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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Thinking about God through childhood and adolescence Smoliak, Wendy Gay


The purpose of this interdisciplinary study was to examine children's and adolescents' (aged 6 to 16) thoughts of God that were hypothesized to reflect the child's religious context and to be related to a child's cognitive maturity and gender. The following four objectives guided the study: (1) to examine children's thoughts of God within a particular religious school environment, (2) to investigate age-related changes in children's representations of God as indicated by their narrative texts, (3) to explore children's (female and male) representations of God as described in their narrative texts, and (4) to suggest transitions in the developmental structure of children's narrative texts about God across levels of cognitive maturity. The children (N=114) selected for the study were chosen from a Christian school setting where religious instruction was part of the curriculum focus. Each child, upon parental consent, participated in a one-to-one interview and accomplished a series of developmental tasks including generating a story about God, responding to a story about Jesus, answering questions about God, and completing a short memory task. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire about religious life inside and outside the family home. A review of the religious education curriculum was conducted. The collected data were analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. The results were fourfold. First, the study found that the religious school environment (e.g., religious education program and religious activities both inside and outside the family home) had the potential to influence children's changing thoughts about God. Second, there were differences in female and male representations of God. Third, there were significant changes in children's representations of God as they matured. These changes were based not only on children's cognitive maturity but also as a result of the children's religious knowledge acquired within their religious environment. Also, these changes reflected unique subtle differences in children's conceptual understandings of God. Fourth, as children cognitively matured, there were changes in the structure of their narratives about God. These changes paralleled the narrative structure posited by McKeough (1992a) and the stages and substages posited by Case (1992a).

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