The Religion and Family Connection

Increasing Dialogue in the Social Sciences

Darwin L. Thomas and Gwendolyn C. Henry

Darwin L. Thomas and Gwendolyn C. Henry, “The Religion and Family Connection: Increasing Dialogue in the Social Sciences,” in The Religion & Family Connection: Social Science Perspectives, ed. Darwin L. Thomas (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 3–24.

Darwin L. Thomas was a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University when this was published. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota.

Gwendolyn C. Henry received her PhD in family studies with an emphasis in gerontology and family life education from Brigham Young University. Other research interests include intergenerational relationships, life-span issues in the family, and parenting.



In October 1984 the National Council of Family Relations began a new section on religion. The group of NCFR members committed to furthering the cause of the study of religion and the family met to elect officers and chart their course. The group was told that it was an auspicious moment. First, the future looked bright because the recent interest in the religion and family connection was part of a larger movement within the social sciences of focusing on things religious. Second, the current postpositivist era in the social sciences probably would generate fewer dogmatic statements than had occurred earlier in the sometimes heated dialogue between science and religion. Third, the coming together of researchers, theologians, and practitioners concerned with the religion and family interface had the potential of producing significant payoffs in society’s larger effort to understand the human condition. (Thomas and Sommerfeldt, 1984.)

One irony noticed by the NCFR group was that this was really not a new NCFR section in the sense of creating something that had never existed but rather was new in the sense of resurrecting that which had been born, lived a few short years, and died. In 1952 a religion section in NCFR began holding meetings. That section ended in 1962. 1 presents some of our findings in an effort to understand some of the characteristics of that first religion section.

The data point to a number of conclusions. First, it appears as though the section remained relatively small, with few meetings and relatively few people presenting or otherwise participating. We were unable to come up with section attendance figures; but in examining the yearly programs, we could not detect a sense of periodic or sustained growth. Second, section participants from the clergy were largely responsible for the content and activities of the section. Third, the academic researchers and theoreticians, along with private practice participants, were minimally involved. Of the few academicians who did participate, they tended to do so only for one year, whereas many clergy were repeat participants.

Our sense is that the current interest in religion within NCFR is different from that which emerged in the 1950s. Our judgment is that the larger milieu which currently exists within the social sciences is more open to investigation into things of a religious nature, and therefore makes a dialogue focusing on the interface between religion and family much more promising. Recent attempts to assess the social scientists’ perspectives on the religion and family connection conclude that up through the late 1970s the two had remained largely independent of one another. Only two of the fifty-seven family texts surveyed had a chapter on religion, and only two religious texts published before 1978 had a chapter on the family (D’Antonio, Newman and Wright, 1982).

This is obviously changing. Two universities, traditionally having close ties with religious institutions, recently held conferences on religion and family. The Notre Dame Seminar during the summer of 1981 produced the D’Antonio and Aldous volume (1983) on families and religions. The Twelfth Annual Family and Demographic Research Conference at Brigham Young University in 1984 generated a series of presentations on religion and the family, some of which are published in this volume. Last, the aforementioned creation of the religion section in the fall of 1984 at NCFR promises to continue to emphasize the religion and family connection.

We think this increased interest in the 1980s is just now beginning to be reflected in the basic family texts. For example, one of the most widely used texts over the last twenty years, Leslie’s The Family in Social Context, now has appeared in its sixth edition (Leslie and Korman, 1985) with, for the first time ever, a chapter on the influence of religion on families. None of the first five editions (1967, 1973, 1976, 1979, 1982) had one entry under religion in the indexes. The advertisements for the 1985 edition highlight the new chapter on religion, along with new material on working women, female-headed households, ethnicity, delayed parenting, etc., as evidence for the text’s timeliness.

Even though the foregoing signs argue for recent increased interest in religion by those studying the family, our optimism is determined more by what we see occurring in the social sciences in general with respect to religion. We see the study of the family as an interdisciplinary field which traditionally has been nourished by methodological developments and theoretical formulations in related disciplines. We expect that trend to continue. We see those relevant disciplines as calling attention to the significance of the study of religion; thus, we think that the increased interest in religion in the mother disciplines will encourage study of the family and religion connection.

Table 1: NCFR Section on Religion and the Family, 1952–61













No. of Section Meetings











No. of













A* C P
















8 1

1 1

2 3

1 2

5 1

3 1





1 3

1 1 1

1 1

1 1 1

Totals19363 73 33 53 16 3
*A = Academic, C = Clergy, P = Private practice.

