2011. Vol.2, No.5, 405-410
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.25063
Are the Typologies Determined by the Post-Critical Belief
Scale Predicted Well by the Religious Attitudes and
Behaviour of Maltese Undergraduate Students?
Mary Anne Lauri1, Josef Lauri2, Joseph Borg3
1Department of Psychology, University of Malta, Msida, Malta;
2Department of Mathematics, University of Malta, Msida, Malta;
3Department of Pastoral Theology and Canon Law, University of Malta, Msida, Malta.
Received May 15th, 2011; revised June 29th, 2011; accepted July 29th, 2011.
Religious beliefs play an important role in the study of religious practices and behaviour. Wulff (1997) sug-
gested that there are four basic attitudes towards religion: Literal Affirmation, Literal Disaffirmation, Reductive
Interpretation and Restorative Interpretation. Building on this work, Duriez, Soenans and Hutsebaut (2005) con-
structed the Post-Critical Belief Scale (PCBS). In their work, Duriez at al. conducted a Principal Component
Analysis of the responses to this questionnaire. It yielded two factors which partitioned 2-dimensional space into
four quadrants corresponding to the four types of beliefs postulated by Wulff (1997). The research question
which is addressed in this paper is whether there is an association between scores on the PCBS and religious
practices and behaviour in a staunchly Catholic country like Malta where over 98% are baptized in the Roman
Catholic Church. This question was addressed by administering a questionnaire to a random sample of 650 stu-
dents at the University of Malta, of which 421 completed the questionnaire. Of those who answered the ques-
tionnaire, 349 were undergraduates. The questionnaire consisted of a number of questions about religious atti-
tudes and behaviour, and also included the PCBS. The analysis of the association between membership of one of
the four belief typologies and the participants’ responses to other questions related to religious beliefs, religious
practice and sexual norms was carried out using Discriminant Analysis. The results indicate that, at least in this
sample of Maltese university students, these three measures do a reasonably good job in identifying membership
in three of Wulff’s four belie f t ypologies.
Keywords: Face Recognition, Deception
One of the most studied question in the psychology of relig-
ion is persons’ perceptions of religion and religious beliefs (for
example Bateson, 1993; Argyle, 2000; Fontaine et al., 2003).
This paper focuses on the influential work carried out by Wulff
(1997). Wulff postulated that attitudes towards religion can be
classified along two dimensions, the Inclusion vs. Exclusion of
Transcendence dimension and the Literal vs. Symbolic Dimen-
sion. He suggested that attitudes towards religion can be under-
stood by taking into consideration these two important dimen-
sions. The first dimension describes whether people accept the
existence of God or some other transcendental being or whether
they live by other guiding principles such as, for example, sci-
ence. This dimension captures the extent of the religiosity or
spirituality of the person. The second dimension describes how
consistently the expressions of religious faith such as beliefs,
images and rituals, are understood in a literal or symbolic way.
According to Wulff, these two dimensions, Inclusion vs. Ex-
clusion of Transcendence and the Literal vs. Symbolic dimen-
sion, describe the experience of religion and religious beliefs in
a person’s life. A person could fall in one of the four quadrants
created by these two dimensions, Literal affirmation, Literal
Disaffirmation, Reductive Interpretation and Restorative Inter-
pretations. In a later study, Duriez et al. 2007, describe these
same four quadrants using terminology as shown in brackets in
Figure 1.
According to Wulff, people who fall into the quadrant called
“Literal Affirmation” (or as described by Duriez et al. Literal
Inclusion) can be described as intellectually immature and
Figure 1.
Wulffs two dimensions describing attit u d es towards religion.
showing signs of “naïve credulity”. Some of the people in this
group may embrace religious fundamentalism but those who
are nearer the centre may not be particularly conservative. Like
people falling in the previously mentioned quadrant, people in
the quadrant “Literal Disaffirmation” (or Literal Exclusion)
also interpret religious language in a literal way. However these
persons reject what is written or said in the Bible and other
religious texts. These people tend to be more intellectual and
this group would embrace those who lose sight of the possibil-
ity that religious words and ideas may refer to truths which
must be understood metaphorically. The group of people who
fall within the quadrant “Reductive Interpretation” (or Sym-
bolic Exclusion) also denies the existence of the transcendental
however they go beyond this denial and claim a privileged per-
spective on the meaning of religion’s myths and rituals. Finally,
the quadrant which Wulff termed “Restorative Interpretation”
(or Symbolic Inclusion) is made up of people who believe in
the existence of a transcendental realm but, unlike people in the
Literal Inclusion quadrant who take religious language for
granted, they search for the symbolic meaning of religious ob-
jects and ideas. They are usually complex, socially sensitive,
insightful and relatively unprejudiced “post-critical” people, in
the sense that they try “to encompass and transcend the criti-
cism of religion formulated by people like Freud and Marx in
order to find a symbolic meaning in religious language which
has personal meaning” and thereby try “to go beyond the criti-
cism on religion”. For a more detailed discussion of the four
approaches the reader is referred to Wulff (1997).
