The LAM scales attempt to mea­ sure an individual’s characteristic interpre­tive style with respect to biblical or theolog­ical assertions. Three styles (on which the LAM acrostic is based) are represented: (I) the literal (L) style, which involves straight­ forward, face-value endorsement of an assertion; (2) the antiliteral (A) style, embod­ied in straightforward, face-value rejection of an assertion; and (3) the mythological (M) style, characterized by neither straight­ forward endorsement nor rejection but by reinterpretation of an assertion in nonliteral or symbolic terms.


 Hunt’s (1972a) stated rationale for developing the LAM scales was to ad­ dress what he perceived to be a fundamen­talistic bias inherent in contemporary ap­proaches to measuring religiosity. Specifically, he argued that the wording of such measures seemed to equate religiosity with wholehearted assent to the literal truth of a given set of (typically Christian) theo­ logical statements. As a result, religious per­ sons who interpreted such statements in a more symbolic, nonliteral fashion might­ owing to a lack of alternatives-errantly misclassify themselves as “nonreligious” by rejecting the statements’ literal endorse­ment. Thus, in the LAM scales, Hunt at­ tempted to tap not only the customary literal and antiliteral response styles but also a third, symbolic style that he labeled “mytho­logical.”

The LAM scales themselves consist of 17 (out of an original 25) theological state­ments, each followed by 3 (occasionally 4) interpretive responses. Each response, in turn, begins with either “agree” or “dis­ agree,” followed by a brief justification based on literal, antiliteral, or symbolic grounds. Hunt (1972a) offered two scoring methods; both are ipsative, i.e., scores on the 3 scales are not independent of each other. The first method involves assigning either 2, 1, or points to a response based whether the respondent ranked it as first, second, or third (fourth) closest to his or her own position (the “2-1-0” method). The sec­ond option involves assigning a score of 1 to the top-ranked response to each item, and to all other responses (the “1-0-0” method). Classification as L, A, or is based on the highest of the respondent’s 3 scores. Hunt himself recommended the sec­ond scoring method on the basis of minimal inter scale correlations (but in the absence of clear theoretical justification; see discussion under “Validity”).

Other item formats and scoring ap­proaches have also been used. Poythress (1975; see also Orlowski, 1979), for exam­ple, combined each of the 17 theological statements with its respective interpretive responses to create items to which responses

could be recorded using a -2 (strongly dis­ agree) to +2 (strongly agree) Likert-type re­sponse format. Classification is again deter­ mined on the basis of the highest score (or a combination of scores; see Poythress, 1975).

Practical Considerations:

 The LAM scales are relatively short and easy to administer in a paper-and-pencil format. Explicit instruc­tions are not provided, although Hunt (1972a) stated that “subjects were asked to respond by ranking each set of three [four] alternatives according to the extent to which each expresses his [sic] personal opinion” (p. 44). Because responses are keyed, scor­ing presents no difficulty via the Likert or either of the ipsative methods. Statistical analyses based on the ipsative scoring meth­ods are a bit complex and difficult to inter­pret for the nonspecialist, however. Hunt (1972a) noted that the lack of independence among the LAM scales’ scores alters the meaning of inter scale correlation coeffi­cients, for example. An additional concern is that the LAM scales assume not only a relatively high reading level but also sophistication with a rather specialized (i.e., lib­eral Protestant) theological tradition (see Greeley, 1972). Removal of sexist language present in several items should also be con­sidered prior to administration.


 The original sam­ple consisted of 88 female and 85 male un­dergraduates at Southern Methodist Univer­sity. Hunt (1972a), using his preferred 1-0-0 scoring method, reported means of 3.1, 3.3, and 10.0 for women, and 3.6, 4.7, and 8.1 for men on the L, A, and M scales, respec­tively. (None of the apparent sex differences was significant; mean scores summed across the 3 scales cannot exceed approxi­mately 17 due to their nonindependence.) Poythress (1975) did not report means. Or­ lowski (1979) reported Likert-based means of 3.74 (L), 1.71 (A), and 3.62 (M) among 82 members of a Roman Catholic religious order; he did not, however, specify scale ranges.


 Hunt (1972a) reported reliabil­ity coefficients of .87 (L), .92 (A), and .77 via Gullikson’s variance-covariance procedure. Poythress’s (1975) Likert-type items yielded Spearman-Brown corrected split-half reliability coefficients of .94 (L),.95 (A), and .76 (M); Orlowski (1979) re­ ported somewhat lower coefficients using the same method (i.e., .83 for L, .71 for A, and .67 for M). Thus, reliabilities appear ad­ equate, although consistently lower for M.