The Social Science Setting

By the time the social sciences were born in the last half of the 1800s, the centuries-old dialogue between philosophy and theology, which in large measure had determined the basic parameters of Western intellectual heritage, was significantly altered by the rise of science. Within Western culture, scientific knowledge was highly valued and scientific discoveries had forever changed humankind’s perception of and encounters with the natural order. Philosophy more easily integrated and built upon scientific worldviews than did theology, with the major lines of dialogue gradually shifting from the philosophy/theology axis to the science/religion axis—especially any discussions focusing on the natural order. As many have noted (Merton, 1957: 579; Martindale, 1960: 425–27, 1962: 424–58; and Thomas and Wilcox, 1987), the rise of scientific thought occurred concomitantly with the union of rationalism and empiricism. Martindale (1962) argued that the social order had to value empirical evidence equal to or perhaps even higher than rational proof for scientific knowledge to become so widely valued. Thus, by 1850 a naturalistic emphasis informed many Western thinkers.

With Darwin’s important work at midcentury came the evolutionary perspective that would also influence much social science thought emerging later, during the last half of the nineteenth century. Hinkle (1980) has labeled the underlying philosophical orientation of much of the early social science work as evolutionary naturalism. The social order was seen as part of the natural order; and scientific procedures, following the lead of the physical sciences, offered the best approach for understanding the social order. The social order was seen as evolving into more complex and better adapted social forms.

Many of the early works in the social sciences showed an explicit interest in religion. For example, the psychology of religion is generally described as a flourishing area of interest within psychology during the closing decades of the 1800s and the first two decades of the twentieth century. The work of W. James and G. S. Hall, along with their students and colleagues, is cited as typical of this early work (Beit-Hallahmi, 1974). Similarly, in sociology many of the early founders explicitly focused on the religious institutions in their theoretical and empirical works. Weber, Durkheim, and Marx are illustrative.

Just as there is general agreement that religion as an area of study emerged quickly in the social sciences, there is agreement that from the 1920s to the 1950s there was a marked decline in the number and quality of studies in the religious realm. In psychology, the reviews of published research showed that few studies were carried out after 1933. The few studies being done came mostly from German and French social scientists, thus emphasizing even more the relatively few studies of the psychology of religion in the United States. The survey of courses on the psychology of religion at American universities in 1938 showed a marked decline from the previous decades, with only 24 out of 154 colleges offering them. The decline was so sharp that some observers pronounced the psychology of religion movement dead (Beit-Hallahmi, 1974). While the sociology of religion apparently did not show the rapid swells and declines observed in psychology, it too experienced a noticeable drop from the 1920s on. Demerath and Roof (1976: 19) observe that “despite the classic statements of Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, and others, there emerged very few works on religion in the years between 1920 and 1955.”

Many observers have offered a variety of reasons for the decline. The following are some of the typical reasons given.

1. [The field] failed to separate itself from theology, philosophy of religion, and the general dogmatic and evangelistic tasks of religious institutions.

2. The desperate effort to be recognized as “scientific” [led to] an emphasis on collecting discrete facts without integrating them into a comprehensive theory.

3. Public opinion was changing away from religion and towards a behavioristic and positivistic world view.

4. “Subjective” phenomena were avoided by . . . social science which tried to be “empirical” and “objective.” [The above four came from Douglas (1963), cited in Beit-Hallahmi, 1974: 87.]

5. Psychoanalytic approaches to religion seemed more promising.

6. The influence of behaviorism led to the neglect of complex human behaviors. [Items 5 and 6 come from Strunk, 1957: 287, 289.]

7. Inside academic psychology in the 20’s and 30’s, interest in religion began to be perceived as evidence of unscientific orientation.

8. As early as 1921 . . . it was shown that scientists, especially psychologists, were less religious than most of the American population. Scientists in the 30’s might have felt that the long war between science and religion was won by science and there was not much left to study in religion. (Items 7 and 8 came from Beit-Hallahmi, 1974: 88, 89.)

