Attachment and Religion An Integrative Developmental Framework

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: The aim of the thesis was to examine the applicability of attachment theory to adult and adolescent religiosity. Attachment theory is an empirically oriented research paradigm that takes evolutionary theory as the starting point in the study of child-parent relations and their socioemotional correlates in development. The work consisted of two interrelated tasks. First, limitations in theory and research in the psychology of religion, particularly the traditional psychodynamic perspectives, were highlighted, and attachment theory was proposed as an integrative framework to remedy some of those limitations. Second, four empirical studies (I-IV), based on attachment theoretical predictions, were conducted to investigate relations between individual differences in attachment and religiosity. The combined results from the studies suggest the existence of two religiosity profiles in relation to attachment. Both profiles resemble influential descriptions of individual religiosity differences in the psychology of religion literature. The religiosity of individuals in the first profile is similar to their parents' religiosity and is likely to be stable over time. If religious changes have been experienced, these are likely to be gradual, to occur early in life, and in a context pointing to the importance of relationships with religious significant others. Such individuals' God image is likely to be loving, and not distant. It was hypothesized that these religiosity characteristics stern from experiences with sensitive attachment figures in childhood, and that such experiences have promoted partial adoption of the attachment figures' religious standards. The mental representations of attachment resulting from the favorable experiences were suggested to be responsible for a corresponding image of a loving God. The religiosity of individuals in the second profile is independent of parental religiosity, and is likely to fluctuate (increase and decrease) over time. Their religious changes are more sudden and intense, occur relatively later in life, and in a context pointing to an emotionally supportive function for religion. Such individuals' God image is more distant, and less loving. These religiosity characteristics were hypothesized to stem from experiences with insensitive attachment figures in childhood. It was suggested that they reflect an affect regulation strategy to obtain/maintain a sense of felt security, and that God is utilized as a compensatory attachment-like figure in this regard. Findings pertaining to the profiles generally emerged regardless of whether the design was cross-sectional (I-IV) or longitudinal (III); whether participants were adults (I, II, and IV) or adolescents (Study III); and whether attachment was assessed with self-report questionnaires (I-IV) or independent ratings based on a semi-structured interview (IV).