Prof. Dr. Sebastian Murken


During the last 15 years, our department collected more than 1.5 million € of third-party funds for several projects in the field of  Psychology of Religion. Essential contributions were made by VolkswagenStifung, Deutsche Krebshilfe [German Cancer Relief] and Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend [Federal Ministry for the Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth].

Many of the publications which were the result of these projects you can download on this page for your personal use.

The main focus of my research are questions around the topics of „Religion and Sickness or Health“, „Phenomena of Modern Spirituality“ and „Membership in So-Called Sects“.  

Taking part in the different projects of, and contributing to publications of, the Psychology of Religion Research Group (1998 to 2014, University of Trier) were the following:

Sussan Namini, Claudia Müller, Claudia Appel, Sabine Gross, Dorota Reis, Michael Schmiedel, Christian Zwingmann, Stefan Huber, Claudia Zieroff, Daniel Böttger, Franziska Dambacher, as well as many assistants and trainees.   

All the projects and activities of the research team were supported institutionally and with regard to content, by my employer, the Psychosomatische Fachklinik St. Franziska-Stift, Bad Kreuznach (link), and especially by its Medical Director Prof. Dr. Heinz Rüddel whose contribution cannot be rated too highly.

To give you an idea of the projects we have been working on during the last two years, I would like to present two of those projects in more detail:


Coping with Critical Events through Religion – Coping with Sickness as shown by the Example of Breast-Cancer Patients


Publications in English

Project Director: Dr. Sebastian Murken
Research Assistant: Dipl.-Psych. Claudia Müller

Publications in English

  • Murken, S., Müller, C., Huber, S., Rüddel, H. & Körber, J. (2004). The Role of Religion for Coping with Breast Cancer. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 11, Supplement, 332.
  • Müller, C. (2006). Religiosity as a means of coping with death anxiety in breast cancer patients. In S. Murken & D. Hutsebaut (Eds.), International Association for the Psychology of Religion. Conference of 2006. Program and Book of Abstracts (pp. 78-79). Leuven/Belgium: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.
  • Zwingmann, C., Wirtz, M., Müller, C., Körber, J. & Murken, S. (2006). Positive and negative religious coping in German breast cancer patients. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29, 533-547. Download: pdf (252 KB)
  • Zwingmann, C., Müller, C., Körber, J. & Murken, S. (2008). Religious commitment, religious coping and anxiety: A study in German patients with breast cancer. European Journal of Cancer Care, 17, 361-370.

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr. Sebastian Murken


Self-Chosen Membership in New Religious Communities: Psycho-Social Reasons and Consequences


The Project - Reference - Project Publications in English

Project Director: Dr. Sebastian Murken
Research Assistants: Dipl.-Psych. Sussan Namini, 
Michael A. Schmiedel, M.A. (until April 2005)

Funding (May 2002 – September 2007): VolkswagenStiftung

This project developed in the context of the German "sect debate," which eventually lead to the establishment of the Governmental Enquete Commission „So-called Sects and Psychogroups“. From 1996 to 1998 the commission's assignment was to analyze conflicts and problems in the area of new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups and to find solutions, but not to evaluate faith claims. The freedom of religion guaranteed by the German constitution and the official neutrality regarding religion and worldviews were to remain untouched by the commission – principles to which the Psychology of Religion Research Group adheres, too.

In 1998, in its final report, the Enquete Commission concluded that new religious and ideological groups do not pose a threat to society. On the level of the individual they were found to have the potential to cause serious problems as well as individual and social benefits. The offers of the groups were considered to be possible answers to individuals' life problems and search for meaning. The extent of the fit between the offer of a group and the individual's needs („cult-need-fit“) seemed to play a particular role in the individual's experience.

The Psycholoy of Religion Research Group's project on self-chosen membership in new religious movements follows up the Enquete Commission's work. In a  longitudinal, multimethod research study the process of deciding about joining a new religious movement and the early phase of self-chosen membership are investigated.

The main questions which guide our reserach are the following:

  • Are there particular individual factors like biographical situation, personality characteristics, and religious background that predispose to membership in a particular religious group?
  • What are the psychosocial and religious consequences of a (temporary or lasting) membership? E.g.: Do social environment, well-being, religiosity change? If yes: How do they change? How can the changes be explained?
  • Are there characteristics of the individual that allow prognoses regarding the duration of membership? Which role does the "fit" between individual and group play?

At the first measurement point in spring 2002 seventy-one new members were interviewed (personally and in writing). They belonged to one of the following three religious groups which are considered new insofar as they arose in the course of the 19th century: Jehovah's Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, and a Pentecostal group. Three more measurement points could be realized, the last one in late spring 2006. The religious, psychological, and social development of the individuals is studied under consideration of the specific group chosen. In the second part of the project, the study design was extended. A parallelized comparison group of individuals who grew up in the three groups and remained there was included in the study.


  • The English translation of the "Final Report of the Enquete Commission on 'So-Called Sects and Psychogroups.' New religious and ideological communities and psychogroups in the Federal Republic of Germany" (ed. Deutscher Bundestag, 1998) is online available at:

Project Publications in English

  • Murken, S. & Namini, S. (2005). Choosing a religion as an aspect of religious identity formation in modern societies. In A. T. Wasim, A. Mas'ud, E. Franke & M. Pye (Hrsg.), Religious harmony. Problems, practice and education. Proceedings of the regional conference of the International Association for the History of Religions in Yogyakarta and Semarang, Indonesia. September 27th - October 3rd 2004 (pp. 269-281). Yogyakarta: Oasis.
  • Murken, S. & Namini, S. (2006). Choosing a religion as an aspect of religious identity formation in modern societies. In M. Pye, E. Franke, A. T. Wasim & A. Mas´ud (Ed.), Religious harmony: Problems, practice, and education. Proceedings of the regional conference of the International Association for the History of Religions, Yogyakarta and Semarang, Indonesia, September 27th - October 3rd, 2004 (pp. 289-301). Berlin: De Gruyter. [Reprint]
  • Murken, S. & Namini, S. (2007). Childhood familial experiences as antecedents of adult membership in new religious movements: A literature review. Nova Religio, 10(4), 17-37. Download: pdf (135 KB)
  • Namini, S. & Murken, S. (2008). Familial antecedents and the choice of a new religious movement. Which person in which religious group? Nova Religio, 11(3), 83-103. Download: pdf (203 KB)
  • Namini, S. & Murken, S. (2009). Self-chosen involvement in new religious movements (NRMs): Well-being and mental health from a longitudinal perspective. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 12, 561-585. (Abstract)
  • Namini, S., Appel, C., Jürgensen, R. & Murken, S. (2010). How is well-being related to membership in new religious movements? An application of person-environment fit theory. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 59, 181-201. (Abstract)
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