The Post-Critical Belief Scale
Building on the work of Wulff, Hutsebaut (1996) constructed
a 33-item scale called the Post-Critical Belief Scale (PCBS)
which was designed to access a person’s approach to Christian
religion. Principal component analysis of the PCBS yielded a
two dimensional solution dividing the two dimensional space
into four quadrants which corresponded very well with Wulff’s
classification. The PCBS was subjected to tests to assess its
construct validity. Duriez, Fontaine and Hutsebaut (2000) found
that the subscales provide accurate measures of Wulff’s four
approaches to religion while Fontaine, Duriez, Luyten and Hut-
sebaut (2003) have shown that when individual differences in
acquiescence are corrected for, two components that can be
interpreted in terms of Inclusion vs. Exclusion of Transcen-
dence and Literal vs. Symbolic are sufficient to explain the
relation between the PCBS items. Duriez, Soenens and Hutse-
baut (2005) proposed a shortened version of the scale with 18
short items. This version correlates strongly with the version
proposed by Fontaine et al. (2003), with the correlation coeffi-
cients between scores on the long and the short scales greater
than 0.90 (Duriez, Soenens, & Hutsebaut, 2005).
In this shortened scale put forward by Duriez et al, each of
the 18 items is a simple statement and the respondents are
asked to indicate whether they agree or not with each statement
on a Likert Scale. The items try to measure the four typologies
of Wulff: Literal Inclusion (for example, the statement, “Only a
priest can answer important religious questions”); Literal Ex-
clusion (for example, “In the end, faith is nothing more than a
safety net for human fears”); Symbolic Exclusion (for example,
“There is no absolute meaning in life, only giving directions,
which are different for every one of us”); and Symbolic Inclu-
sion (for example, “The Bible holds a deeper truth which can
only be revealed by personal reflection”).
The works Duriez et al., 2000a and 2000b, especially the
former, provided the idea for this study. In these works the
researchers studied the relation between religion and racism.
They were dissatisfied with measures such frequency of church
attendance as indicators of religiosity, especially when investi-
gating the relation between religiosity and other variables. They
therefore turned to the PCBS. They concluded that while pre-
vious measures of religiosity were not sophisticated enough to
account for attitudes towards complex topics such as racism,
xenophobia and prejudice, scores on the PCBS were a better
attempt at reconciling a person’s religiosity and the person’s
attitudes towards such topics.
In this study we attempt to find out whether the shortened
PBCS is valid in a culture which is different from that in which
previous work using it has been carried out.
The PCBS is already an established scale, validated in some
populations, and it relates to a theoretical construct of Wulff.
The main motivation of our work rests on these facts and on the
research of Duriez et al. (2000a, 2000b) where it has already
been successfully used to compare religious beliefs with some
attitudes such as racism and prejudice.
In our work, the shortened PCBS together with 34 other
questions related to religious behaviour and attitudes was ad-
ministered to a random sample of students of the University of
Malta. One aim was to investigate how effective this scale is in
bringing out Wulff’s typology in a staunchly Catholic country
like Malta where over 98% of the population are baptized in the
Roman Catholic Church (World Factbook, 2008) although only
51% attend Church services regularly (Discern, 2006). It is
found that even in this sample, Principal Component Analysis
brings out Wulff’s four categories. Subsequently we proceed to
investigate how membership of one of Wulff’s categories of
religious belief is related to three areas of religious attitudes and
behaviour: 1) dogma and faith, 2) religious behaviour and 3)
sexual norms and practices. Discriminant Analysis is used in
order to study these possible associations.
The population of students at the University of Malta is just
over 10,000. To collect the data, a questionnaire was sent to a
random sample of 650 students made available by the Univer-
sity Registrar. These students came from all the Faculties, In-
stitutes and Centres of the University. The response rate was
65% (n = 421). Both undergraduate and postgraduate students
were included but since the number of postgraduate respon-
dents was small and since these respondents were older, they
were not included in this study. Moreover respondents who
failed to answer more than three of the PCBS questions were
excluded. This way, we worked with a sample of 350 respon-
dents of which 137 were male (39%) and 213 were female re-
spondents (61%). The mean age of the participants was 20.5
years; in fact, 332 students (95%) were between 17 and 23
years of age. The majority of students (91%) were Catholic,
while the other 9% said they were either Christian, or embraced
other religions or had no religion. Most students (n = 332) were
M. A. LAURI ET AL. 407
single and the maj ority (n = 325) still lived with their parents. It
is the norm in Malta for unmarried students to live with their
parents since the island is small and the single University on the
island can be reached by students in a very short time.