Just as there seems to be widespread agreement about the decline of social scientific interest in religion beginning in the 1920s, there seems to be considerable agreement among social science observers that the 1960s and 1970s saw an unusual revival of interest in religion. Part of the increased interest came from research generated, paid for, and/or conducted by churches or church-related organizations. Many of these organizations had social scientists design, conduct, and report the research in an effort to better understand the challenges that faced churches desiring to deal more effectively with individuals and families. This outpouring of research from Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish and other non-Christian churches contributed significantly to the religious literature in the social sciences. The book Understanding Church Growth and Decline, 1950–1978 (Hoge and Roozen, 1979) is illustrative of this emphasis.

In addition to church-related research, increased interest in religion appears to have occurred generally within the social sciences. Demerath and Roof (1976: 19) argue that “beginning in the middle 1950’s, the field [sociology of religion] has undergone what can only be described as an accelerating revival.” Robbins and Anthony (1979: 75) review sociological research on new religions in the United States and conclude that “during the last decade the West has witnessed an explosion of heterodox religiosity.” Bergin (1980: 96) discusses the remarkable growth of interest in the psychology of religion over the past few decades and observes that “the present phenomenon has all the aspects of a broad-based movement with a building momentum.” He observes that psychologists are part “of this developing Zeitgeist” and are influenced by these larger cultural forces all generating renewed interest in things religious. After identifying a number of the basic trends in this increased interest in religion, Demerath and Roof (1976: 31) conclude: “In sum, the last decade of research and theory may well be judged as the most exciting since the first decade of the twentieth century and new developments in the making signal even more excitement and fruition in the decade to come.”

In a further attempt to investigate the increased interest in religion that the many observers had noticed, we attempted to identify any organization created by social scientists with the purpose of focusing on religion. Our purpose was to identify when the organization was founded, what its purpose was, whether it produced any publications, and what the approximate membership was. Since we were unable to locate a directory that already had prepared such a compilation of organizations, our strategy was to call any organizations that we knew, obtain the above information from them, and then ask for names of other organizations. 2 presents a summary of our efforts. We do not take this to be an exhaustive list since our methodology of following the informal lines probably resulted in incomplete data. Even so, we think our efforts are informative.

The conclusion of increased activity since the late 1950s through the decade of the 1970s is obvious. Up to 1959 there were four organizations involving social scientists that focused on religion. Over the next 20 years, 1959 to 1978, 11 such organizations formed. Ten of the fifteen organizations are identified specifically as Christian in nature (Mormons are here categorized as Christians). We suspect that this preponderance of Christian organizations reflects a preponderance of Christian affiliation among social scientists; however, it also may reflect the failure of our informal network to lead us to the non-Christian social science organizations, since we are Christians doing the research. We need more and better research to identify whether or not non-Christian social scientists feel the need to organize and are organizing along religious lines. We also need research to study the durability of these religious organizations within social science to determine whether the current heightened interest in religion is ephemeral or a more lasting phenomenon. Given our view of the underlying cultural milieu, we expect this to be a more long-lasting interest in religion than that occurring in the early years of the social sciences or in NCFR during the 1950s.

We are not sure that the reasons for increased interest in religion within the social sciences have been adequately explained; nevertheless, a number of observers have posited possible causes for this recent renaissance of interest. The reasons given generally include a reevaluation of the role of science in making truth claims, crises of values and sense of community in the larger social order, the role of families and religions in meeting social and psychological needs, and the need to include the spiritual realm in attempts to understand human behavior. The following are illustrative:

1. “General psychology is gradually being made conscious of its narrowly-conceived science” (Andrews, 1979: 36–37).

2. The current spiritual ferment is linked to a crisis of values which in turn is seen as linked to the erosion of a cultural tradition of moral absolutism in a highly differentiated and pluristic society.

3. The present upsurge of interest in religion (especially unconventional movements) is linked to a crisis of community because the traditional mediating structures between the individual and the social order such

as families, homogeneous neighborhoods, and personalistic work settings are being supplanted increasingly by social inventions. (Items 2 and 3 are paraphrased from Robbins and Anthony, 1979: 76, 78).

4. “The current evangelical revival evidently meets not only emotional but also moral and cognitive needs of vast sectors of the population, needs that are going unmet by competing systems” (Warner, 1979: 8).

5. Part of the new religious consciousness of many within the countercultural movement is linked to changing family patterns (paraphrased from D’Antonio, 1980: 99).

6. “Science has lost its authority as the dominating source of truth it once was. . . . The ecological, social and political consequences of science and technology are no longer necessarily viewed as progress. Although a belief in the value of the scientific method appropriately persists, there is widespread disillusionment with the way it has been used and loss of faith in it as a cure for human ills.”

