Theory in Religion, Aging, and Health: An Overview | by Jeff Levin • Linda M. Chatters • Robert Joseph Taylor
This paper provides an overview of theory in religion, aging, and health. It offers both a primer on theory and a roadmap for researchers. Four ‘‘tenses’’ of theory are described—distinct ways that theory comes into play in this ﬁeld: grand theory, mid-range theory, use of theoretical models, and positing of constructs which mediate or moderate putative religious effects. Examples are given of both explicit and implicit uses of theory. Sources of theory for this ﬁeld are then identiﬁed, emphasizing perspectives of sociologists and psychologists, and discussion is given to limitations of theory. Finally, reﬂections are offered as to why theory matters.
All empirical research is theoretically based, whether explicitly or implicitly. Even in situations characterized by relatively simple and straightforward analyses, a theoretical perspective is nonetheless always present and underlies the statistical manipulation, acknowledged or not. In Wallace’s (1969, pp. vii–viii) famous introduction to the uses of theory in the social sciences, he explained:
It does not seem to be the case that some sociological studies thoroughly implicate theory, while others are ‘‘atheoretical’’ and do not implicate theory at all; rather, all studies implicate theory, only some pay more deliberate, explicit, and formal attention to it while others pay more casual, implicit, informal attention. Theory, indeed, seems inescapable in sociology, as in every science.