The questionnaire was made up of 35 questions. The first 7
questions asked for demographic data. Questions 8 to 34 inves-
tigated students’ attitudes and behavior regarding prayer, dog-
ma, participation in Church activities, and teachings of the
Catholic Church on social issues such as divorce, contraception
and premarital cohabitation. Question 35 was the shortened
version of the Post-Critical Belief Scale made up of 18 items
with responses measured on a 5-point Likert scale.
The responses to the questions in the Post-Critical Belief
Scale (Duriez, Soenens, & Hutsebaut, 2005) were first analysed.
As in previous research (e.g., Duriez et al., 2004), and as we did
in Lauri et al. (2009), a level of acquiescence estimation was
subtracted from the raw scores, after which a Principal Com-
ponent Analysis (PCA) was performed. The scree test for this
PCA clearly pointed to a two-component solution. The two
components between them accounted for 39% of the sample
variance, comparing very well with studies such as Duriez et al.
The loadings of the 18 items on the two principal compo-
nents showed that they could be interpreted as Exclusion versus
Inclusion of Transcendence and Literal versus Symbolic Inter-
pretation, as in previous studies using this scale. For example,
the first component loaded most heavily and positively on these
The Bible is a guide, full of signs in the search of God, and
not a historical account;
Despite the high number of injustices Christianity has
caused people, the original message of Christ is still
valuable for me;
and it loaded most negatively on these items:
In the end, faith is nothing more than a safety net for human
Faith is more of a dream which turns out to be an illusion
when one is confronted with the harshness of life;
The second component was most positively loaded on these
God grows together with the history of humanity and
therefore is changeable;
I am well aware that my beliefs are only one possibility
among so many others;
and it loaded most negatively on:
God has been defined for once and for all and therefore is
Only the major religions guarantee admittance to God.
We call these two extracted components INCLUSION and
SYMBOLIC, respectively. A high score on the component
INCLUSION indicates a tendency to include transcendence and
spirituality in one’s life. A high score on the component
SYMBOLIC indicates a tendency to deal with religion in a
symbolic way. Figure 2 shows the distribution of the respon-
dents along these two dimensions and how they fall within the
four typologies postulated by Wulff.
Each of the respondents was classified within one of the four
typologies as follows. Those respondents who had a positive
score on both INCLUSION and SYMBOLIC (HI/HS = High
Inclusion/High Symbolic) were placed in the “Restorative In-
terpretation” category; respondents who had a negative score on
INCLUSION and a positive score on SYMBOLIC (LI/HS =
Low Inclusion/High Symbolic) were placed in the “Reductive
Figure 2.
Distribution of participan ts a m o n gst the four typologies postulated by Wulff.
Interpretation” category; those who had a positive score on
INCLUSION but a negative score on SYMBOLIC (HI/LS)
were placed in the Literal Affirmation category; and those re-
spondents who had a negative score on both INCLUSION and
SYMBOLIC (LI/LS) were placed in the Literal Disaffirmation
category. These four categories (HI/HS; LI/HS; HI/LS and
LI/LS) formed the levels of the variable QUADRANTS. Table
1 below gives some demographic statistics of the four groups
determined by this first phase of the study.
Another aim of this study is to investigate whether respon-
dents’ scores on INCLUSION and on SYMBOLIC and their
membership of Wulff’s four typologies of religious beliefs are
associated with their views on a number of religious doctrines
and their behaviour in matters involving religion or morality.
Relationship with Faith and Dogma, Religious
Practice and Se xual Mores
Besides questions asking for demographic data, the ques-
tionnaire contained 15 items related to religious beliefs and
respondents were asked to mark those they believed in. The
items were: God, The Holy Trinity, Jesus the Son of God, The
Holy Spirit, Bodily Resurrection, Afterlife, Heaven and Hell,
the Devil, Angels, God the Creator of all that exists, The Son of
God made human (the Incarnation), Mary Mother of God, The
virginity of Mary Mother of God, The Church, The Intercession
of Saints, The Sacraments.
