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Humility, religion, and spirituality: introduction to the special issue.

This issue of the Journal of Psychology and Theology focuses on the intersection between humility, religion, and spirituality. In this introduction to the special issue, we first define humility, religion, and spirituality. Then, we present some initial theory and research that motivated our desire to organize this special issue. Namely, humility is a virtue that is often taught and valued by world religions. However, it may be difficult to hold religious/spiritual convictions with humility, and history is replete with examples in which religion has fueled the fires of conflict and division between individuals and groups. After setting up this tension between humility and religion/spirituality, we summarize the subsequent articles in this issue, which explore this important and timely topic.

Psychology has historically focused on deficits and problems; however, the first part of the twenty-first century has seen the rise of the positive psychology movement, which focuses on positive experiences and character strengths (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). In contrast to the burgeoning literatures on other virtues (e.g., forgiveness, gratitude), the study of humility has developed more slowly, likely due to problems defining and measuring the construct (Davis, Worthington, & Hook, 2010). However, this appears to be changing, and research on humility is gaining momentum, both in scientific research and popular books and media (Collins, 2001; Davis & Hook, 2013).

We have defined humility as follows: On the intrapersonal level, humility involves an accurate view of self (Davis et al., 2011). On the interpersonal level, humility involves a position toward others that is other-oriented rather than self-focused, marked by respect and an ability to restrain egoistic motives (Davis et al., 2011). Given concerns about measuring humility--including the possibility that truly humble people will hesitate to describe themselves as exceptionally humble on self-reports--we have advocated for a measurement approach that triangulates self-report, other-report, and trait-relevant behavior (Davis et al., 2010).

Research has begun to accumulate that provides evidence that humility has positive outcomes. For example, humility is positively related to physical health (Krause, 2010), mental health (Rowatt et al., 2006), academic performance (Owens, 2009), and job performance (Johnson, Rowatt, & Petrini, 2011). Furthermore, humility is positively related to positive relationship constructs such as generosity (Exline & Hill, 2012), helpfulness (Labouff, Rowatt, Johnson, Tsang, & Willerton, 2012), and forgiveness (Powers, Nam, Rowatt, & Hill, 2007). Davis and colleagues (2013) have provided evidence for the theory that humility is an important factor in the development and repair of social bonds. Specifically, people make judgments about humility to predict how they arc likely to be treated in ongoing relationships, and they use these judgments to make decisions about the relationship (e.g., deepen commitment).

This special issue focuses on the relationship between humility, religion, and spirituality. We define religion as the adherence to a belief system and practices associated with a tradition in which there is agreement about what is believed and practiced (Hill et al., 2000). In contrast, we define spirituality as a more general feeling of closeness and connectedness with the sacred (Davis, Hook, & Worthington, 2008). Most people experience spirituality in the context of religion, but others may experience spirituality in the context of connections with humankind, nature, or the transcendent (Worthington & Aten, 2009).

The relationship between humility, religion, and spirituality is an intriguing one. On one hand, most world religions promote humility as a virtue (Bollinger & Hill, 2012). For example, Christian scriptures explicitly teach that humility is an essential part of God's character expressed through Jesus, and Christians ought relate to others with humility (e.g., Matthew 20; "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them ... Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant."). Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita (sacred Hindu Scripture) teaches that humility is one of the most critical human virtues (Jeste & Vahia, 2008).

Although most religions seem to value humility, they may not do so indiscriminately and across all contexts. Other virtues such as loyalty or respect for authority may overshadow humility. Humility is difficult (or perhaps even undesirable) for religious/spiritual individuals when their most strongly held religious convictions are challenged (Woodruff, Van Tongeren, McElroy, Davis, & Hook, 2013). This may be especially true within traditions that rely heavily on adherence to theological beliefs as markers of loyalty and commitment. Indeed, many "orthodox" beliefs are offensive to anyone who does not hold them--perhaps by design because adherence helps demarcate boundaries of the group. Furthermore, religious convictions are regularly used to consolidate political power. For example, in the United States, individuals and groups divide sharply over religiously charged issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Religious/spiritual teachings may also provide many individuals with important answers about issues such as meaning and purpose, core values, and the afterlife, so it makes sense that many individuals have a lot invested in their religion being "right."

Thus, in this special issue, the authors explore the intriguing relationships between humility, religion, and spirituality in several thought-provoking articles. The first two articles in the special issue address theoretical and measurement issues. Gregg and Mahadevan (pp. 7-18) explore the evolutionary roots of intellectual arrogance and humility, and discuss why humans at times show a strong preference for their own beliefs and theories, including those that involve religion and spirituality. They also explore humble ways of holding beliefs about religion and spirituality. McElroy and colleagues (pp. 19-30) tackle the conceptualization and measurement of intellectual humility. After developing an other-report measure of intellectual humility and examining evidence of its construct validity, they consider the importance of intellectual humility in religious/spiritual leaders.

