Social Justice and Diversity

Are we effectively integrating racial and ethnic diversity into our field?

Psychology of religion and spirituality research is lacking an important aspect of today’s society — racial and ethnic diversity.
By Ingrid Morales-Ramirez and Stephanie Winkeljohn Black, PhD

Psychology of religion and spirituality research is lacking an important aspect of today’s society — racial and ethnic (RE) diversity. Ingrid Morales-Ramirez conducted a literature review for one of her recent projects on frequency of prayer, self-disclosure to God and religious service attendance and found literature on only three RE identities; African American, Latinx and European Americans (Chatters, Taylor, Bullard, & Jackson, 2009; Krause, 2012; Krause & Chatters, 2005; Vandecreek, Janus, Pennebaker & Binau, 2002; Wachholtz & Sambamoorthi, 2011; Winkeljohn Black, Pössel, Rosmarin, Tariq & Jeppsen, 2017). This is a start but lacks broader representation, which can lead to serious implications including: (a) lack of generalizability of our field’s current body of literature, (b) diverse RE groups perceiving that they are unimportant to the field and (c) missed opportunities in clinical practice.


Lacking diversity in participants causes a limitation to the generalizability of other RE identities. For example, in the literature a majority of the research consists of individuals that identify as European American and the research on diverse populations is limited to only two sets of minority groups. These results cannot be generalized to populations such as American Indian or Pacific Islander if only three identities are present. Without further research on how RE identities influence psychology of religion, researchers as well as individuals are unable to learn more about other cultures. This information is not only important in being culturally competent but also in making others feel like their RE identities matter in our society.

Perception of Unimportance

Research has shown that RE identity plays a major role in sense of belonging (Johnson, 2012). If we take that concept and apply it to the lack of diversity in research, then RE minorities may feel unsupported or unacknowledged in our field. In fact, a recent survey of division members found that only 4.2 percent of SPRS members identify as RE minorities (Div. 36 Early Career Professional Task Force), which is one-third of the overall APA RE minority membership rate. Outreach is needed to welcome groups with different perspectives and lived experiences, and research activity and collaboration is one way to do this.

Research, Clinical Work and Implications

Psychology of religion research is important because it has been shown to have positive effects on physical and mental health (e.g., Koenig, 2009; Koenig, King, & Carson, 2012). If the research is only focused on a few sets of minority groups, then we will be left unaware of how it affects other groups. Research on greater diverse populations can provide more data on whether religion and spirituality play a role in their lives. Implications of greater research will allow researchers and clinicians to provide better therapeutic services. More research is needed on diverse minority groups in order to be culturally competent in the field.

As these shortcomings and opportunities are addressed, the field can begin to tackle relevant, nuanced conversations. For example, psychology multicultural training emphasizes intersectionality, and so scholars putting forth racially diverse findings within the context of religion and spirituality would align our field with this more recent emphasis in training. This would also work to build the pipeline for racial and ethnic minorities to join our field. Seeing that psychology of religion and spirituality integrates various diversity identities into our work may increase a sense of belonging for minoritized students, who then commit to this work and become scholars in the field.

Author Bios

Ingrid Morales-Ramirez, BA, is a second-year master’s student in the Applied Clinical Psychology program at Penn State Harrisburg. Stephanie Winkeljohn Black, PhD, is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Penn State Harrisburg and a member of Div. 36.


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Johnson, D. R. (2012). Campus racial climate perceptions and overall sense of belonging among racially diverse women in STEM majors. Journal of College Student Development, 53(2), 336-346. doi: 10.1353/csd.2012.0028

Krause, N. (2012). Assessing the prayer lives of older whites, older blacks, and older Mexican Americans: A descriptive analysis. International journal for the psychology of religion22(1), 60-78. doi: 10.1080/10508619.2012.635060

Krause, N., & Chatters, L. M. (2005). Exploring race differences in a multidimensional battery of prayer measures among older adults. Sociology of Religion66(1), 23-43. doi:             10.1080/10508619.2012.635060

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SPRS Early Career Professional Task Force (2019). Report of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (SPRS) Early Career Psychologist (ECP) Task Force.

VandeCreek, L., Janus, M.-D., Pennebaker, J. W., & Binau, B. (2002). Praying about difficult experiences as self-disclosure to God. International Journal for the Psychology ofReligion, 12(1), 29–39.

Wachholtz, A., & Sambamoorthi, U. (2011). National trends in prayer use as a coping mechanism for health concerns: Changes from 2002 to 2007. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality3(2), 67. doi: 10.1037/a0021598

Winkeljohn Black, S., Pössel, P., Rosmarin, D. H., Tariq, A., & Jeppsen, B. D. (2017). Prayer Type, Disclosure, and Mental Health Across Religious Groups. Counseling andValues62(2), 216-234.