7. “Psychology, in particular, has been dealt blows to its status as a source of authority for human action because of its obsession with “methodolitry,” its limited effectiveness in producing practical results, its conceptual incoherence, and its alienation from the mainstream of the culture.”

8. “The emergence of studies of consciousness and cognition which grew out of disillusionment with mechanistic behaviorism has . . . set the stage for a new examination of the possibility that presently unobservable realities—namely spiritual forces—are at work in human behavior.” (Items 6–8 are from Bergin, 1980: 95, 96.)

The current climate in the social sciences is considerably different from that of the 1940s and 1950s when NCFR first began its religion section. While we cannot trace the rise of family theory here (see Thomas and Wilcox, 1987, for a discussion), suffice it to say that those researchers and theorists focusing on the family in the 1950s began a strong emphasis on theory building with a decidedly positivist view of its subject matter during the 1960s and 1970s. This theory-building emphasis drew from the positivist theory-building tradition in general sociological theory (Thomas and Wilcox, 1987) and set the theory agenda in family study through the 1970s even though there were some who argued for a different course. For example, Robert G. Ryder recalls that he argued at those first “theory” meetings “that the task being urged was a mistaken idea—grand synthesis of propositions derived along positivist lines was a mistaken one tried by psychologists to their sorrow, and not a good idea for us” (Ryder, personal communication, Feb. 5, 1985). Those few voices crying in the wilderness went unheard as social scientists concerned about the study of the family sought to improve its scientific respectability by doing better research and building better theory.

In the research and theory rush of the 1960s and 1970s, the place of religion in the study of the family went almost unnoticed. Of the 1,006 pages in Christensen’s Handbook of Marriage and the Family (1964), “religion and the family” appears in only three entries of the index, as does “religious groups.” This separation of religion and family is also seen in the two volumes of Contemporary Theories about the Family (Burr et al., 1979). These two volumes were designed to summarize research and theory in important substantive areas in family study, and they have no religion chapter or even an extended discussion of religion within a chapter. There are only two insignificant references to religion in the index in each of the two volumes.

Beginning in 1971 NCFR’s Theory Construction and Research Methodology Workshop has been held annually and has become an important forum for family researchers to present ongoing research and theory projects. At present, 268 presentations have been given. It was not until 1984 that the first presentation on religion and the family appeared in the workshop. Two presenters addressed issues related to the Jewish family. (LaRossa, 1985.)

We suspect that the general tendency of family researchers to avoid religion in their studies was a continuation of the general climate that existed in the preceding decades in the social sciences. The psychology of religion generally was seen as unscientific and sociology had reduced its study of the religious institution beginning in the 1920s.

Table 2: Some Social Science Organizations Focusing on Religion

OrganizationYear FoundedPurposePublications



The American Catholic Sociological Society (ACSS—changed to the Association for the Sociology of Religion [ASR] in 1971)1936To stimulate research in sociology and religionThe American Catholic Sociological Review (1940)* 
The American Catholic Psychological Association (ACPA—changed to Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues [PIRI] in 1965)1948To study psychology of religion and its applicationCatholic Psychological Record (1960)600
The Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR)1949To stimulate/communicate significant scientific research on religious institutions and experienceJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion (1961)1,400
The National Association of Christians in Social Work (NACSW—changed to North American Association of Christians in Social Work [NAACSW] in 1984)1950To bring together Christians in social work for discussion of common concerns and to interest Christians in entering the professionCatalyst (bimonthly newsletter); The Paraclete1,125
Religion Research Association (RRA)1959To understand the role of religion in contemporary lifeReview of Religious Research (1959)500
The Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS)1960Professional association to try to relate Christian faith to psychological conceptsPsychology and Christianity (1980), CAPS Bulletin and Proceedings1,500
The LDS Personnel and Guidance Association (LDSPGA—changed to the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists [AMCAP] in 1975)1964To promote fellowshipNo publications450
Psychologists Interested in Religious Issues (PIRI was formerly the American Catholic Psychological Association [ACPA] from 1948 to 1965; changed to Division 36 of the American Psychological Association [APA] in 1976)1965To study psychology of religion and its applicationNo publications 
Christian Anthropological Association1969FellowshipThe Christian Anthropological Association Newsletter (1969) 
Association for the Sociology of Religion (ASR—formerly called the American Catholic Sociological Society from 1936 to 1971)1971To stimulate research in sociology of religionSociological Analyses (1964)500
Association for the Sociological Study of Jewry (ASSJ)1971To engage in the scientific study of Jewish life/forum for discussionNewsletter (1973), Journal of Contemporary Jewry (annual) (1973)350
The Christian Sociological Society (CSS)1972To witness for Christ in sociological areasNewsletter (1972) (no meetings)650
Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychologist (AMCAP—formerly called the LDS Personnel and Guidance Association from 1964 to 1975)1975To promote fellowship, communication, professional development/leadership—a forum for LDS professionalsAMCAP Journal (1975)796
The Association for Christians Teaching Sociology (ACTS)1975A forum where Christian sociologists can explore Christianity and sociology, explore professional and personal development and Christian fellowship within a supportive networkAnnual Conference with program (1976); no publications125
Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life (SSSML)1978Research/study of Mormon lifeNewsletter (1979)140

