Why is religious attendance linked to anxiety in U.S. South Asians?

Study examines anxiety, emotional neglect from fellow congregation members.

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Studies conducted in the past have shown that among U.S. South Asians, attending religious services is positively correlated with anxiety. A new study shed light on how religion and well-being are associated among U.S. South Asians, an understudied group in the religious landscape.

The current study by Westmont College evaluates congregational neglect’s mediating role as a putative mechanism for this association’s explanation. It examined the relationships between religious service attendance (temple, mosque, etc.), anxiety, and feelings of emotional neglect by fellow congregation members. Scientists discovered that South Asian Americans are more likely to report higher levels of anxiety when they attend religious services more frequently. Moreover, a significant portion of this relationship can be linked to feelings of neglect or disinterest from other congregants.

A sample of 936 South Asian adults residing in the San Francisco and Chicago regions is used in the study. The analysis employed the Spielberger trait anxiety scale to quantify anxiety and ranged from “never” to “several times a week” for religious service attendance. To quantify neglect, the following question was posed: “How often do you feel ignored or neglected by people in your congregation or religious community?” Responses were divided into three categories: never, occasionally, and more.

Dr. Blake Victor Kent, associate professor of sociology at Westmont College, said, “We found that more attendance means more anxiety, and we wanted to understand what is driving that. Usually, religious communities are linked to positive outcomes, and we think it’s important to understand what’s going on in the South Asian community.”

The scientists found differences between white Christians and South Asian religious groups. Unlike Christians, who are expected to attend church weekly, there’s no such expectation in Hinduism. People in South Asian communities might go to the temple to meet family duties or keep their cultural identity.

Scientists noted, “Previous research on religious congregations shows that negative religious interactions and stressful congregational experiences can have damaging effects on mental health.”

Kent said, “In India, 32% of adults report that being religious is about culture and ancestry, not religious conviction per se. This approach to religion may give us clues about what’s happening in South Asians here. It may set some people up for negative interactions when others question their motives.”

In the U.S., religious groups often worship in the same places because of limited space. This can lead to interactions between dominant and non-dominant groups, sometimes causing problems. To keep people safe in these places, the researchers suggest that religious leaders ask for input from those who feel left out. They should also pay attention to differences in region, language, and religious beliefs. Being part of a religious community has many benefits, like having a place to belong and better mental and physical health.

Kent said“When negative outcomes and patterns are identified, hopefully, that knowledge can lead to corrections for more productive and life-giving interactions.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Stroope, S., Kent, B.V., Schachter, A.B. et al. Why Is Religious Attendance Linked to More Anxiety in U.S. South Asians? The Mediating Role of Congregational Neglect. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s40615-023-01764-6

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