01: Introduction


In a variety of ways, with the use of various emotion regulation strategies, people influence their emotions as well as the emotions of others (Gross, 1998b; Koole, 2009). The focus on ways humans influence emotions within social contexts has increasingly become a topic of research within social psychology (Parkinson & Manstead, 2015). Approaches that group members used to change emotions have been addressed about age groups, different organizational contexts, and social groups (e.g., Haver, Akerjordet, & Furunes, 2013; Salmela, 2014; Urry & Gross, 2010).

One type of social context is religious societies and groups possessing “a repertoire of emotions” (Davies, 2011, p. 16). Emotion regulation strategies are offered both directly and indirectly, more directly through written texts and speeches and more indirectly through participation in a religiously informed group culture (Kim-Prieto & Diener, 2009). Members and adherents will be advised about a preferred way of expressing emotions and the level of intensity and are offered ways to regulate emotions. The preferences are an inherent part of an emotional culture, or “the emotional regime”, as is the term used by Riis and Woodhead (2010).

Religious culture, then, is one type of emotional environment (Belzen, 2015). For example, Wilkins (2008) studied emotional ideals in an evangelical Christian organization and found that members claimed to be happier than non-Christians, because the value of negative emotions are downplayed in this group culture. Religious cultures differ; for example, is Christianity different from Buddhism regarding ideal affects? In a study by Tsai, Miao, and Seppala (2007), it was found that Christians valued high arousal, such as excitement, more than Buddhists. However, Buddhists valued low arousal, e.g., calm, more than Christians. Fraser N. Watts has differed between two main types of religious contexts when it comes to emotions. One type “sees strong emotions as being a hallmark of a strong religious life”, an example being the charismatic movement in Christianity (Watts, 1996, p. 81). The alternative emphasizes “calming of the passions” as being, for example, present within Christian contemplative tradition (Watts, 1996, p. 81). Ringnes and Ulland (2015) used the terms of Watts to express the difference of emotional culture in Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) and the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (TACF). TACF have activation of emotion as a goal, while JWs promote moderation and calming of emotions. Orientation toward activation of strong emotions, or calming of emotions, will have an impact on emotion regulation, which is a question open to empirical research (Watts, 1996).

Religious groups are similar in ways to other groups but are unique as well, due to hopes or expectations of eternal life, and eternal group membership is often implicit (Ysseldyk, Matheson, & Anisman, 2010). Goals can be connected to a transcendental future, when “the psychological future is partitioned into pre- and post-death time frames” (Boyd & Zimbardo, 1997, p. 36). Watts proposes that the ability of religion to offer ways to impact individual emotions is connected to providing “an unusually comprehensive framework of meaning” (2007, p. 506). Averill (1996) states that “religion is the source of some of our most profound emotional experiences” (p. 90). Emmons (2005) points out that especially painful emotions can be handled in the context of a religious meaning system, and Van Cappelen and co-researchers found, as the result of spiritual and religious activities, wellbeing, due to the activation of positive emotions (Van Cappellen, Toth-Gauthier, Saroglou, & Fredrickson, 2016).

Emotion regulation is part of the broader theoretical constructs self-regulation and self-control, which have been connected to the field of religiousness and spirituality. For instance, when the superior goal is to override impulses with more long-term, higher-order goals, religious individuals aim for standards for how things should be in future (Aldwin, Park, Jeong, & Nath, 2014; Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). The emotion regulative function of religiosity has been deemed central, though it has been sparsely researched empirically (Beckford, 2011; Emmons, 2005; Watts, 2007). There has been a research gap between the psychology of religion and psychology of emotion (Watts, 1996) as well as emotion regulation research (Watts, 2007). We chose to make use of emotion regulation perspective in a qualitative study of 29 active Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) from a Norwegian context.

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