About the discipline
When studying human families, it is important to look at whether and to what degree religion plays a role in human development and family relationships. Religion and religious practice can be factors that bind a family together, or enforce negative practices of child-rearing that result in isolation as children or adults. When learning about human development and families, practitioners can in many cases factor in religion as an influence for relationships, self-definition and behavior.
Over centuries, the structure and expectations of human families has changed – markedly in the modern era, with the growing acceptance of divorce, single-parent families and non-traditional families. Historically, religious beliefs have influenced people’s decisions to marry, stay together and have a family, as well as the size of the family (Catholics and Mormons, for example, frequently have large families for religious reasons), styles of child-rearing and morals taught to children.
Research: There is a growing interest in studying religion’s role in families. According to a 2003 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, adolescents in families actively involved in religious activities tend to enjoy stronger family relationships than youths whose families have less or no religious involvement. It might be that religion improves family relationships, or that youth and families already committed to high-quality family relationships choose to become more religiously involved as one strategy to pursue them. Other studies have looked at the specific types of religious behavior and frequency of occurrence in analyzing family relationships.
MU’s Center on Religion & the Professions is applying for a National Institutes of Health grant to study spirituality and health risk behaviors in adolescents, through its Spirituality and Health research project.
According to a recent poll on religion and the family conducted for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, nearly three-quarters Americans agree that “God’s plan for marriage is one man, one woman, for life.” A strong majority (71 percent) idealize the traditional family even as divorce, cohabitation and nontraditional family situations are becoming more accepted across religious groups. Only 22 percent of Americans think divorce is a sin and almost half (49 percent) say that cohabitation is acceptable. According to the survey, the growing acceptance of divorce is also occurring among religious conservatives. Only 34 percent of evangelical Christians and 30 percent of traditional Catholics say that divorce is a sin.
Reaching out: Understanding the religious climate in which families operate can both help practitioners better serve those family and also lend insight to how to improve family lives for others. For example, understanding that early adolescents living in religiously involved families tend to enjoy better family lives may help in determining ways to boost the quality of life of U.S. adolescents. An earlier report from that project showed that religious teens were less likely to smoke, drink and use drugs and more likely to start later and use less if they did. They went to bars less often, received fewer traffic tickets, wore seat belts more, took fewer risks and fought less frequently. Shoplifting, other thefts, trespassing and arson also were rarer. Another part of the study reported that high school seniors who went to religious services at least once a week or who professed deeply held spiritual views enjoyed significantly higher self-esteem and were more positive about life than others.
Practitioners can also understand that fewer families today fit the traditional family pattern, which is a trend religious groups are addressing as well. Many churches, for example, have adapted their programs to reach out to untraditional families and retain members. Some have changed their approach to emphasize individual freedom and personal spirituality, and to actively welcome single adults and those from nontraditional families. Practitioners could also be aware of other religiously influenced trends, including the rise in students home schooled by their parents (often influenced by a desire to spend “quality” time with children, as well as select study materials and teach particular moral beliefs and points of view). Another trend is church day-care centers that are open to children not affiliated with the church. Some have religious curriculums and some do not – but many provide safe and structured child care for single mothers and working parents, providing both a service to the community and an outreach for the church.
Issues today: In addition to paying attention to the role of religion in family life and what can be learned about family relationships as a result, practitioners can understand how modern trends in family life are being addressed from a religious perspective. As the United States becomes more culturally and ethnically diverse, practitioners will also encounter different religious beliefs and family structures. They can learn to address and understand these families on their own terms, understanding the particular roles of parents, men, women, children, seniority and spiritual beliefs. Policies can recognize differences, champion diversity and promote cultural awareness, perhaps having practitioners work with families in their own language or with a practitioner of the same ethnicity. They can also learn from these families their standards of family structure and behavior, to inform their understanding of all families. Families of all types and backgrounds continue to shape today’s culture.
- “Beyond the Nuclear Family? Familism and Gender Ideology in Diverse Religious Communities” by Penny Edgell and Danielle Docka. Sociological Forum. 22, no. 1 (2007): 26-51.
- “The Religious Dimensions of the Grandparent Role in Three-Generation African American Households” by Sharon V. King, et al. Journal of Religion, Spirituality and Aging. 19, no. 1 (2006): 75-96.
