How Is Spirituality Part of People's Meaning System?

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Various authors in research on coping advise us to study spirituality from a meaning system perspective. In this approach spirituality is viewed as a part of people’s global meaning; an overarching framework of beliefs, goals, and sense of meaning. However, little is known about how spirituality is related to other global meanings to form this meaning system. Therefore, we have explored spirituality and its relationship with other possible elements of the meaning system in interviews with 20 persons, one year after their cancer diagnosis. Applying thematic analysis to analyze the interviews, a typology was developed based on two criteria: (a) the prevalence of spiritual meanings in the interview, and (b) the degree of co-occurrence between spiritual and general meanings. Four types of meaning systems were distinguished: (a) spirituality as an overarching theme that seems to infuse all aspects of the person’s meaning system, (b) spirituality as a theme in the background of the meaning system portrayed by a supporting God, (c) spirituality as a hidden theme that is expressed by a transcendent image and experience of oneself, or (d) spirituality as separate from other elements of the individual’s meaning system, if described at all. A comparison with quantitative measures of religiosity and spirituality supported the qualitative differences between the four types. This typology can be used to further understand individual differences in adjustment to cancer.

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