The third and fourth articles in the special issue take a social psychological approach and explore associations between humility and various aspects of religion and spirituality. Rowatt and colleagues (pp. 31-40) report two studies in which they explore associations between humility, religion, and spirituality. These studies are unique in that the authors assess various aspects of religion and spirituality (e.g., religious practices, beliefs and values, coping, and meaning), and they also measure humility using both self- and other-reports. Grubbs and Exline (pp. 41-49) explore the association between humility and experiences of spiritual struggle (i.e., anger at God; religious fear and guilt).

The fifth and sixth articles in the special issue focus on the relationship between humility and strongly held religious convictions. Hopkin and colleagues (pp. 50-61) assess intellectual humility about religious beliefs, and then measure reactions of individuals toward an op-ed type essay that runs counter to their religious beliefs. They also employ a unique measurement strategy of religious beliefs that allows them to assess strongly held attitudes both for and against religious beliefs. Van Tongeren and colleagues (pp. 62-69) develop a meaning-focused conceptualization of humility. Operationalizing humility as a lack of defensiveness, they examine how bolstering meaning through having people affirm their relationships with others may help promote humility.

The seventh and eighth articles in the special issue take a relational approach and focus on the relationship between humility and attachment. Jankowski and Sandage (pp. 70-82) examine whether spiritual instability was associated with humility, and they also examine potential mediators of this relationship (i.e., attachment to God, differentiation of self). Dwiardani and colleagues (pp. 83-90) examine whether humility--and other virtues that regulate behavior in relationships--are associated with attachment security and resiliency.

The ninth and tenth articles in the special issue focus on applied aspects of humility. Owen and colleagues (pp. 91-98) examine humility, religion, and spirituality in the context of psychotherapy. Specifically, they assess cultural humility, which refers to openness by the therapist toward the client's cultural background and experiences (Hook, Davis, Owen, Worthington, & Utsey, 2013). They examine whether clients who viewed their therapist as humble in relation to their religious/spiritual background tended to also have more positive outcomes in therapy. Lavelock and colleagues (pp. 99-110) present one of the first interventions specifically designed to promote humility. In this randomized controlled trial, they evaluate the extent to which a self-directed humility intervention causes improvements in humility and other virtues.

Finally, in the last article, we (Davis & Hook, pp. 111-117) discuss our view of the current state of the literature on humility, religion, and spirituality, and explore exciting new avenues for theory, measurement, and research. We hope this issue on humility, religion, and spirituality promotes new scholarship and discussion on this exciting and relevant area of research.

Dwiwardani, C., Hill, P. C., Bollinger, R. A., Marks, L. E., Steele, J. R., Doolin, H. N., & Wood, S. L. (2014). Virtues develop from a secure base: Attachment and resilience as predictors of humility, gratitude, and forgiveness. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42, 83-90.

Exline, J. J.. & Hill, P. C. (2012). Humility: A consistent and robust predictor of generosity. Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 208-218.

Gregg, A. P., & Mahadevan, N. (2014). Intellectual arrogance and intellectual humility: An evolutionary-epistemological account. Journal of Psycholog and Theology, 42,7-18.

Grubbs, J. B., & &line, J. J. (2014). Humbling yourself before God: Humility as a reliable predictor of lower divine struggle. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42,41-49.

Hill, P. C., Pargament, K. I., Hood, R. W., Jr., McCullough, M. E., Swyers, J. P., Larson, D. B., & Zinnbauer, B. J. (2000). Conceptualizing religion and spirituality: Points of commonality, points of departure. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 30,51-77.

Hook, J. N., Davis, D. E., Owen, J., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Uney, S. 0. (2013). Cultural humility: Measuring openness to culturally diverse clients.Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 353-366.

Hopkin, C. R., Hoyle, R. H., & Toner, K. (2014). Intellectual humility and reactions to opinions about religious beliefs. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42,50-61.

Jankowski, P. J., & Sandage, S. J. (2014). Attachment to God and dispositional humility: Indirect and conditional effects models.journal of Psychology and Theology, 42,70-82.

Jeste, D. V., & Vahia, I. V. (2008). Comparison of the conceptualization of wisdom in ancient Indian literature with modern views: Focus on the Bhagavad Gita. Psychiatry, 71, 197-209.

Johnson, M. K., Rowatt, W. C., & Petrini, L. (2011). A new trait on the market: Honesty-humility as a unique predictor of job performance ratings. Personality and Individual Dfferences, SO, 857-862.

Krause, N. (2010). Religious involvement, humility, and self-rated health. Social Indicators Research, 98, 23-29.

LaBouff, J. P., Rowatt, W. C., Johnson, M. K., Tsang, J., & Wil-tenon, G. M. (2012). Humble persons arc more helpful than less humble persons: Evidence from three studies. Journal of Positive Psychology, 7, 16-29.

