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Religious Gerontology, Patterns Of Religious Participation, Determinants Of Religious Participation, Religious Participation And Health

The United States is a nation of religious believers. National surveys consistently find that nine in ten Americans affiliate with a religion or religious denomination. This is true regardless of age. Older adults, however, participate on average in certain religious activities more frequently than younger individuals. Religion also appears to represent a more salient influence in the lives of older adults. A possible explanation for this may be found in the differing life experiences and developmental trajectories of today’s older Americans, unique features characteristic of their period of religious socialization, and anticipation of forthcoming challenges associated with aging. Both personal and social resources provided by religious belief and participation, and by religious institutions, can prove valuable as adults age through the life course and face the physical and interpersonal changes that often accompany old age.

This entry will explore these and other issues, particularly as they relate to the consequences of religious involvement in the lives of older adults. After describing the field of religious gerontology, the area of study devoted to the relationship between religion and aging, existing research that characterizes the role of religion in older adulthood will be summarized. This includes scientific findings documenting (a) patterns of religious participation; (b) determinants of religious participation; (c) the role of religion in preventing illness and promoting health, longevity, and psychological well-being; and (d) the social and psychological functions and benefits of both formal participation in organized religious activities and private religious involvement.

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