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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: September 2012

3 - Cultural Differences in Self-Awareness in Adolescence Pathways to Spiritual Awareness

from Part One - Theoretical Perspectives on Values, Religion, and Adolescent Development in Cultural Context



Self-awareness increases dramatically for adolescents worldwide. We seek to understand how cultural differences in self-awareness may contribute to cultural differences in spiritual awareness among adolescents. The focus is on comparisons between European-Americans and East Asians. There is little research on cultural differences in self-awareness, despite substantial evidence of cultural differences in its key components: (1) the vantage point of awareness – whether it is a first person perspective, from the inside-out (European-Americans) or a third person perspective, from the outside-in (East Asians); (2) the conception of self and of standards – whether self is seen as relatively independent and standards are based on personal desires and ideals (European-Americans) or self is seen as interdependent and standards are based on social obligations and norms (East Asians); and (3) the nature of self-evaluation – whether it is focused on enhancing esteem (European-Americans) or maintaining face (East Asians). We suggest that self-awareness may activate mortality salience and thereby may elicit cultural worldviews. Cultural differences in self-awareness leads to different spiritualities that present different “worldview” defenses against the existential concerns engendered by the interaction of self-awareness and mortality salience. Salvation through prayer and through good deeds, and approval from a loving God, common in Christianity, alleviate European-Americans’ mortality concerns. By contrast, meditation, self change, and unity with the universe, common in Buddhism, alleviate East Asians’ mortality concerns.


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