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Survey: Faith shields some from pandemic stresses

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WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on participation in religious services just as it did on workplaces, but a new survey indicates strong emotional resilience from those who consider their faith vital to their existence.

That was part of the findings of a survey conducted late last year of 1,600 adults, mostly from Washington, Maryland and Virginia. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents identified as Catholic.

Survey results were discussed during a May 21 webinar hosted by Catholic University's sociology department and the Institute of Human Ecology.

Respondents who reported a decline in religiosity since the pandemic had more than twice the odds of feeling isolated and lonely than respondents who did not report such a decline.

"Religiosity seems to be a buffer against negative stresses," said Brandon Vaidyanathan, chair of the sociology department and an associate professor of sociology.

Fewer than 20 percent of the sample said their mental health had worsened, he added.

The one area where people report a deterioration in their lives was in feelings of isolation, but only "a very small number," Vaidyanathan said, reported their "sense of purpose in life having been weakened."

Vaidyanathan, who also is a fellow of the Institute of Human Ecology, and his colleagues conducted the Mental Health in Congregations Study. It was funded with grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the H.E. Butt Foundation.

"The staggering amount of change" on congregations "has been anxiety-producing ... to a monumental degree," said Scott L. Thumma, a professor of sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. He thought the survey result "speaks highly to the adaptive behavior" of religious communities.

Anxiety, depression and anger levels were spread about equally among Catholics, Orthodox and Reform Jews, evangelical Protestants, Mormons, African American Baptists and Hindus.

The Harvard Human Flourishing Index used in the survey likewise indicated that all faith groups thought they were doing well in terms of happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, character and virtue, and close social relationships.

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The complete findings are available online at bit.ly/3us2REe.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021