So let's, let's turn back now to religion and spirituality like the, the mechanism. So that's, that's one mechanism, right. By providing the second order, um, narrative identities, I suppose. That's fascinating to me. And I'm wondering if you've done other research looking at how religion and spirituality might provide narrative identity or purpose in some way and sort of related that to virtue.

Sarah Schnitker (32:02):

Yeah. So I think, I mean, first to speak a bit more conceptually, I think religion in particular. So by that, I mean, you can talk about individual spirituality, but a religion or spirituality that is cohesive and that actually involves other people and some traditional practices of some sort, it's kind of a wild context because it has this meaning system that's talked about at least on a weekly basis. And then it also provides these particular habits in the form of spiritual practices like prayer or giving or volunteer service, or, and you do these practices with the people who are also talking to about this, um, meaning system. And so it kind of has the one, two punch for virtues and that it gives you actual activities to do that help you build the habits actually explicitly will sometimes connect those to the meeting system.

Sarah Schnitker (33:09):

Um, and there's not a ton of contexts that do that. There's a lot of great context to help build habits. They're meaning systems you can get, but to have the two together is really useful. Um, and so one study that we did, um, that gets at this to a certain extent it's hard, right? Because these are very complex types of things to measure. Really fun study. We did was looking at adolescents who were training for half or full marathons organization called team world vision. Um, so, you know, I've often in my career committed to doing, um, research in naturalistic settings that have a lot of real world generalized ability and then also trying to do similar things in the lab. So this was one of those real-world type studies. Um, and so what we did is we measured the adolescents across at four time points across their training experience and then after their race.

Sarah Schnitker (34:18):

Mmm Hmm. It's a really interesting group because they meet each week jeans. Um, it does have explicit religious, um, connections, the training group. Um, so it's a Christian organization, um, explicitly connect running the marathon and all of the training activities, um, to a pro social purpose of providing clean water and safe water to young people in Africa and countries. Um, so they do that. It's kind of this ideal virtue development context because they're helping build habits through actual running and that takes self control patience and they're doing fundraising at the same time. And then they're actually giving this narrative, um, to the young person about why you're doing mean this. Um, I studying me, had that, I think that published this year in journal of personality, we assessed, um, the motivations for running at each of the time points. Um, so we asked them, why are you doing this?

Sarah Schnitker (35:26):

So are you doing this because you want to get physically fit, um, and kind of for your own health, are you doing this to help kind other people too, for the benefits that are going to be for folks who need clean water, um, are you doing this for, to grow closer to God or to build your spirituality? Um, and what we found is that, um, to the extent that they had more transcendent motives, so the pro-social or the spiritual motivations, um, they were also more likely to be growing in the virtues of self control, patience and generosity. Um, and I'm trying to remember exactly, um, only, and then the change in generosity. Um, you only see that increasing when people have that prosocial motivation also increasing, um, we found self-control actually increased pretty well, even if you just had a health and fitness motivation increasing as you for those more virtuous virtues that really depend on beyond the self motivation, like patience and generosity. Um, those beyond the self motivations were what were predictive. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell (36:56):

Yeah. That's, I'm trying to think of what other contexts can kind of pack that one, two punches. You're saying that religion and spirituality seem to be packing. Um, I think you mentioned, and it struck me as, as, um, a good example, like politics and political affiliation seems to be big in this way.

Sarah Schnitker (37:24):

Yep. I think politics, I think, and you know, the one that I think actually comes sometimes the closest and environmental movements. Cause I think politics, sometimes it's hard because it doesn't always get to the really ultimate concerns. It, of those deep existential questions of life. I mean, it gets there, but not as far, but I feel like some of the movements for environmentalism, it's about saving the world for millennia ahead of us. And it has this bigger scope of time, um, and very specific practices that people adopt and habits, um, that I think are closer to approximating. Um, what we see here, I think sometimes, you know, and I, I talked about the running model, like I think sports is an interesting example as well.

Sarah Schnitker (38:24):

Um, again, when you get on a sports team, there's practices, there's narrative, the team develops, um, sports are interesting because those narratives vary quite widely. Sometimes it leads to some of the worst behavior, um, as we've seen. So I think it's when you get these intensive communities, um, and then the type of narrative that's emerging, um, that's real action, but right. For religions unique in that it really deals with big, big questions, um, very regularly, um, life and death, um, which maybe soldiers in a war. Um, units, but you, you often find in military units, people from religion. Um, so yeah, it's an interesting question.

Amber Cazzell (39:18):

It is. And I, you know, I was thinking about military as well and thinking about, um, often it seems that people draw a lot of, gosh, I'm not sure what the right word is. I don't want to say flow. And I don't know that I want to say purpose, but like, it also seems there's a way that bodily movement comes into play. A lot of these things, like I'm thinking of, um, you know, like worship services for religion and spirituality and like, you know, adolescents and adults, like talking about getting goosebumps or just like being so overcome by his spirit and, and things like that. Um, or like dance and sports and kinds of, same kind of thing of like a bodily movement. Are you aware of any kind of research on this kind of thing?

