Preferred Name

Timothy Wayne Brearly

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Date of Graduation

Summer 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Department of Graduate Psychology


Craig N. Shealy


Religious certitude is often associated with conflict between individuals and groups, though the nature of this relationship is still not clear. To further clarify these dynamics, the historical psychology of religion is reviewed and contrasted with current perspectives from social psychology and neuroscience, with an eye towards better understanding the variance within religious expressions and their associated relationships with intergroup conflict. It is hypothesized that religious certainty is related to a difficulty in engaging with contradictory religious perspectives, and that the pull towards certainty is tied to an individual’s unique psychological structure, much of which is developed through the interaction of formative variables over the lifespan.

Utilizing data (N=2331) collected during the Forum BEVI Project, a multi-institution, multi-year project coordinated by the Forum on Education Abroad and the International Beliefs and Values Institute, statistical analyses consisting of ANOVAs, regression analyses, and structural equation modeling are used to explore these ideas. Results suggest that a propensity to identify with religious certitude is predictive of one’s beliefs in a number of other areas. Further, individuals who report distressing early life events associated with unmet developmental needs may tend towards belief certainty. However, structural equation modeling highlights the complexity of this relationship, suggesting the importance of accounting for individual differences. Finally, analyses indicate that the variance in levels of certainty within religious groups is greater than the variance between these groups. It is therefore concluded that accounting for levels of religious certainty is more helpful than emphasizing particular religious traditions when seeking to understand intergroup conflict.

These findings suggest the value of fostering an agnostic theory of knowledge, and a continuum of belief is proposed to illustrate this concept in relation to religious belief. Towards this end, interventions meant to facilitate intergroup dialogue and understanding while respecting individual theological traditions are highlighted.



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