Religious Rebellion: Examining the Factors that Cause Children to Deviate from the Religious Beliefs of their Parents


Max Rattner

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Belief in a supernatural God is particularly fascinating because it has withstood the test of time and remained exceptionally prevalent and readily-accepted for thousands of years, despite the fact that there remains no direct evidence in support of God?s existence and many early claims made by religion (i.e. that God created the earth in six days) have been scientifically refuted. Still, belief in God is widespread. In Mexico, for example, 98% of the population identifies as believing in God. Previous research has indicated that 5-year-olds anthropomorphize God and other supernatural entities to a significantly greater extent than adults, despite the fact that 5-year-olds share very similar beliefs to their parents with regards to the existence of these entities. The present study compares belief in and conceptualization of God, angels, souls and heaven between adolescents, aged 11 through 17, and their parents. The results indicate that, though adolescents continue to anthropomorphize supernatural entities, particularly God and angels, to a greater extent than adults, the differences in conceptualization are shrinking. In addition, differences in belief are expanding. These trends are interesting, because the study also found that similarities in conceptualization between parents and children tend to lead to similarities in belief. Thus, while individual similarities in conceptualization lead to similarities in belief, adolescents as a whole are beginning to conceptualize supernatural entities more like their parents do, though their beliefs are more frequently diverging.


Andrew Shtulman




Ford Research Endowment

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