Note: Our attempt was to list any organization whose focus was religion and whose membership and purpose appeared to be related to the social sciences. Some organizations, such as the American Philosophical Association and the American Scientific Association, include a focus on religion; but most of the members are either philosophers or physical scientists, rather than social scientists. Another organization that has existed since 1960—the American Jewish Committee—emphasizes religion but was designed for broad political reasons and involves many people other than social scientists. Some organizations, such as the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association, provide a forum for presentations on religious issues as part of their annual meeting programs. In addition, some specifically religious organizations, such as The Council on the Study of Religion, have sections on “religion and the social sciences” at their annual meetings. Papers presented at these meetings would be another important source for analysis of trends in religious research in the social sciences.

*Year when publication or other activity such as meetings began is shown in parentheses.

Possible Payoffs

If the above treatise has some basis in fact and the current intellectual milieu augurs well for research, theory, and practical application directed towards the family and religion connection, so what? So what if we are moving into a time when more psychologists, sociologists, therapists, and family life educators may be more inclined to focus on family and religion? What might we come to understand better about the human condition than we currently do?

Although predicting the future is risky business—be it in economics, politics, or social/psychological projections on the human condition—we think some useful clues can be found in recent efforts focusing on religion and the family simultaneously. The articles in this volume are illustrative of the areas of investigation in the social sciences which we think will greatly benefit from the simultaneous study of religion and the family.

We expect current and future research to add significantly to our understanding of the role that religion and family institutions play in social change. Thornton’s chapter (1985) carefully lays out the reciprocal relationship between the family institution and the religious institution in the West’s recent past. While explaining social change wherein the political, economic, and religious institutions influence family patterns, Thornton also argues convincingly that the family institution reciprocally influences other institutions, specifically the religious institution. His general treatise leads to an appreciation of the intercon-nectedness among social institutions and the importance of looking at the family and religious institutions as both independent and dependent variables in one’s analysis.

The issue about when family and religion are seen as independent (source of change) or dependent (that which has been changed) variables, is further discussed in the chapter on the Jewish family. In much of the analysis, the family variables are treated as independent variables accounting for transmission of “Jewish identity and survival of the group.” As Brodbar-Nemzer (1988) notes, those who would understand social change within Judaism must be prepared for the very difficult task of trying to separate out the effects of family and religion from those of ethnicity. This is no easy task, but one that must be addressed by researchers/theorists who would understand the religion and family connection to social change within Judaism.

D’Antonio’s more specific analysis (1985) of the relationship between the Catholic family and its church focuses on the interplay between these institutions. He notes that Catholic families vary in how they adapt to directives from the religious institution relative to family functioning. Just as families adapt to religious institutions, so too do religious institutions adapt to changing families. He argues that, in the case of the Catholic church, continued failure to modify some teachings with respect to contraceptive use and perhaps abortion undoutedly will lead to a more general loss of influence and authority by the religious institution in the lives of Catholic families. From his position, given the current realities of the social situation, it is likely that the religious institution will modify some positions in order to be more effective with its constituent families.

