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Attachment Theory and Religion: Childhood Attachments, Religious Beliefs, and Conversion

Lee A. Kirkpatrick and Phillip R. Shaver
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sep., 1990), pp. 315-334
DOI: 10.2307/1386461
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386461
Page Count: 20
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Attachment Theory and Religion: Childhood Attachments, Religious Beliefs, and Conversion
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Abstract

In this paper we argue that attachment theory, as developed by John Bowlby and refined and extended by a host of other psychological researchers, offers a potentially powerful theoretical framework for the psychology of religion. A wide range of research findings concerning such topics as images of God, conversion, and prayer can be conceptually integrated within this framework. An exploratory investigation was conducted of the relationship between individual differences in respondents' childhood attachments to their parents and their adult religious beliefs and involvement. A sample of 213 respondents to a newspaper survey on love completed a follow-up mail survey concerning their religious beliefs and family backgrounds. Multiple regression analyses revealed that certain aspects of adult religiosity, particularly beliefs about God and having a personal relationship with God, can be predicted from the interaction of childhood attachment classification and parental religiousness. Respondents who classified their childhood relationships with their mothers as avoidant (one of two insecure patterns of attachment) were more religious as adults, according to several measures, than were those classifying their childhood relationships as secure or anxious/ambivalent; however, this pattern held only when the parents were reported as having been relatively nonreligious. Respondents in the avoidant category also reported significantly higher rates of sudden religious conversions during both adolescence and adulthood, irrespective of parental religiosity. These results suggest that God and religion may function in a compensatory role for people with a history of avoidant attachment; that is, God may serve as a substitute attachment figure.

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