In face of life's problems, what does religion mean? Assessing rational choice theory with evidence from Catholic case studies

Principal Investigator
Grant Awarding Body
Research Grants Council
Grant Type
Faculty Development Scheme
Project Code
Amount awarded
Funding Year
Duration of the Project
30 months
Start date
Completion Date
This research project will explore what religion currently means to people via a qualitative case study. We will specifically investigate the ways in which Catholics rely on their religion when they encounter life's solvable and insolvable problems. From the perspective of rational choice theory, religion may serve as a means or resource for people to solve their problems. Religious believers use the resources available to them via church organisations (e.g., charity services), religious rituals (e.g., sacraments of healing) and spiritual practices (e.g., prayers) to acquire what they want or need. This is how we generally understand and use religion when coping with difficulties. However, there is no complete resolution for problems such as living with a terminal illness or raising a handicapped child. In cases such as these, 'solving' the problem is only mitigating the negative effects of misfortune. People must endure the lingering pain and suffering associated with insolvable problems.

At this point, our project will progress from the focus on religious resources to one that reveals the deeper meaning of religion. We shall explore the relationship between suffering and issues related to the human self. Some key questions will be asked, including the following. What are the possible effects that prolonged pain and suffering have on human nature? What makes human self-transformation in suffering possible, and what role, if any, does religion play in the process? These questions will introduce the Catholic concept of redemptive suffering into our study of Catholic beliefs and behaviour, and present two implications. First, analysing how Catholics connect worldly misfortunes to the afterlife will help reveal the meaning of religion at the supernatural level. Second, the virtues embodied in redemptive suffering, such as patience, compassion and self-sacrifice, will enable us to detail the scenarios and behaviour related to moral virtues and the dynamics involved in the human struggle for a better life. We hope that the findings of this project will be useful not only for pastoral care, but also for scholars and practitioners who are interested in the role of religion in social work, counselling and health care.