Sarah Schnitker (40:19):

Yes. Yeah. Patty van Capella and at Duke, um, actually is doing quite a bit of research right now. Um, the John Templeton grant on, um, embodied spirituality and how worship, um, and worship postures and prayer postures and all these different things affect, um, people's experiences, um, their religious experiences, the self-transcendence emotions they experience and how those might differ. Um, depending on the type of worship they engage in. Right. It's really fascinating stuff. So like if someone kneels for prayer versus stands up with their arms open, like how does that affect their view of God and what types of emotions they experience. And, um, and there's also quite a bit of work out there too on, um, group, like co-op rhythmic group singing and dance. Um, and I think, what religion does is it not only gives that experience, but it explicitly connects it to this meeting.

Sarah Schnitker (41:25):

So some right. So I think a lot of us, well, maybe not a lot of us, but some of us, I mean, when I was younger, especially, um, right. We go to awesome fitness classes at the gym where we have this experience of doing the workout with other people and, um, build out by thing, but it's not connected to something really deep or meaningful. Um, and that's where religion has this leg up. I think in a lot of other institutions is that, that is the, ah, and this is part of this big picture thing. Um, and I think, you know, I don't think we have to have not everyone needs to be part of the traditional religion to get these experiences. Um, but I think it's very important if we care about moral development in a pluralistic society to study, what's worked so well and what's poorly, um, as we think about designing interventions, um, to help people build, to help build good character, um, cause many people are disaffiliating from religion.

Sarah Schnitker (42:35):

Um, and so what's being lost and we don't necessarily have to give these, um, activities through religion, but if we're going to say the, about like a secular public school program, um, to build character strengths, completely ignoring religion or ignoring the meaning systems of you, even if they're diverse, it's not going to be very effective as my guess. So trying to say, okay, maybe we're not doing this in the context of religion, but what do we need? What are some essential elements that have traditionally been in those contexts and how can we do that? It benefits a more secularized version.

Amber Cazzell (43:14):

Right. Um, and I'm curious too, if, if you've thought about more mechanisms that, um, you know, really it might make religion and spirituality a good context for virtue development or ways that, or even aspects that religion spirituality do not contribute to, with respect to developing virtue.

Sarah Schnitker (43:45):

Yeah. And I think a lot of it. So when it does like that moderation question, um, sometimes depends on the variety of religion. Um, one of the downfalls I'd say of religion/spirituality tends to be that that's really good at forming group cohesion. Um, but it can very much exclude people, um, unless it's intentional about watching out for that. Um, and so I think that's something religious groups, um, need to watch out for is okay, we're great at creating cohesion amongst our group, but does that come at the cost of derogating those outside of our group. Um, and I'm not going to be able to think of the reference right now, but I know that there are events studies that have shown you can help prevent that effect, but it has to be, um, framed within the context of the meaning system of that religion. So I know I'm thinking of a terror management study, um, right.

Sarah Schnitker (44:59):

Cause we know it's from management theory, death crimes typically lead people to uphold their ingroup and start derogating outgroups they found that with Christian participants, when they tried to kind of give a little sayings and say, Oh, don't do this. You want to be kind to those who are different. If those were framed in a secular manner, they did nothing. But if they use Bible verses and phrases from Christianity, um, so talk about, uh, attending to and taking care of people outside their group was actually quite effective at buffering against the outgroup, their derivation that comes with priming death. Um, so I think there's ways that this can be done. Um, if a religious group actually cares enough to try. Right?

Amber Cazzell (45:51):

Yeah. I guess I'm wondering, like in the paper you spoke a lot about, um, you know, religion and spirituality providing rituals and practices or a four characteristic adaptations that develop things like self control. Um, you also spoke about transcendent narrative identity, like you're saying like connectedness to these deeper questions and these broader issues, um, like one key aspect of virtue that I didn't feel you directly spoke to was like how religion and spirituality do with respect to cultivating appropriate motivation as like a key aspect of virtue. And um, yeah, like I just, I wonder have you thought about that? Have you thought about religion, religion and is, um, the ways it does or does not appeal to motivation? Like I'm thinking about, I guess like legalism and things like that.

Sarah Schnitker (46:59):

Yeah. And I think that's, um, does matter, right. There's I think a lot of motivations that can be present, um, that people pick up from their religious context. Right. And then I think second religion in very early stages, um, with the focus on intrinsic versus extrinsic religiosity, but Alport even started looking at, um, really shows that this has been a primary concern for researchers since the beginning, that there are lots of reasons people engage in religion.

Sarah Schnitker (47:36):

Um, and that then it affects their moral behaviors as a result, their prejudice, their, um, pro sociality. So it's tough because, um, right. There's this directional relationship between the person and their religious context. So, um, and I think you can see influence. So certain religious groups are talking about religion in different ways. Um, right. So some, even if you look just within Christianity or even just within evangelical Christianity in the U S you see such diversity, um, sometimes it's presented very much as self-help as a way to make your life better. Um, other times it's much more presented as something you engage to please God, or to do something for others, right. As you were saying, sometimes it's more legalistic that this is a fear based thing of avoiding punishment versus approaching something that good. So I think it's really tough right now. Um, but I think, you know, one strategy for researching this, that I'm excited about, um, is one my grad student Juliet Ratchford is working on, which is to use more of these goal-based measures to assess for, to you.