- “Friends’ Religiosity and First Sex” by Amy Adamczyk and Jacob Felson. Social Science Research. 35, no. 4 (2006): 924-47
- “Superstition and Belief as Inevitable By-products of an Adaptive Learning Strategy” by Jan Beck and Wolfgang Forstmeier. Human Nature. 18, no. 1 (2007): 35-46.
- “Parenting, Not Religion, Makes Us Into Moral Agents” by Benhamin Beit-Hallahmi. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 29, no. 5 (2006): 464-5.
- “Age and Gender Differences in Adaptation and Subjective Well-Being of Older Adults Residing in Monastic Religious Communities” by Alwx Bishop. Pastoral Psychology. 55, no. 2 (2006): 131-43.
- “Religion is Natural” by Paul Bloom. Developmental Science. 10, no. 1 (2007): 147-51.
- “Children’s Spirituality and Postmodern Faith” by Clive Erricker. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality. 12, no. 1 (2007): 51-60.
- “Lack of Moderation in Families Alienates Children from Religion“. Ahlul Bayt News Agency. Aug. 19, 2011.
- “How Religiosity Helps Couples Prevent, Resolve, and Overcome Marital Conflict” by Nathanial M. Lambert. Family Relations. 55, no. 4 (2006): 439-49.
- “Forgiveness and Therapy: A Critical Review of Conceptualizations, Practices, and Values Found in the Literature” by Terri-Ann Legaree, Jean Turner and Susan Lollis. Journal of Marital & Family Therapy. 33, no. 2 (2007): 192-213.
- “Exploring the Links Between Spirituality and ‘Successful Ageing’” by Euan Sadler and Simon Biggs. Journal of Social Work Practice. 20, no. 3 (2006): 267-80.
- “Parent–adolescent communication about sexuality: The role of adolescents’ beliefs, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control” by Barbara C Schouten, et. al. Patient Education & Counseling. 66, no. 1 (2007): 75-83.
- “Adolescent Risk Behaviors and Religion: Findings From a National Study” by Jill W. Sinha, Ram A. Cnaan and Richard J. Gelles. Journal of Adolescence. 30, no. 2 (2007): 231-249.
- “Human Development and the Demography of Secularization in Global Perspective” by Eric Kaufmann. Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion, Volume 2008, Article 1.
- “Religion as a resource for positive youth development: Religion, social capital, and moral outcomes” by Pamela Ebstyne King and James L. Furrow. American Psychological Association, 2004.
- “A Challenge for Churches: Adulthood Takes Its Time” by Peter Steinfels. The New York Times, Dec. 8, 2007.
- Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment. Phil Zuckerman. New York University Press, 2008.
- The handbook of spiritual development in childhood and adolescence. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Pamela Ebstyne King and Linda Wagener. Sage, 2005.
- Sacred Matters: Religion and Spirituality by Wesley R. Burr, Loren D. Marks and Randal D. Day. Routledge Academic, 2011.
- The Spiritual Life of Children. Robert Coles. Mariner Books, 1991.
- Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, Chapter “Fundamentals of Human Development, Religion, and Spirituality” by James M. Nelson. Springer New York, 2009.
- Religion and Human Development: An Asian Perspective. Imtiyaz Yusef (ed.) Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 2008.
- Handbook of Child Psychology: Theoretical models of human development.William Damon and Richard M. Lerner. John Wiley and Sons, 2006.
- Human Development and Faith: Life-Cycle Stages of Body, Mind, and Soul. Felicity B. Kelcourse (ed.). Christian Board of Publication, 2004.
- The Psychologies in Religion: Working with the Religious Client. E. Thomas Dowd and Stevan Nielsen. Springer Publishing Company, 2006.
- Race, Religion and Law in Colonial India: Trials of an Interracial Family (Cambridge Studies in Indian History and Society) by Chandra Mallampalli. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
- The cultural nature of human development. Barbara Rogoff. Oxford University Press, 2003.
- “A multiple case study on parents’ perspective about the influence of the Islamic culture on Muslim children’s daily lives” by Dina Shalabi and Maurice C. Taylor. The Journal of Multiculturalism in Education, 7 (2011): 1-30.
