Measuring Attitude toward Theistic Faith: Assessing the Astley-Francis Scale among Christian, Muslim and Secular Youth in England

Article excerpt

Empirical research within the social scientific study of religion in general and within the psychology of religion in particular remains very conscious of the complex nature of its subject matter. Empirical research in this field needs to take cognisance of the many forms in which religion is expressed (say, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism) and the many facets within the forms (say, beliefs, behaviours and affiliation). Working in the 1970s, Francis (1978a; 1978b) advanced the view that the attitudinal dimension of religion offered a particularly fruitful basis for coordinating empirical enquiry into the correlates, antecedents and consequences of religiosity across the life span.

The attitudinal dimension appeared attractive in the 1970s and continues to appear attractive for four main reasons. First, at a conceptual level, social psychologists have developed a sophisticated and well-established understanding of attitude as a deep-seated, relatively stable and enduring covert predisposition, in contrast with more volatile and surface behaviours and opinions. To assess attitude toward religion is to get close to the heart of religion in an individual's life. Second, attitudes provide a purer measure of religion than either belief or practice. The affective dimension with which attitudes are concerned is able to transcend the divisions between denominational perspectives, while beliefs tend to polarise such divisions. The attitudinal dimension of religion, being deep seated, is less likely to be distorted by personal and contextual factors, while practice tends to be subject to all kinds of personal and social constraints. Third, at an operational level, social psychologists have developed a range of sophisticated and well-established techniques for assessing and scaling attitudes, including the pioneering work of Thurstone (1928), Likert (1932), Guttman (1944) and Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum (1957). The social scientific study of religion is able to build on these foundations. Fourth, the attitudinal dimension of religion can be accessed by instruments which can function in a comparatively stable manner over a wide age range. While the sophistication with which beliefs are formulated and tested clearly develops over the life span (see, for example, Fowler, 1981), attitudinal statements concerned with positive and negative affect can be formulated in ways which are equally acceptable during childhood, adolescence and adulthood (Francis and McCarron, 1989; Francis and Stubbs, 1987).

Against this background, Francis (1978a; 1978b) proposed a twenty-four-item Likert scale, introduced as the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity and designed for application in Christian and post-Christian cultural settings. This instrument contained both negative and positive items concerned with affective responses to five components of the Christian faith accessible to and recognised by both children and adults, namely, God, Jesus, Bible, prayer and church. The English-language form of this instrument has been tested in a number of contexts, including Australia and Canada (Francis, Lewis, Philipchalk, Brown, and Lester, 1995), England (Lewis, Cruise, and Lattimer, 2007), Kenya (Fulljames and Francis, 1987), Nigeria (Francis and McCarron, 1989), Northern Ireland (Lewis and Maltby, 1997), Republic of Ireland (Maltby, 1994), Scotland (Gibson and Francis, 1989), South Africa (Francis, Kerr, and Lewis, 2005) and the United States of America (Lewis and Maltby, 1995). Although scales of around twenty-four items are not generally problematic to administer, they can prove to be cumbersome when time is particularly restricted or when there is a large number of other instruments to include within one questionnaire survey. It is for this reason that, in addition to the full twenty-four-item form of the Francis Scale of Attitude toward Christianity, a sevenitem short form has been developed and tested among primary school pupils (Francis, 1992), secondary school pupils (Francis, Greer, and Gibson, 1991) and adults (Francis, 1993; Francis, Lewis, Philipchalk, Lester, and Brown, 1995; Maltby and Lewis, 1997; Lewis, Shevlin, Lloyd, and Adamson, 1998; Lewis, Cruise, and McGuckin, 2005; Adamson, Shevlin, Lloyd, and Lewis, 2000). …