 Deficiencies with respect to sup­ port for the validity of the LAM scales have begun to be addressed only recently. In his original report, Hunt (1972a) found a strong positive and a strong negative corre­lation, respectively, between the L and A scales and McLean’s (1952) Religious Worldviews Scale, offering some evidence of convergent validity. The obtained correlations are hardly surprising, however, in that the stems used to construct the LAM scales’ items are based on items from McLean’s scale. Of somewhat greater value, however, the M scale was found to be unrelated to McLean’s scale, which is consistent with Hunt’s claim that the M scale taps an interpretive style not ad­ dressed in traditional measures of religiosity (although this does not help to establish what the M scale in fact measures).

Orlowski (1979) provided some support for the convergent validity of the LAM scales: In his Franciscan sample, L and M self-ratings were reliably positively corre­lated with peer-observers’ respective L and M ratings of the same individuals. Ratings on the A scale were not reliably related, however, which Orlowski attributes, in part, to the restricted variance associated with these ratings. Another possible expla­nation is that the explicitly religious social surround-a Roman Catholic religious order-may have suppressed behavioral ex­ pression of any antiliteral tendencies among sample respondents, resulting in a discrepancy between privately held and publicly endorsed (i.e., peer-observable) in­terpretive styles.

More recently, using a substantially re­ vised instrument, vander Lans (1991) found some support for the predictive validity of the L and M (“metaphorical”) scales. Specifically, structured interviews of ex­treme Land M scorers revealed that the latter tended to approach religious language and symbols in a less concrete, more flexi­ble manner than did the former. None the­ less, a number of validity issues warrant fur­ther attention.

The first issue concerns the dimensional­ity of the LAM scales. Hunt’s (1972a) stated rationale for developing his scales was to disentangle the “literal-symbolic” and the “conservative-liberal” (or “reli­gious-nonreligious,” see Hunt, 1993) interpretive dimensions, which he believed to be confounded in traditional measures of reli­giosity. It is unclear whether Hunt regarded these dimensions as orthogonal (i.e., inde­pendent of each other); if so, the extant scales seem to represent only the literal-re­ligious (L), literal-nonreligious (A), and symbolic-religious (M) alternatives-miss­ing is a symbolic-nonreligious alternative. Northover, Montoro-Gonzalez, and Hunt (1993) dealt with this omission by assum­ing a different dimensional structure, wherein literal and antiliteral interpretive styles represent endpoints of a single bipo­lar dimension, with the mythological style representing a sort of neutral or noncom­mittal position.

Uncertainties regarding the dimensional structure of the LAM fuel questions con­cerning what exactly the M scale measures. The recent validation studies by vanderLans (1991) are somewhat helpful here, but other questions have yet to be adequately addressed. For example, is the mythological interpretive style in fact the most “mature” style, as Hunt (1972a) claimed? To illus­trate, it can be argued that the M scale mea­ sures, at least in part, a sort of theological latitudinarianism regarded as socially re­spectable in mainstream religious denomi­nations, i.e., that it taps the tendency to adopt a truce-like stance with respect to the clashing stances of the hardcore religiously and scientifically orthodox (as respectively represented in the L and A scales) . Estab­lishing the truth or falsehood of this inter­pretation of the M scale is a matter for fu­ture research.

A final issue concerns the representative­ ness of M scale response alternatives. As Greeley (1972) noted, M-scored responses on the LAM scales have a decidedly human­istic, liberal Protestant tone that is not ex­haustive of possible symbolic reinterpreta­tions, a point that Hunt (1972b, 1993) has conceded. Thus, an individual whose pre­ dominant interpretive style is mythological may agree with the spirit but not the letter of M scale responses, and may therefore respond somewhat inconsistently. This may partially explain the lower reliability of the scale as compared to the L and A scales (see “Reliability”).

The LAM Scales

Please rank each set of alternatives according to the extent that alternative expresses your per­sonal opinion. Place a “l” next to the alternative that best matches your opinion, a “2” next to the alternative that next best matches your opinion, etc.