- An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. Severine Deneulin and Lila Shahani (eds.). United Nations Development Programme, EarthScan, 2009.
- Religion in the emergence of civilization: Çatalhöyük as a case study by Ian Hodder. Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- “Resilience and development: Contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity by Ann S. Mastern, Karin M. Best and Norman Garmezy. Development and Psychopathology. Cambridge University Press (online), 2 : 425-444, Oct. 31, 2008.
Codes of ethics
- Society for the Study of Human Development – Goal
- Society for Research on Adolescence – Mission
- The U.S. Agency for International Development – “Our Work”
- The World Bank Group – Code of Professional Ethics (.pdf)
- Journal of Religion and Society
- International Journal for the Psychology of Religion
- International Journal of Children’s Spirituality
- Journal of Religion, Spirituality and Aging
- Human Development Index (Association of Religion Data Archives)
- Field Analyses of Religion, Spirituality and Human Flourishing (MetaNexus Institute)
- “Religion a figment of human imagination” by Andy Coghlan. NewScientist, April 28, 2008
- Spirituality, Not Religion, Makes Kids Happy. LiveScience, Jan. 0, 2009
Professional associations and faith groups
- Family Christian Association of America
- The Muslim American Society
- Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies
- Adamczyk, Amy and Jacob Felson. “Friends’ Religiosity and First Sex.” Social Science Research. 35, no. 4 (2006): 924-47.
- Beck, Jan and Wolfgang Forstmeier. “Superstition and Belief as Inevitable By-products of an Adaptive Learning Strategy.” Human Nature. 18, no. 1 (2007): 35-46.
- Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin. “Parenting, Not Religion, Makes Us Into Moral Agents.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 29, no. 5 (2006): 464-5.
- Bishop, Alex. “Age and Gender Differences in Adaptation and Subjective Well-Being of Older Adults Residing in Monastic Religious Communities.” Pastoral Psychology. 55, no. 2 (2006): 131-43.
- Bloom, Paul. “Religion is Natural.” Developmental Science. 10, no. 1 (2007): 147-51.
- Bulanda, Jennifer Roebuck. “Doing Family, Doing Gender, Doing Religion: Structured Ambivalence and the Religion-Family Connection.” Journal of Family Theory & Review. Vol. 3, No. 3 (Sept. 2011): 179-97.
- Edgell, Penny and Danielle Docka. “Beyond the Nuclear Family? Familism and Gender Ideology in Diverse Religious Communities.” Sociological Forum. 22, no. 1 (2007): 26-51.
- Erricker, Clive. “Children’s Spirituality and Postmodern Faith.” International Journal of Children’s Spirituality. 12, no. 1 (2007): 51-60.
- Lambert, Nathaniel M. “How Religiosity Helps Couples Prevent, Resolve, and Overcome Marital Conflict.” Family Relations. 55, no. 4 (2006): 439-49.
- Legaree, Terri-Ann, Jean Turner and Susan Lollis. “Forgiveness and Therapy: A Critical Review of Conceptualizations, Practices, and Values Found in the Literature.” Journal of Marital & Family Therapy. 33, no. 2 (2007): 192-213.
- Mahoney, Annette. “Religion in Families 1999-2009: A Relational Spirituality Framework.” Journal of Marriage and Family. Vol. 72, No. 4 (Aug. 2010): 805-27.
- Pickering, Lloyd E and Alexander T. Vazsonyi. “Does Family Process Mediate the Effect of Religiosity on Adolescent Deviance? Revisiting the Notion of Spuriousness.” Criminal Justice and Behavior. Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan. 2010): 97-118.
- Sadler, Euan and Simon Biggs. “Exploring the Links Between Spirituality and ‘Successful Ageing.’” Journal of Social Work Practice. 20, no. 3 (2006): 267-80.
- Schouten, Barbara C., et. al. “Parent–adolescent communication about sexuality: The role of adolescents’ beliefs, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control.” Patient Education & Counseling. 66, no. 1 (2007): 75-83.
- Sinha, Jill W., Ram A. Cnaan and Richard J. Gelles. “Adolescent Risk Behaviors and Religion: Findings From a National Study.” Journal of Adolescence. 30, no. 2 (2007): 231-249.