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Parental Influences on God Images among Children: Testing Durkheim's Metaphoric Parallelism

Bradley R. Hertel and Michael J. Donahue
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 186-199
DOI: 10.2307/1386764
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1386764
Page Count: 14
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Parental Influences on God Images among Children: Testing Durkheim's Metaphoric Parallelism
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Abstract

According to Durkheim, religion provides society with a collective conscience, conferring supernatural validation of the dominant values, norms, and social structure. Winter (1977:27) characterizes this perspective as metaphoric parallelism whereby "theistic assertions are metaphorical representations of social facts, that is,... there is a parallel between the characteristics attributed to the gods and real properties of the social world." Durkheim's thesis is tested for parallels between parenting styles reported by children and the images of God held by both generations. Clear evidence was found for parallel between the God-human and parent-child relationships, indicating some degree of congruence between intrafamilial social structure and the images believers hold of the divine. These findings are based on data for more than 3,400 mother-father-youth triads in a nationwide sample of families who completed surveys in 1982-1983 by Search Institute. Support for Durkheim's thesis for this sample of 5th through 9th graders and their parents withstood the introduction of controls for a battery of other relevant influences on God images including social class, age of child, denomination, and church attendance of parents and youth.

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