All these items referred to the Christian faith because the
prevailing religion of the Maltese population is by far the Ro-
man Catholic religion (Discern, 2006). For each of these items,
belief was coded as 1 and disbelief was coded as 2. A mean of
the total score on these 15 items was then calculated for each
respondent and stored in the variable FAITH. Since each item
was scored as 1 for belief and 2 for disbelief, a lower value for
FAITH denotes a higher overall belief in these items recorded
by the respondent.
The next variable we computed was related to respondents’
sexual behaviour and views. Here too they were given a num-
ber of questions to which they were to answer either yes (coded
as 1) or no (coded as 2). The questions were:
Do you approve of premarital sexual intercourse?
Do you approve of premarital cohabitation?
Do you agree that divorce should be legalised in Malta?
During the last year, did you practise sexual intercourse?
Then the variable SEXUAL_PRACTICE was defined, for
each respondent, as the average of the scores on these four
questions. Again, the lower the score on SEXUAL_PRACTICE
the more the respondent’s views agreed with the Catholic
Church’s teaching.
The next variable which we computed was participation in
religious practices. This was computed using the respondents’
answer to these questions:
How often do you go to Mass?
How often do you receive Holy Communion?
How often do you go to Confession?
All the responses were coded from 1 (most frequent) to 4
(never). The mean of the scores obtained was then calculated
for each respondent. In order to standardise these values in
relation with the variables FAITH, and SEXUAL_PRACTICE,
the average obtained was scaled according to the equation
As for the two variables FAITH and SEXUAL_PRACTICE,
the lower the value of RELIGIOUS_PRACTICE the more in
consonance was the respondent’s score with the teachings of
the Church.
In this second part of the study, discriminant analysis was
used to study how the three numerical variables are related the
categorical variable with four levels, a variable which we refer
Discriminant Analysis
The aim of this part of the study was to see how well the va-
PRACTICE could predict membership in the four Wulff ty-
pologies defined by the variable QUADRANTS. Using SPSS
Version 18 we carried out discriminant analysis with these
three variables as the explanatory variables and QUADRANT
as the predicted variable. We carried out the analysis by using a
random sample of 80% of the respondents to train the model
and then testing the model on the remaining 20%. The results
are summarized in Table 2.
The Training Sample
The analysis yielded a model which classified correctly
65.7% of the respondents in the Reductive Interpretation
(LI/HS) category, 63.2% of those in the Literal Affirmation
(HI/LS) category, and 49.3% of those in the Restorative Inter-
pretation (HI/HS) category. However, only 8.2% of those in the
Literal Disaffirmation (LI/LS) category were classified cor-
rectly; 41% of these respondents were classified in the Reduc-
tive Interpretation (LI/HS) category, and around 25% were
classified in each of the Literal Affirmation (HI/LS) category
Table 1.
Some demographic st a t i s t i c s o f t h e respond e n ts in the four typolo gies .
Literal Inclusi on
(Literal Affirmation) Literal Exclusion
(Literal Affirmation) Symbolic E xclusion
(Reductive In t erpretation) Symbolic I n clusion
(Restorative Interpre tation)
Number of participants 102 65 83 100
Percentage of sample 29.1% 18.6% 23.7% 28.6%
Roman Catholic 101 59 62 96
Christian 1 1 2 3
No religion 0 3 14 0
Male 41 24 33 39
Female 61 41 50 61
Age range 18 - 49 18 - 26 17 - 38 17 - 44
Average age in years 20.4 20 20.6 20.8
M. A. LAURI ET AL. 409
Table 2.
Correct classification into the four quadrants.
Percentage of cases correctly
classified Remarks
Cases included in model (80%) A total of 49.8% of these cases were correctly classified
Reductive Interpretation (LI/HS) 65.7%
Literal Affirmation (HI/LS) 63.2%
Restorative In terpretation (HI/HS) 49.3%
Literal Disaffirmation(LI/LS) 8.2%
41% of respondents in this category were misclassified in the
Reductive Interpretation (LI/HS) category, and around 25% were
misclassified in each of the Literal Affirmation (HI/LS) category
and Literal Aff irmations (HI/LS).
Cases not included in the model (20%) A total of 43.1% of these cases were correctly classified
Reductive Interpretation (LI/HS) 80.0%
Literal Affirmation (HI/LS) 46.7%
Restorative In terpretation (HI/HS) 50.0%
Literal Disaffir mation(LI/LS ) None Of respondents in this category, 46% were misclassified as
belonging to each of the LI/HS and H I/LS categories.
and Literal Affirmations (HI/LS). In all, the model correctly
identified 49.8% of the selected cases.