  • I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
  1. L 1. Agree, since available evidence proves God made everything.
  2. A 2. Disagree, since available evidence suggests some type of spontaneous creation for which it is unnecessary to assume a God to create.
  3. M 3. Agree, but only in the sense that this is an anthropomorphic way of talking about whatever Process, Being, or Ultimate Concern stands behind the creative process.
  • I believe that men working and thinking together can build a just society without super­ natural help.
  1. L 1. Disagree, since man without God’s help can do very little that is good.
  2. A 2. Agree, since men have and are increasing the ability and technical knowledge to improve society if they will apply this knowledge to the problems of society.
  3. M 3. Disagree, although men’s ability and technical knowledge is increasing, they must build on the ultimate power within oneself [sic] to understand and accomplish the full implications of justice and a good society.
  • The writings of such commentators on human life as Plato, Aristotle, Dante, and Shake­ speare are as much inspired as are the writings of Moses and Paul.
  1. L l. Disagree, because the writings of Moses and Paul contain a special inspiration from God which other human writings do not have.
  2. 2. Agree, since there is really little difference in these writings. In fact, Plato and
  3. Aristotle may be even more important for us than Moses or Paul.
  4. 3. Disagree, although any writing may be inspired, the writings of Moses and Paul are especially significant because they form part of the revelation of God in his­ tory.
  • All miracles in the Bible are true.
  1. L 1. Agree, because the Bible cannot contain any false report of God’s work.
  2. A 2. Disagree, since “miracles” can be explained by our modem understanding of the principles by which nature and human society operate.
  3. M 3. Agree, but only in the sense that “miracles” are a dramatic report and interpreta­ tion of a natural process, with the literary purpose of pointing to the sovereignty of God. They are probably not factually accurate.
  4. M 4. Perhaps, since there is considerable evidence for extra-physical power used by a few persons in every major cultural tradition, though there is no clear scientific proof.
  • Jesus was born of a virgin in a manner different from human beings.
  1. A 1. Disagree, although most religions claim a virgin birth for their founder, we know that such an event is physically impossible.
  2. M 2. Agree, but only in the sense that this is an ancient mythological way of talking about the Ultimate Reality as manifested in Jesus.
  3. L 3. Agree, since God conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb before she had sexual rela­ tionship with her Joseph, her husband.
  • The attempt to believe in a supernatural being is a sign of a person’s failure to accept responsibility for his own life.
  1. A 1. Agree, since belief in God is usually an escape from the problems of everyday life. Such belief does nothing to help solve one’s problem.
  2. L 2. Disagree, because belief in God is really the only way in which man can be saved and make his life worthwhile.
  3. M 3. Disagree, since belief in God is basically man’s way of talking about his full ac­ceptance of personal responsibility in the face of ultimate and sometimes uncer­tain reality.
  • I believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  1. I. Agree, since God has said that he will be with us always. Prayer thus is an effec­tive way of listening to God’s guidance.
  2. 2. Disagree, since the supernatural, if it exists at all, is in no way directly involved in telling man what to do.
  3. 3. Agree, because this is one way of describing the involvement of God with his cre­ation and man.
  • The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
  1. L I. Agree, since God created man and expects man to do God’s will at all times.
  2. A 2. Disagree, since man must find his own purposes in life. There are probably no purposes for man which are apparent in nature.
  3. 3. Agree, because the essential purpose of God is that man achieve his own maxi­ mum fulfillment through personal development and service to others.
  4. M 4. Agree, since the individual who enjoys God’s creation and serves his fellow man is at the same time glorifying God.
  • I believe Hell is a form of existence in a future life.
  1. M I. Disagree, since Hell is not a future life existence, but rather a present state in this life which occurs when man disregards his own code of ethics and/or rights of other individuals.
  2. A 2. Disagree, since there is little, if any, evidence for any type of existence after this life.
  3. L 3. Agree, since there is ample evidence in the Bible and other authoritative sources for Hell as a form of future existence.
  • The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, contain some legendary materials.
  1. A I. Agree, since most of the material in the gospels cannot be supported by other his­ torical sources or is not relevant to life in today’s world.
  2. L 2. Disagree, since nothing in the four gospels could be legendary or in error, because these are part of the Bible and therefore infallible.
  3. M 3. Agree, but this does not deny the basic purpose of the gospels, which is to use writ­ ten language (however inadequate) to announce God’s revelation of himself to man.
  • We are made for fellowship with God and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.
  1. M I. Agree, although this is merely a way of talking about the ultimate nature of man’s activities as being in some way related to God’s purposes.
  2. A 2. Disagree, since man’s restlessness results from his inability to identify with a group of persons and enjoy people about him, not in a supposed relation to some God.
  3. L 3. Agree, since God’s basic purpose in creating man is so that man can be a com­panion to God.
  • Man is saved by the free gift of God’s grace.
  1. L I. Agree, since the Bible clearly states that salvation is by man’s faith in God and his grace.
  2. A 2. Disagree, since whatever salvation there is must come through man’s work in the world about him.
  3. M 3. Agree, since this is a traditional expression which really refers to the uncondi­tional nature of God’s grace toward man.
  • The biblical writers were endowed with a divine wisdom which enabled them to foretell specific events in the distant future.
  1. M l. Disagree, since the basic purpose of prophecy in the Bible was to announce God’s judgment of the ways in which that present generation failed to act in harmony with God’s purposes for man.
  2. L 2. Agree, since many of these prophecies either came true in earlier history, in the Bible, or are coming true in the world today.
  3. A 3. Disagree, since biblical writers had no greater wisdom than other men of their day. Any prophecies which may have come true were the result of a knowledge of cause and effect which any man could achieve.
  • Man is ultimately responsible to God.
  1. A l. Disagree, because man is finally responsible only to himself and his society.
  2. 2. Agree, because this is a way of describing the basic assumption upon which all other concepts of responsibility depend.
  3. L 3. Agree, because God has created man in his image and expects man to do God’s will.
  • God is only a symbol of man’s ideals.
  1. M l. Disagree, although man’s experiences may be symbolized in the image of God, the reality of God always transcends man’s symbols for that reality.
  2. A 2. Agree, since religious men tend to ascribe to God their own highest ideals.
  3. L 3. Disagree, since there is clear evidence for a real God who is much more than just the result of man’s rational powers.
  • Jesus walked on water and raised the dead.
  1. A 1. Disagree, since these are probably exaggerated reports of events which could be explained through our knowledge of nature.
  2. L 2. Agree, since there are several accounts in which Jesus actually brought a physi­cally dead person back to life. These accounts provide evidence for God’s power over nature.
  3. M 3. Agree, but only in the sense that these are figurative ways of describing man’s awareness of the meaning of life in relation to the revelation of God.
  • The biblical story of creation is probably based on one of the early Babylonian myths.
  1. M 1. Agree, but the basic purpose of the creation story is to symbolize God’s creative and redemptive relation to the universe and to man.
  2. L 2. Disagree, since the biblical story of creation has not been duplicated in any way at any time. It refers to God’s creation of the world and man.
  3. A 3. Agree, since most religions provide such a creation story. Modem scientific theo­ries of the origin of the universe have replaced these ancient accounts.


