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Religion And Family Composition, Religion And The Marital Relationship, Parenting And Family Relationships, Prevention And Coping With Special Problems

Religion may be defined as (1) a recognition of or belief in a superhuman power or god(s) commanding obedience and worship; (2) a feeling of reverence or spiritual awareness of such a power expressed in life conduct and/or ritual observances; and (3) a system of faith including beliefs, worship, conduct, and perhaps a code of ethics or philosophy. Individuals with an awareness of a divine or higher power develop a view of life that is different from those who have no faith position. Religion may affect all of life because of the perspective individuals use to interpret life experiences, to set personal and family goals, and to make value-based decisions. The particular ways in which religion will make a difference in life depend on many factors or dimensions of religion, including, but not limited to, the importance of religion to the individual (salience), devotional practices and sense of relationship with the divine, specific beliefs and emphases, the degree of support and shared activities by the religious community, congregational worship, the rewards expected for faith and the acting out of its values, and views of and behaviors toward significant others (family, friends, etc.).

The intersection of religion with family life is important to families and to society. Many controversial political and social issues are grounded in religious arguments or attitudes. The role of religion in family functioning is being recognized, as is its potential importance in family life education, psychological counseling, and marriage and family therapy.

Religiosity may be categorized along two global dimensions. One dimension captures the depth of one's religious experience. At the more superficial or peripheral (distal) end of this continuum, researchers might assess religious affiliation of one or more family members or individual participation and devotion. At the more in-depth (proximal or core aspect) end of the continuum, researchers might measure an increasing internalization of religion, shared religious interaction such as praying together, a shared sense of the sacred or divine within family relationships, and the expression of religion in attitudes and behaviors. Typically, the more distal aspects of religion are explored in large, nationally representative surveys, while the more proximal aspects are investigated in smaller, more detailed, but less representative studies. The second continuum is that of the quality of the religious experience from toxic (negative) to enhancing (positive). Some may experience religion as fearful and rigid, abusive, violent, guilt-inducing, or patriarchal (Haj-Yahia 1998). Others may experience religion as loving, egalitarian, and nonviolent (Rahim 2000), even though they depend upon the same religious traditions and scriptures. The best research on religion and the family will assess both global dimensions in ways that are theoretically pertinent to the family variables being considered. The ambiguous results of some past research (Booth et al. 1995) may reflect incomplete assessment of both dimensions. In contrast, Annette Mahoney and colleagues (1999) investigated family outcomes with both distal (individual religiousness and religious homogamy) and proximal religious measures. Stronger relationships were found with proximal measures than with distal measures. Family outcomes (marital adjustment, reduced conflict, improved conflict resolution strategies) were more positive with enhancing proximal factors involved than with toxic or distal associations.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage Traditions