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Seaver College Professor Elizabeth Mancuso Develops Religious Conflict Management Resource

Elizabeth Mancuso

Elizabeth Mancuso, a professor of psychology at Seaver College, recently received $203,140 in grant funding from the John Templeton Foundation to design and implement an online resource aimed at helping people who are experiencing religious conflict in a relationship. This project, and the asynchronous course that resulted from it, will help participants navigate a world of religious diversity and disagreement. 

“Religious conflict is highly relevant to so many people's lives,” says Mancuso. “With this project, we're trying to offer something that contributes to people’s personal growth and bolsters their sense of interpersonal strength.”

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Religious conflict encompasses any disagreement or dispute that arises from a religious or spiritual topic. Researchers from Case Western Reserve and Bowling Green University have concluded that religious conflict can have serious negative psychological and emotional consequences, such as anxiety, depression, shame, loneliness, and lack of meaning. These findings are what motivated Mancuso and her team of five other psychologists and psychology students to develop their intervention. 

The workshop, titled “Grounded to Grow,” uses the analogy of a tree caught in a storm to address this phenomena. Mancuso and her team built four modules evaluating how to handle religious conflict from its roots to its branches, treetop, and trunk. Each of these metaphorical categories help participants define and develop their own core values, beliefs, metacognitive ability, and integrative habits.

“The workshop is based on existing research about what has proven effective in the past,” explains Mancuso. “We are bringing together findings from the psychology of religion and spirituality and the intellectual humility literature in order to determine if a program informed by these two domains will be successful.”

Mancuso and her team will launch “Grounded to Grow,” by recruiting up to 400 participants to engage with the online, asynchronous modules. All participants will be asked to complete surveys at three points in time—before the intervention, immediately following it, and four weeks after finishing the course.

Mancuso hopes that the data garnered from this trial will reveal the different ways “Grounded to Grow” makes a difference in participants' lives, such as 

  • the intensity or frequency of the conflict interactions and/or
  • the stress, distress, or self-stigma associated with religious conflict
     or increasing:
  • signs of relationship repair, and/or
  • personal growth and coping responses. 

Overall, she hopes that by applying a combination of psychological schools of thought into one intervention, participants find innovative ways to grow their resilience when facing religious conflict. 

“We're trying to help participants think more clearly about how they can embrace their values despite their conflicts,” Mancuso says. 

Given the dynamic and deeply personal nature of religious beliefs, Mancuso and her team worked hard to create a program that embraces participants from a broad variety of belief systems. Drawing upon their experiences in the field, the team of psychologists’ varied perspectives helped create the range of thinking, writing, and experiential activities that make up “Grounded to Grow.”

The exercises are aimed at allowing participants to acknowledge the pain and stress associated with their religious struggles while also stretching them in their thinking and behaviors. If “Grounded to Grow” is successful in accomplishing this mission, Mancuso believes the resource will contribute to individuals’ overall well-being.

“We're really working to help individuals be in a stronger, healthier place,” she says. “We're offering them new ways of thinking about the conflict and the person they're in conflict with in order to make them more resilient.”