We suspect that one of the more important issues in the general area of social change is that related to how much the religious institution and the institution of the family are changing over time. In the absence of good baseline data, it is very easy for social scientists and the general public to conclude that there has been a great amount of change in the recent past. With respect to both religion and family, it is easy to see the “good old days” as significantly different and significantly better than the present conditions. Some of the best data available to assess the amount of and direction of change in these institutions come from the Middletown research (Caplow et al., 1982, 1983). As Bahr and Chadwick (1985) argue, the myths of radical change, within both the religious institution and the institution of the family, ought to be laid to rest. Looking at their data from a number of different angles, they conclude persuasively that both institutions have remained remarkably s over the last fifty years in Middletown America. They wonder about how stability and change in one of these institutions is related to stability and change in the other, and they urge the necessity and utility of research focusing on the interface between these two institutions.

Heaton (1988) looks at the interface between the two institutions and argues convincingly for the distinctiveness of some Mormon family patterns because of theological underpinnings. What is not well understood, however, is just how distinctive some of the patterns are. For example, Heaton points to the fact that the more educated Mormons have larger families and he sees a possible cause in theological teachings. Brodbar-Nemzer (1988) points to the same relationship occurring among Jews but assumes that it only occurs among Jews. Is it only the more educated Mormons and Jews who have more children, or is that relationship true for any familistic religion? How does social change alter education-fertility dynamics among various religions?

When the issues of the connection between religion and the family are enlarged to include a historical perspective, even more caution is warranted in drawing conclusions. It is common to point to the Amish family (Olshan, 1988) as the example of a religious group that has successfully withstood change from the larger social order for centuries. But as Olshan argues in his chapter (1988), the Amish, according to what they write, are not that separate from the larger social order. Even the Amish exhibit a modern mentality in their daily struggle to live the Amish way. Hynes’s discussion (1988) of religious and familial change in mid-nineteenth-century Ireland is a sobering reminder of the necessity to take into account local conditions in order to better understand how both the church and family change when confronting a catastrophe of such enormous proportions as the Great Hunger of 1845–49. An increase in attendance at Mass from about 30 percent in 1830 to over 90 percent in 1870 is remarkable, but, as Hynes reminds us, that change was only brought about because of the way the stem family functioned. Likewise, the religion that flourished during the devotional revolution was Catholicism of a particular type—an extremely puritanical variety that meshed with the needs of the times.

The Brinkerhoff and MacKie chapter (1988) addresses the area of gender identity and sex-role attitudes and behavior related specifically to religion and the family. There are perhaps few issues as important as gender identity and sex-role attitudes as they relate to social change. A significant portion of Scanzoni’s chapter (1988) discusses gender roles from the Protestant woman’s perspective. Religion and family are the two institutions most often discussed in the contemporary literature. While all the relevant questions obviously have not been asked and the relevant data are not currently in, there is enough evidence available to conclude that the religious and family institutions are perhaps two of the most important institutions in society with respect to understanding changes in sex-role attitudes and behavior. Clearly there is much important work remaining to be done.

Out of research designed to study two or more social institutions simultaneously, we think answers will be fashioned allowing us to understand better the similarities and differences among institutions. For example, important research in the neglected social-psychological area of commitment to institutions shows that the commitment patterns are more similar in the political, economic, and educational institutions than they are in the religious and familial institutions. The latter two institutions appear to be quite different from the other three (Abrahamson and Anderson, 1984). This further evidences the need to study the religion and family institutions simultaneously.

The second area where we see the prospects for considerable increase in our current knowledge is the general area of how the religious and family institutions are related to the personal well-being of various members within those institutions. From the work of Freud and others, much of the early history of the social sciences is characterized by the expectation that involvement in and reliance upon the religious institution will be associated with people who have a low sense of personal well-being. The assumption is that the psychological and sociological misfits, those having difficulty in establishing meaningful social relationships in the larger social context, turn to religion. As reviews (Stark, 1971; Lea, 1982; Bergin, 1983; Donahue, 1985) have shown, this negative relationship between religiosity and personal well-being is more an article of faith than a social fact. The research findings are ambiguous. Some research supports the negative relationship, while other research argues for a positive relationship between religiosity and personal well-being.

After reviewing a number of studies, Bergin (1983: 176) concludes that his meta-analysis of the reported results “provide no support for . . . [the negative relationship] and they also do not provide much more than marginal support for a positive effect on religion.” When he considers only those studies reporting statistically significant relationships, he notes that, of the seven, five support the positive relationship and two the negative relationship. Most positive relationships tend to be reported in more recent studies. This impression is corroborated by Judd (1985) who analyzed studies published since 1980 not encountered in any of the before-mentioned reviews; he found that most reported a positive relationship, some reported no relationship, while none reported a negative relationship.