Sarah Schnitker (48:56):

Um, and you could specifically, so like we could ask people, what are the goals you're working on right now? Um, and we can say, okay, how patient are you as you work on this school? How much frustration are you experiencing opposite, but we can also ask people, what are your motives, why are you pursuing this goal? Are you doing this because you think you have to, because God's going to punish you. If you don't, you could ask, Oh, are you doing this? Because, um, you're so grateful for everything you've received in this life. So I think by using, moving beyond trait measures, we're going to be able to start to actually assess these motivations. And you'll say something about how religion motivates, um, a bit more than we know right now.

Amber Cazzell (49:41):

Right? Yeah. That's interesting. Um, and I'm trying to conceptualize, like, for me, what's interesting. I, so I have a Protestant Christian background growing up and, um, like the doctrine of, of grace is theologically interesting to consider, um, with respect to like these motivational components to virtue development, I guess I'm thinking, like, I'm just thinking out loud here, but You know, this idea of, of grace as sort of this mechanism of getting rid of motivations that are fear based or are, um, you know, extrinsicly motivated like I'm behaving well in this life. So I get rewards in the next life or that sort of a thing it's theologically interesting to consider this motivational layer in the context of, um, virtue requiring good motivation.

Sarah Schnitker (50:52):

And I think, um, and when it gets really tricky to measure it, like we're doing studies on these it's, cause someone might have a theological belief in grace, they maintain. Um, but do they really carry that through in their day to day lives? Um, but they could believe in grace is really counterintuitive to our natural understanding as a species, right? You should not get what you don't deserve. Right. We're taught over and over served. There's reciprocity. All of our interactions tend to teach us

Sarah Schnitker (51:37):

If you're really bad, you don't just get all of these amazing things, um, and consequences. Right. And, um, and I think it depends, like it's easier for some people who have kind of unconditional positive regard from their parents. It might be easier for them to believe in this kind of grace idea. Um, and actually not just couch it as a belief, but actually, um, kinda more implicitly believe it. But I think for a lot of people, it just doesn't make any sense at an implicit level. And it's really hard to, cause it goes against the belief and adjust world for a lot of people. Right. It's that's not fair. Um, so I think that's one of the challenges I faced when doing psych of religion research and is, Hey, this is what the person says they believe, but what do they

Sarah Schnitker (52:37):

To really like get a little bit deeper what's really going on. Yeah. I think, you know, Carissa Sharp, um, has done a bit of work on this and who else was on that paper while these all, um, maybe Nick Gibson, a did some work on kind of these like head beliefs and heart beliefs with religion. Cause it, well, certain religious concepts are just hard for people they're so counterintuitive to the natural world.

Amber Cazzell (53:12):

So is that kind of like explicit versus implicit?

Sarah Schnitker (53:15):

Yeah, I think that would be, yeah. A good way to think about it.

Amber Cazzell (53:19):

Interesting. Okay. Well, so when, just our last minutes of closing, um, what else are you kind of working on in this line of work? You mentioned that work with Juliet on the goals based measures. Um, what else are you doing?

Sarah Schnitker (53:37):

Yeah, we're also so right this semester, we're getting ready to do a study, um, that explicitly manipulates motivation or experimentally probably be a better term for engaging in virtue development activities. Um, so we're going to have everyone do practice meditation. Um, but we're gonna tell some participants that they're doing this, um, to help them connect with something bigger than themselves to grow spiritually, um, to really morally and really provide more of those transcendent motivations and keep that pride as they engage the activity. Um, whereas the other group, we're going to have them do this meditation and we know from right census studies, meditation helps develop with things. We're going to just tell them you're doing this so you can improve your academic performance. You can improve your focus and attention and do better on all of your activities in life. Um, which is not a bad thing, but it doesn't have that transcendent framing. So we want to see us manipulating this, um, and providing kind of that motivation. That's more transcendent, um, changes the effectiveness of a meditation activity.

Sarah Schnitker (54:57):

Um, we're going to be giving money as well. And seeing if people who are in the transcendent condition actually donate more of their money, um, at the end of the study. Very cool.

Amber Cazzell (55:06):

Yeah. Very cool. And who's that collaboration with?

Sarah Schnitker (55:10):

so that is in collaboration with, um, one of my students, Emily Williams and then Juliet, Richard's also going to be a part of that study and then we actually have a philosopher, Tim Pawl who's part of the team for that study. Um, and I, as a philosopher, he's really interested in this motivation, um, component of virtue, um, and awesome is that psychologists have not really attended to this very much. So it's a pretty fun group. Yeah.

Amber Cazzell (55:42):

Very cool. All right. Well Sarah, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. And it was really fun to get to learn about this. This is actually the first time we'd really spoken about religion and spirituality kind of explicitly in the podcast as a topic. So thank you for introducing us to it.

Sarah Schnitker (56:03):

Yeah. Thank you. It was fun to chat.


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