The Test Sample
The figures for the 20% respondents who were not included
in building the model were very similar (see Table 2, below)
except that now, none of the respondents in the Literal Disaf-
firmation (LI/LS) category were classified correctly—of these
46% were misclassified as belonging to each of the LI/HS and
HI/LS categories. A total of 43.1% of the respondents in the
training sampl e were correctly classified.
It therefore seems that the three variables FAITH, RELI-
of categorising the LI/HS, HI/LS and HI/HS Wulff quadrants,
certainly better than the prior probabilities from the sample
percentages as shown in Table 1. However, it is a very poor
predictor of the Literal Disaffirmation (LI/LS) category. The
question which arises is therefore why the respondents in the
Literal Disaffirmation group are not classified correctly by a
model based on faith, religious practice and sexual mores as
explanatory variables?
In our view there could be at least three possible reasons, for
the failure of the model to predict those falling in the quadrant
Literal Dissaffirmation. One reason could be that the PCBS is a
measure of attitudes, and since one’s attitudes towards religion
is a cognitive and affective measure, it is not necessarily pre-
dicted by or predicts one’s behaviour. This debate about whe-
ther attitudes predict behaviour is a long-standing debate in
social psychology and dates back to LaPierre’s study in 1934.
This classical study was succeeded by thousands of other stud-
ies on this relationship between attitudes and behaviour and
there is still no good model which can describe this association.
A second possible explanation could be that undergraduate
students are going through a developmental stage where values,
beliefs and practices are transient and maybe imposed. Almost
all Maltese university students still live with their parents and
probably must abide by their rules even though they may not
necessarily agree with them. The faith of their elders is perhaps
based on a literal interpretation of the Scripture and the
Church’s teachings, and this would be the type of religious
belief that the students are accustomed to even though they do
not necessarily agree with it. It could be that these students, as
they acquire more maturity, will come to reject this literal belief
and possibly not faith itself. Therefore their transient member-
ship of this quadrant makes it difficult to identify this cohort via
their beliefs, religious practices and sexual mores.
However, the most plausible explanation, in our view, lies in
the deep cultural dimension of Catholicism in Malta. For most
of these last two thousand years, being Maltese has been intri-
cately interwoven with being a Catholic. Catholicism is the
symbol of national identity. The Church dominates even the
physical environment and the Maltese skyline of the village
cores is still dominated by the parish churches. Catholic dogma
influences the life of the individual in a substantial way and
underpins social cohesion. The institutional Church also domi-
nates the symbolic environment and value system. What the
Church says is morally good or wrong is considered a yardstick
by which to measure behaviour. This can be evidenced by the
referendum campaign carried out in May 2011 on divorce.
Malta is one of the only two countries in the world where it is
still not possible to divorce one’s spouse. These beliefs and
values are reinforced in Sunday homilies, the weekly, and in
some cases, daily worship, as well as during the special parish
and national religious festivit i e s h e ld throughout th e year.
So, in spite of a measure of secularisation, Maltese culture
and way of life are still so imbued with Catholic beliefs, values
and practice that even a Maltese non-believer would probably
be different form a non-believer born and bred in a totally se-
cularised environment. The former, could stil l say that he or she
believes in God as it would be difficult, culturally and person-
ally, to proclaim otherwise. It could be however that the God
they believe in is a God different in “substance”. This lack of
“substance” in the God they believe in could then be manifested
in the denial of other Catholic dogmas and especially in his
neglect of Catholic moral precepts such as those about sexual
behavior. So their disbelief and literal interpretation of religious
teaching is not shared homogenously enough for them to be
good predictors of membership in this quadrant.
Also, one’s agreement or disagreement with the 18 items in
the PCBS is somewhat a private matter. On the other hand, the
responses to the questions making up the three explanatory
variables have a social element in them. For example, one can-
not miss Sunday Mass in private without friends or relatives
coming to know about it. And such actions carry the risk of
being ostracized in Catholic Malta.
Concluding Remark
The PCBS has been found to be valid in samples from coun-
tries such as Belgium, a very different scenario from Malta
which is a small staunchly Catholic island. Although we have
found that a Principal Component Analysis of responses to the
18-item questionnaire did give a two-dimensional solution
supporting previous studies carried out by Hutsenbaut, Duriez,
and others, we cannot claim that membership in Wulff’s ty-
pologies can be predicted by behaviours one would expect to be
congruent with attitudes implied by the typologies. Clearly,
more work needs to be done to assess the validity of PCBS in
different cultures. We also believe that such studies should try
to investigate possible associations between scores on the
PCBS and responses to other questions related to religiosity, as
we have tried to do in this paper. This would make PCBS a
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