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Abstract

Religiosity/spirituality (RS) has been linked to positive health outcomes across a large number of studies, with these effects seen most strongly among disadvantaged groups such as minorities, women, and those of lower socioeconomic status (SES). Given that disadvantaged groups typically have worse health outcomes and not better, it is not clear why the effects of RS are stronger for disadvantaged groups. A key difficulty in understanding the relationship between RS and health lies in the theoretical perspectives used in research. Health and well-being is typically assessed from the hedonic perspective which emphasizes pleasure and happiness as important outcomes and assumes that difficult life situations contribute to negative health. The eudaimonic perspective, on the other hand, emphasizes meaning and relationships, and assumes that difficult life situations can contribute to increased meaning in life and stronger relationships. The eudaimonic perspective provides a better framework for understanding why RS leads to better health for disadvantaged groups for three reasons. First, having meaning in life and strong relationships are related to positive health outcomes and buffer the negative effects of stress. Second, in addition to being more religious, disadvantaged groups report lower hedonic well-being and report higher eudaimonic well-being. Third, low SES religious individuals have better than expected health outcomes and low SES materialistic individuals have worse than expected health outcomes. Overall, the eudaimonic perspective better accounts for the research findings in RS and health and provides a strong foundation for future research in this area.