The Stack chapter (1985), which reports his findings of the influence of familial and religious integration on suicide, comes down clearly on the side of the positive argument, showing religious and family integration to be associated with lower suicide rates. In addition to stressing the significance of the Durkheimian perspective that integration into basic societal institutions such as family and religion enhances personal well-being, an important aspect of the Stack research is that the effects of the family and religious institutions appear to be very similar—so similar, in fact, that Stack argues that he cannot really separate one effect from another in his data. Thus, he must analyze the effects of integration in both institutions simultaneously. In short, he is arguing that there is some underlying dimension common to both family and religious institutions that is being tapped by his measurement strategies.

One of the real payoffs in helping to reduce the ambiguity as to religion’s effect on personal well-being will come, we suspect, when more studies treat religiosity as a multidimensional construct and then relate various dimensions to personal well-being. We expect that some aspects of religiosity are likely to be associated with problems and difficulties within a person’s life, while other dimensions of religiosity may be related to personal well-being. Some recent progress along these lines is reported by Donahue (1985) in his meta-analyses of numerous studies. He takes Allport’s very influential concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity and shows that extrinsic religiosity is positively associated with socially devalued characteristics such as anxiety, fear, prejudice, and dogmatism, while it is unrelated to prosocial behaviors such as altruism. Donahue’s most important contribution comes as he further demonstrates the increased utility of his conceptualization wherein intrinsic and extrinsic are seen as distinct dimensions of religiosity rather than opposite poles on a single continuum. His resultant fourfold classification system allows him to test for interaction effects between the two dimensions and accounts much better for the observed patterns in the data. By treating religiosity as multidimensional, researchers then will be able to understand better the relationships to personal well-being. At that point family variables could be used along with multiple dimensions of religiosity to see how family variables may combine with these various combinations to better account for personal well-being.

The focus on personal well-being points to a common concern encountered in the literature on religion. Our third potential payoff area is an increase in social/psychological studies of religion and family. A number of reviewers have noted an absence of social/psychological studies of religion. Demerath and Roof (1976: 31) observe that “while it is too much to expect the field to discard its primary reference to institutional religion, increasing concern with belief systems and ritual activities as part of a broader pursuit of meaning and integration are critical if the field is to fulfill its promise.” Robbins and Anthony (1979: 85) observe that the consequences of involvement in today’s religious movements will never be understood “without additional information regarding the long-term social adjustment and attitudinal and personality transformations.” In D’Antonio, Newman and Wright’s (1982) research on social scientists’ view of the connection between religion and family, the authors note that most of the work emphasizes the social control aspect of religious institutions and so the structural characteristics of religion. What is glaringly absent is a concern by the social scientists of the social support functions of religious institutions, which are more social-psychological in nature. D’Antonio and his colleagues conclude that there is a “substantial need for . . . more social psychological research focusing . . . on the cognitive links between family . . . and religious institutions” (1982: 222).

This lack of emphasis on social support functions is ironical because the religious and familial institutions are clearly more intricately involved with mechanisms of emotional love and support than are all other social institutions. The religious functionaries preach a great deal about love in this world as well as other-worldly love; and almost by definition families are based upon marital, parental, and sibling emotional bonds.

D’Antonio’s (1980) research on love clearly indicates that, for many, love in the social realm cannot clearly be separated and differentiated from love that contains a vertical or a divine element. From his research findings he concludes that “young people see love as the central aspect of the meaning of life; they believe that love is the most important ingredient in religion; they believe that religion is still important in helping to form judgments and attitudes, and they are dubious about a religion that doesn’t help people to love others.” (1980: 102.)

Increased social/psychological studies add to our understanding of socialization processes and outcomes. Cornwall’s chapter (1988) makes it possible for the social scientist to begin to specify how the family, church, and peers influence religious identity. Parents and the church offer to children a meaningful system within which to interpret religious experience, model relevant religious behavior, and channel their children into peer groups which share similar familial and religious values. Stott’s chapter (1988) underscores the influence on religious involvement of the group (family, peer) which the respondent currently belongs to. Socialization is thus a lifelong process and not just something that happens during the childhood years. Clayton’s chapter (1988) shows that parents’ beliefs about the moral dimensions of human nature have to be studied along with parental attitudes about child-rearing to more fully understand socialization processes in the family.

