The Spiritual Themes and Reli­gious Responses Test (STARR) is a projec­tive instrument designed to generate data of a general spiritual and religious nature. Modeled after the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), it attempts to tap conscious and unconscious material from the individual being tested. Depending on the instructions given, the instrument may elicit informa­tion on a number of specific dimensions of religious experience, including representa­tion of God, relationship with God, reli­gious institutions, nature of the world, life themes, religious symbols, prayer, and de­ pendency. In addition, self and object repre­sentations are often reflected in the test ma­terial.


The test consists of 11 stimu­lus cards that are black and white pho­tographs of people in postures that may be construed as prayerful. The photographs tend to elicit not only prayer content but also universal themes such as solitude, grief, joy, awe, celebration of life, family re­latedness, and death. A broad range of ages, religious practices, and races is represented. In a number of cards, gender is ambiguous, which seems to increase the extent to which subjects of both sexes project onto the cards. Likewise, the photographs are am­biguous regarding affect and outcome, en­couraging projection of the subject’s own thoughts, emotions, concerns, and conflicts in response to the cards.

Similar to the TAT, the test is based on the assumption that individuals may project their own conscious and unconscious striv­ings, dispositions, and conflicts onto un­ structured or ambiguous stimuli. The STARR photographs were chosen to elicit religious themes beyond those of personal­ity and world view typically generated by the TAT. The authors of the STARR were particularly interested in assessing uncon­scious aspects of God representation and re­ligious development, which have been in­creasingly addressed in contemporary psychoanalytic literature (Jones, 1991; Mc­Dargh, 1983; Meissner, I 984; Rizzuto, 1979), yet have seldom been adequately tested.

The authors suggest that at least 8 of the 11 stimulus cards be administered to each subject to ensure adequate repetition of themes. A number of instructional sets may be used, depending on which religious variables are of interest to the interviewer. The Saurs describe two primary instructional sets. In Instructional Set I, the test adminis­trator states that he or she is interested in studying prayer, thus offering a broad reli­gious backdrop to the testing process. Then the subject is presented with each card and is asked to tell a story describing what is happening in each situation, what leads up to it, and how it ends. In addition, the sub­ject is asked what the main character is thinking and feeling. The data elicited by this process may be interpreted in a number of ways, though the authors suggest seven categories into which much of the data can be organized. These categories are religious institutions, representation of God, nature of the world, life themes, religious sym­bols, prayer, and dependency. In Instruc­tional Set II, the test administrator states that “these are photographs of people in prayer. Your task is to make up or describe the prayer.” A helpful prompt may be added: “Please talk about the prayer in the photograph.” Data gathered in this manner may be more specific to the person’s rela­tionship to God. The authors suggest that this material be organized into the categories of prayer descriptions, self represen­tations, object representations, and relation­ ship to God.

The authors also note that alternative in­structional sets may be used to elicit other types of religious material. Information about stages of faith may be prompted by asking the subjects, “What does the person in the photograph believe about God?” An­ other alternative instructional method pro­ vides a story along with a picture and then asks for the outcome. This seems to elicit expectations that the person has of God and the assumptions made about the action of God in the person’s life. Spear (1993) added to Instructional Set I a prompt about what God was thinking and feeling, which helped elicit further information regarding God representation.

The authors suggest that interpretations of the data may be based on various the­matic categories or specific research ques­tions at hand, although they note that material gathered in testing may also be organized by offering a basic descriptive and thematic summary of the responses of each subject. Although the authors have primarily used qualitative approaches to interpret the test material, they do note that less subjective quantitative methods of scoring are possi­ble. Thusfar, three other researchers have used quantitative techniques for scoring the STARR. Spear (1993) scored the STARR by rating responses according to the factors in Gorsuch’s Adjective Ratings of God. Ozo­rak and Kosiewicz (1994) coded responses for themes of separation and connectedness, themes of power and love, nature of prayers, focus of prayers, and whether the prayers were answered or not. Misner (1995/1994 ), in an attempt to create an ob­jective, reliable means of scoring responses to the STARR, developed a scale that as­sesses 12 dimensions of spirituality, includ­ing psychological mindedness, identifica­tion with others, capacity for mature relatedness, affect prior to prayer, affect fol­ lowing prayer, world view, degree of resolu­tion experienced following prayer, attach­ment style, coping style, type of prayer, type of need expressed, and theological theme expressed.

