Ch.8 - Chapter 8 Religion and Development in Childhood and...

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J.M. Nelson, Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, DOI 10.1007/978-0-387-87573-6_8, @ Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009 245 Chapter 8 Religion and Development in Childhood and Adolescence The study of childhood religion and spirituality has had little place in either Christian theology or child psychology (Boyatzis, 2003; Benson, Roehlkepartain, & Rude, 2003). This is surprising, as psychologists since the time of G. Stanley Hall have recognized that childhood and adolescence are important periods in religious devel- opment, and the nurturance of children has been an important concern of Christian work, particularly during the Reformation and in the 20th century (Bunge, 2001, pp. 3–11). This lack of attention to children and adolescents is unwarranted, for if one defines spirituality as a craving for transcendence and meaning, then certainly children have a strong spiritual nature. They seek these things and experience awe and wonder as much or more than adults (Ratcliff & May, 2004). Nevertheless, some good empirical research exists on the topic, which we will examine in this chapter. Another problem is that existing research on religion and spirituality among children and adolescents has been narrowly conceived as is also the case of much psychological research about children (Nye, 2004). Childhood and adolescence are seen mostly as precursors to adulthood, and as a result research often focuses on the implications of childhood and adolescence for adult spirituality, rather than seeing childhood as a period of life with its own importance. This is a key issue, for children are not just little adults; their spiritual and religious life has unique characteristics and considerations, such as the role of family (Pendleton, Benore, Jonas, Norwood, & Herrmann, 2004). Even early work in psychology recognized that the child does have religious needs and that these are not the same as the adult’s (Wells, 1918). Childhood and adolescence are rich, complex periods of life, and researchers need to consider multiple domains in understanding religious devel- opment during this period. The cognitive, social, emotional, and moral aspects of childhood are all of importance and are directly or indirectly related to religious life (King & Boyatzis, 2004). If spirituality and religion are thought of as concerned with a relation to ulti- mate meaning and transcendence that involves the whole person, childhood spiri- tuality can be thought of as spontaneous experiences of a relational consciousness. This relational awareness can manifest itself in a number of ways, including feelings of presence and sometimes dependency, a reaction of wonder and awe at the world around us, and a sense of ultimate goodness and meaning. For the
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246 8 Religion and Development in Childhood and Adolescence most part, children do not separate such experiences from religion (Hart, 2006; Ratcliff & May, 2004; Hay & Nye, 2006; Scott, 2003; Tamminen, 1991, p. 34; Scarlett & Perriello, 1991; Shelton & Mabe, 2006; Loomba, 1942). These types of experiences can be found throughout childhood and adolescence. For instance,
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