We see the increased concern for social/psychological investigations of religion and family to be very important. We suspect that out of that coming research will flow a greater appreciation of the role of spiritual influences in the lives of people (Thomas and Sommerfeldt, 1984). This increased study of spiritual influences in religion and family studies is the fourth area of potential contribution. Our own judgment is that the human condition is very much concerned about meaning; that meaning is intricately involved with one’s perception of emotionally bonding relationships with others in the social world; and that, for a large proportion of the American population, such relationships with others are inextricably connected with their view of the basic relationship with Deity (D’Antonio, 1980). For us, therefore, family and religion will become inextricably involved in these studies of social/psychological processes that attempt to understand better the spiritual element in the human condition.

The final area of payoff addressed here is one identified in McNamara’s chapter on presuppositions. Unlike the foregoing concerns, this issue addresses social science research and theory endeavors, rather than family or religious institutions in particular. We agree with McNamara (1985) and Alexander (1982) that the postpositivist era in the social sciences has underscored the necessity of asking questions about the researchers’ presuppositions informing their effort to acquire reliable knowledge. Since, for us, any acquisition of knowledge simultaneously involves a reading of meaning into the data well as a reading of meaning out of the data, it becomes important for social scientists to look carefully at their presuppositions. McNamara’s work (1985), along with Warner’s (1979) earlier treatise, clearly shows that the social scientist’s presuppositions are related to the conclusions drawn from studies of families and religions. We see this as a healthy occurrence in the social sciences and expect that the concern for presuppositions will help illuminate the social scientists’ role in producing the knowledge that is generated in any research endeavor. In this context it becomes important for social scientists to make apparent their own value positions. We see some movement occurring in that direction.

Bergin (1980) argues that therapists are engaged in instituting value systems and, therefore, need to become aware of how their own values interfere with or facilitate their ability to work with particular people having similar or different values. McNamara (1985) asserts that social scientists analyzing conservative Christian families tend to see them from a particular point of view, given their own presuppositions about the nature of the religious institutions. These presuppositions blind some social analysts to alternative sources of data and information about particular families. When this blind spot is illuminated, a very different view of family roles, family functioning, and meaning structures within those families emerges. Questions about a social scientist’s presuppositions ought to be asked frequently in our current postpositivist era.

Schroll’s chapter (1988) traces the rise of postpositivist views in the physical sciences and argues for their relevance to social science. If modern physics emphasizes an observer-created reality, social scientists ought not to back away from questions about how their own conceptual systems along with measurement devices combine to influence the meaning they see in their data. The chapters by Spickard (1988) and Helle (1988) illustrate the very different typologies of families and religions created by the social scientist, depending upon the particular conceptual system he chooses to use in constructing the typology.

If the central thesis of this treatise has some validity—namely, that the familial and religious institutions need to be studied simultaneously in our efforts to understand the human condition better—we think that the thesis applies equally well in our collective efforts to understand the role of the social scientist in investigating that basic human creation, the family. We will need to study simultaneously the influence of presuppositions coming from either religious or nonreligious worldviews, along with the characteristics of the data and how the two interact as the social scientist reads meaning into and out of the data. Then, perhaps, through these reciprocal acts of knowing, we will better understand the human condition. The prospects are exhilarating.


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Chapters Cited from This Volume

Brodbar-Nemzer, J. Y. 1988. “The Contemporary American Jewish Family.”

Clayton, L. O. 1988. “The Impact of Parental Views of the Nature of Humankind upon Child- Rearing Attitudes.”

Cornwall, M. 1988. “The Influence of Three Agents of Religious Socialization: Family, Church, and Peers.”

Heaton, T. B. 1988. “Four C’s of the Mormon Family: Chastity, Conjugality, Children, and Chauvinism.”

Helle, H. J. 1988. “Types of Religious Values and Family Cultures.”

Hynes, E. 1988. “Family and Religious Change in a Peripheral Capitalist Society: Mid-Nineteenth-Century Ireland.”

Olshan, M.A. 1988. “Family Life: An Old Order Amish Manifesto.”

Scanzoni, L. D. 1988. “Contemporary Challenges for Religion and the Family from a Protestant Woman’s Point of View.”

Schroll, M. A. 1988. “Developments in Modern Physics and Their Implications for the Social and Behavioral Sciences.”

Spickard, J. V. 1988. “Families and Religions: An Anthropological Typology.”

Stott, G. N. 1988. “Familial Influence on Religious Involvement.”