Practical Considerations:

This test must be administered and interpreted by someone trained in the use of projective testing, with specific approval of the author, Marilyn Saur. It takes approximately 45 minutes to administer, depending on the instructional set and number of cards used. While the au­thors offer suggestions regarding interpretation of the data, professional training and skills in assessing projective material are re­ quired to adequately interpret the data. Use of quantitative scoring systems for the STARR likewise requires rater training. The specific purpose of the test may vary, de­ pending on the questions of concern to the interviewer and the instructional sets cho­ sen. Given the variety of instructional sets suggested by the author, researchers or clin­icians may find the test particularly adapt­ able for use in testing conscious and uncon­scious aspects of a number of different religious variables. Although the test has been used only in research to date, Marilyn Saur is currently developing administration, interpretation, and training guidelines for use of the STARR in psychotherapy and spiritual direction as well.


Normative data for the STARR is quite limited, given the pro­jective nature of the test and limited use of the test in quantitative research. The instru­ment was first pilot tested on five male and five female adults between the ages of 40 and 48. A later study by the authors in­cluded 15 adults between the ages of 35 and 50, a third of whom were active participants in a conservative Jewish congregation, a third of whom were active in the Episcopal Church, and third of whom were not cur­rently active in any religious tradition. Sub­ sequent studies have gathered data from 39 students attending a Christian college and 29 students attending a private liberal arts college in California (Spear, 1993), 72 college students attending a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania (Ozorak & Kosiewicz, 1994), and 42 adults between the ages of 28 and 51 recruited from Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches in the Midwest (Misner, 1994/ 1995). The last three studies used quantita­tive scoring systems for the STARR, al­ though means for religious variables tested by the STARR were reported only in the Ozorak and Kosiewicz study.


Reliability data on the STARR is also quite limited. Interscorer reliability for the scoring system developed by Misner (1994/1995), following thorough rater train­ ing, was reported to range from .46 for the subscale of type of need expressed to .88 for the subscales of psychological mindedness and identification with others. Internal consistency reliability is not reasonable to de­termine, since different cards were chosen to tap varying aspects of religious experi­ence, and responses in projective testing tend to vary over the course of testing ad­ ministration. No other types of reliability have been determined for the STARR at this time.


Validity is also difficult to deter­ mine for this projective test and has been ad­ dressed only in a limited way. The authors have addressed the question of whether the STARR offers access to unconscious quali­ties of one’s relationship with God by evalu­ating data gathered in their initial studies. They found that many subjects’ responses reflected a range of religious affective con­ tent that had been out of their conscious awareness prior to the testing process (Saur & Saur, 1993b). One purpose of Misner’s (1994/1995) study was to test the concurrent validity of the STARR, scored according to the Misner Spiritual Development Scale. Misner correlated STARR scores with scores on other measures of religious and psycho­ logical functioning, including the Age Uni­ versal Intrinsic-Extrinsic Scale, Quest Scale, MMPI-2, Measures of Psychosocial Devel­opment, and Rorschach Egocentricity Index. Most notable were a number of significant correlations, ranging from .36 to .58, be­ tween the Intrinsic Scale and seven of the subscales of Misner’s scoring system for the STARR, including psychological minded­ ness, identification with others, capacity for mature relatedness, and attachment style. These and other findings reported in Mis­ner’s work suggest that the STARR is useful for measuring one’s capacity for and style of religious relating, to God and others, as well as a number of other religious and psycho­ logical variables.


Saur, M. S., & Saur, W. G. (1993a). Spiritual Themes and Religious Responses Test (STARR): Preliminary Manual. Chapel Hill, NC: Author.

Saur, M. S., & Saur, W. G. (1993b). Transitional phenomena as evidenced in prayer. Journal of Reli­ gion and Health, 32, 55-65.

Permission to use this test must be obtained from Marilyn Saur, 907 Cedar Fork Trail, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-1706.

Subsequent Research:

Misner, C. (1995). The construction and prelim­inary validation of a spiritual development scale for coding a projective technique of spirituality and prayer (Doctoral dissertation, Central Michigan University, 1994). Dissertation Abstracts Interna­tional, 56, 6006B.

Ozorak, E. W., & Kosiewicz, J. D. (1994, No­ vember). The relationship of self-schema to reli­gious schemas and behaviors. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Albuquerque, NM.

Spear, K. (1993). Conscious and pre-conscious God-concepts: An object relations perspective. Un­ published doctoral dissertation, Graduate School of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.


Jones, J. W. (1991 ). Contemporary psycho­ analysis and religion. New Haven: Yale University Press.

McDargh, J. (1983). Psychoanalytic object rela­ tions theory and the study of religion. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Meissner, W. W. (1984). Psychoanalysis and reli­gious experience. New Haven: Yale University Press. Rizzuto, A. (1979). The birth of the living God. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.