What is it about?

The study compares profiles of a group of seminarians (N=62, all males) and their peers, mostly psychology students (N=100, 49 M, 51 F) studying at the same institution, the University of Malta. Although being a sample of convenience, both groups being recruited separately as part of their psychological assessment prior to their acceptance to their respective institutions, it proved useful for the sake of comparison. One important asset was that all were of the same age, of the same nationality and belonged to the same culture. The results show a significant difference particularly on the Agreeableness and Conscientiousness domains where the religious scored higher, and on the Openness domain of the NEO PI-R, specifically on the subscales of Ideas and Values, where the psychology students, both males and females, scored higher than the seminarians. Results suggest a gender difference particularly when it comes to Feeling as the scores of the seminarians were similar to their male peers. Results also suggest a combination of character traits interacting with cultural preferences (genotype vs. phenotype). One example of this is the lower score obtained by the seminarians on Excitement Seeking and their higher scores on Ideas showing a marked preference for intellectual pursuits. Finally, seminarians appear to be more cautious, logical, tidy and organized especially when compared to their female counterparts. One possible interpretation of this study is that the religious life could be appealing to certain characters more than others. These results also contribute to the religion/spirituality debate where other studies using the Big Five (Saroglou, 2002) have shown similar results when it comes to correlating the NEO subscales with the choice of religion over spirituality and vice versa. Scoring low on the Openness domain suggests a preference of an institutional religion over spirituality.

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Why is it important?

The study is important in the assessment of candidate for the religious life. Although the NEO PI-R is not meant to measure psychopathology it is a very important filter in that it can raise red flags at an early stage. More importantly, it helps to address formation work to be tailor made according to the individual's traits and strengths enhancing fulfillment in ministry and perseverance.


I hope that this study finds the interest of those who are looking for the help of psychology in the assessment, selection and formation of their candidates to the priesthood and the religious life.

Prof. Paul Galea
University of Malta

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This page is a summary of: Identifying Personality Features Related to Religious Vocation: A Comparison between Seminarians and their Peers Using the NEO Personality Inventory (Revised), Archive for the Psychology of Religion, May 2010, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1163/157361210x500892.
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