Hunt, R. A. (1972). Mythological-symbolic reli­gious commitment: The LAM scales. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, I I, 42-52. (Note that only the 17 final items are shown in the appen­ dix of this review, not the entire 25 as declared in the text.)

Recent Research:

Jablonski, P., Grzymala-Moszczynska, H., van derLans, J. (1994). Interpretation of religious language among Poles and the Dutch: Cognitive competence or cultural construction? Polish Psy­ chological Bulletin, 25, 283-302.

Kalecinska-Adamczyk, E. (l 995). Religion and anti-Semitism: The influence of the social approval of prejudices on the tendency to manifest them in behavior. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 26, 158-160.


Greeley, A. M. (1972). Comment on Hunt’s “Mythological-symbolic religious commitment: The LAM scales.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 11, 287-289.

Hunt, R. A. (1972a). Mythological-symbolic re­ligious commitment: The LAM scales. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 11, 42-52.

Hunt, R. A. (1972b). Reply to Greely. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 11, 290-292.

Hunt, R. A. (l 993). Response to Northover and Gonzalez. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 3, 201-204.

McLean, M. (l 952). Religious world views. Motive, 12, 22-26.

Northover, W. E., Montoro-Gonzalez, L., Hunt, R. A. (l 993). A cross-cultural comparison of religious belief: Canadian and Spanish students’ re­sponses to the Hunt scale. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 3, I87-199.

Orlowski, C. D. (1979). Linguistic dimension of religious measurement. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 18, 306-311.

Poythress, N. G. (1975). Literal, antiliteral, and mythological religious orientations. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 14, 271-284.

vander Lans, J. M. (l 991). Interpretation of re­ligious language and cognitive style: A pilot study with the LAM scale. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, I, 107-123.

Hunt, R. A. (1972). Mythological-symbolic religious commitment: The LAM Scales. Journal for the Scien­tific Study of Religion, 11, 42-52. Copyright © 1972 Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.