Concepts of God

Fortunately in my job a lot of good publication material comes across my desk or computer screen. This one grabbed my attention and I thought I would share it with you.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education daily report, Magazine & Journal Reader, Wednesday, February 22, 2006 (requires subscription):

A glance at the March issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion: Mother, father, and God. By Peter Monaghan

It is well-established that children's ideas about God rely heavily on their relationships with their parents, suggesting that conceptions of God stem from a developmental process. Some researchers also suggest, however, that by young adulthood, self-concept and self-esteem play a greater role than parental influence. Jane R. Dickie, a professor of psychology and director of women's studies at Hope College, in Michigan, set out to see how, and whether, that shift took place.

Ms. Dickie and three co-authors describe a study in which they used standard tests and interviews to measure the self-concept of 132 college students, along with the importance of religion in the students' lives and the nature of their relationship with their parents. The researchers also explored how their subjects rated their parents, God, and themselves in such terms as closeness, nurturing, power, and "punishing/judging." They found that the influence of parents persists into adulthood, particularly the influence of mothers, who typically spend more time with children than fathers.

But the researchers found that outcomes differed according to gender. "For men," they write, "mothers are responsible, more than fathers, for creating a climate for sons' self-esteem through nurturance and discipline, which in turn contributes to seeing God as nurturing, feeling close to God, and being more religious. For women, mothers and fathers create a model of nurturance and power, which contributes to seeing God as nurturing and powerful." And, when parents are punishing and judgmental, that leads their children, as young adults, to conceive of God as punishing and judging.

Even then, however, men's and women's conceptions differ: "Men perceive God to be more punishing/judging than women do, while women perceive God to be more nurturing." The differences seem to stem from "attachment theory coupled with gender socialization," the authors conclude. And so, "in today's more gender-aware times, it is still mothers who have the greatest impact on implicit God concepts," they write. "Men still see God as more punishing/judging, while women see God as more nurturing. And even when God is seen as 'male,' it is mothers' qualities, especially mothers' power, that best predict the image of God as powerful."

The article, "Mother, Father, and Self: Sources of Young Adults' God Concepts," is available to subscribers or for purchase at http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2006.00005.x

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