Lavelock, C. R., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Davis, D. E., Griffin, B. J., Reid, C. A., Hook, J. N., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2014). The quiet virtue speaks: An intervention to promote humility. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42.99-110.

McElroy, S., Rice, K., Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., Hill, P. C., Worthing-ton, E. L., Jr., & Van Tongeren, D. R. (2014). Intellectual Humility: Scale Development and Theoretical Elaborations in the Context of Religious Leadership.journal of Psychology and Theology, 42, 19-30.

Owen, J., Jordan, T. A., Turner, D., Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., & Leach, M. (2014). Therapists' multicultural orientation: Client perceptions of cultural humility, spiritual/religious commitment, and therapy outcomes. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42, 9198.

Owens, B. P. (2009). Humility in organizational leadership. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Washington.


Bollinger, R. A., & Hill, P. C. (2012). Humility. In T. Plante (Ed.), Religion, Spirituality, and Positive Psychology (31-47). Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap ... And others don't. New York: Harper Collins.

Davis, D. E., & Hook. J. N. (2013). Measuring humility and its positive effects. APS Observer, 26(8).

Davis, D. E., & Hook, J. N. (2014). Humility, religion, and spirituality: An endpiece. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42,111-117 .

Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2008). Rela-cional spirituality and forgiveness: The roles of attachment to God, religious coping, and viewing the transgression as a desecration. Journal (psychology and Christianity, 27,293-301.

Davis, D. E., Hook, J. N., Worthington, E. L. Jr., Van Tongeren, D. R., Gartner, A. L.. Jennings, D. J. H. & Emmons, R. A. (2011). Relational humility: Conceptualizing and measuring humility as a personality judgment. Journal of Personality Assessment, 93, 225-234.

Davis, D. E., Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Hook, J. N. (2010). Humility: Review of measurement strategies and conceptualization as a personality judgment.Journal of Positive Psychology, 5.243-252.

Davis, D. E., Worthington, E. L., Jr., Hook, J. N., Emmons, R. A., Hill, P. C., Bollinger, R. A., & Van Tongeren, D. It (2013). Humility and the development and repair of social bonds: Two longitudinal studies. Self and Identity, 12, 58-77.

Powers, C., Nam, R. K., Rowatt, W. C., & Hill, P. C. (2007). Associations between humility, spiritual transcendence, and forgiveness. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 18, 75-94.

Rowatt, W. C., Powers, C., Targhetta, V., Comer, J., Kennedy, S., & LaBouff, J. (2006). Development and initial validation of an implicit measure of humility relative to arrogance. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1,198-211.

Rowatt, W. C., Kang, L. L., Haggard, M. C., & LaBoulf, J. P. (2014). A social-personality perspective on humility, religiousness, and spiritualiry. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42,31-40.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.

Van Tongeren, D. R., Green, J. D., Hulsey, T. L., Legare, C. H., Bromley, D. G., & Houtman, A. M. (2014). A meaning-based approach to humility: Meaning affirmation reduces worldview defense. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 42,62-69.

Woodruff, E., Van Tongcren, D. R., McElroy, S., Davis, D. E., & Hook, J. N. (2013). Humility and religion: Benefits, difficulties, and a model of religious tolerance. In C. Kim-Prieto (Ed.). Positive Psychology of Religion and Spirituality Across Cultures. New York: Springer Publishing Co.

Worthington, E. L., Jr., & Aten, J. D. (2009). Psychotherapy with religious and spiritual clients: An introduction. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 65, 123-130.

Author Information

HOOK, JOSHUA N. Address: University of North Texas, 1155 Union Circle #311280, Denton, TX 76203. Email: Title: Assistant Professor of Psychology. Degrees: BS (Psychology) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; MS (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University. Specializations: humility, forgiveness, religion/spirituality.

DAVIS, DON E. PhD. Address: Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, Georgia State University, P.O. Box 3980, Atlanta, GA 30302-3980. Title: Assistant Professor of Counseling and Psychological Services Georgia State University. Degrees: PhD (Counseling Psychology) Virginia Commonwealth University; BA (Psychology) Yale University. Specializations: humility, forgiveness, positive psychology, religion/spirituality.

Author Note: We would like to acknowledge the generous financial support of a grant from the Fuller Theological Seminary / Thrive Center in concert with the John Templeton Foundation (Grant No. 108, Intellectual Humility in Religious Leaders), as well as the John Templeton Foundation (Grant No. 29630, The Development, Validation, and Dissemination of Measures of Intellectual Humility and Humility; Grant No. 14979, Relational Humility: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of Humility). The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fuller Thrive Center or the John Templeton Foundation.

Joshua N. Hook

University of North Texas

Don E. Davis

Georgia State University
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Author:Hook, N. Joshua; Davis, E. Don
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Theology
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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