In the Eyes of God: How Attachment Theory Informs Historical and Contemporary Marriage and Religious Practices among Abrahamic Faiths

By Harris, V. William; Marshall, James P. et al. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

In the Eyes of God: How Attachment Theory Informs Historical and Contemporary Marriage and Religious Practices among Abrahamic Faiths


Harris, V. William, Marshall, James P., Schvaneveldt, Jay D., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam represent three of the greatest religious traditions in the world. Each is unique, and yet each also contains a shared amalgamation of religious traditions, dogmas, rituals, and conflicts (Crim, 1989). Contemporary disagreements over ideologies, geography, and capital reveal a pressing societal need to further understand the historical roots and modern psyche of these religions (Crim, Spilka, Hood, Jr., Hunsberger, and Gorsuch, 2003).

Surprisingly, little has been done to understand how religious law influences marital and religious ritual among these three great Abrahamic faiths using a specific theoretical perspective such as attachment theory. Since marriage is typically the gateway to family life and because most marriages are performed in religious settings, a comparison of marital laws and rituals through the lens of attachment theory may add important understanding, acceptance, and tolerance of these religious traditions (Kirkpatrick, 1999; Lambert and Dollahite, 2006; Mordecai, 1999; Wilson, 1995).

It is also important to understand that within each of these religious traditions there also lays a great deal of individual variation among adherents. Customs, symbols, traditions, and religious practices can vary greatly from country to country, within countries, and among specific denominations or factions. The mental models these individuals develop toward attachment figures (e.g., such as with parents, siblings, or marriage partners) within the context of specific customs, symbols, traditions, and religious practices tend to shape their attachment relationships with their God (see Kirkpatrick, 1999). In other words, the way individuals perceive and view their primary mortal attachment relationships tends to dominate the way they view themselves in the eyes of their immortal God. Among adherents of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam these perceptions of both mortal and immortal attachment relationships are often highly influenced by sacred texts and religious law (Crim, 1989, Kirkpatrick; Wilson, 1995).

Purposes of this article include providing a brief assessment of current religion-marriage research, a concise review of the historical roots of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a look at marital law as explained in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Qur'an, and an overview of ancient and contemporary marital ritual, religious practice, and symbolism within each of these three religious traditions informed through the lens of attachment theory. Conclusions and implications for using this historical research as a background for empirical research are also offered.

RELIGION-MARRIAGE RESEARCH

Seminal religion-marriage research and review over the last several decades suggests a positive association between religiosity and marital satisfaction-stability (Amato, Johnson, Booth, and Rogers, 2003; Bahr and Chadwick, 1985a, 1985b; Dollahite, Marks, and Goodman, 2004; Mahoney, Pargament, Jewell, Swank, Scott, and Emery, 1999; Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar, and Swank, 2001). For example, frequency of religious rituals such as attendance at public religious meetings (e.g., church) was correlated with lower risks of divorce and conflict and higher levels of commitment (Dollahite et al., 2004; Mahoney et al., 2001). Additionally, religiosity practices such as prayer and reading of sacred tests were correlated with lower levels of divorce, higher levels of marital satisfaction and commitment, and successful coping strategies (Bahr and Chadwick 1985a, 1985b; Chatters and Taylor, 2005; Mahoney et al., 1999; Mahoney et al., 2001; Pargament, 1997).

Positive associations between religion and marital satisfaction-stability appear to hold across Abrahamic faiths (Marks, 2005). Marks and Dollahite (2001) identified three general domains of religion: faith communities, religious practices, and spiritual beliefs and emphasized that the influence of each must be studied to form a "three-dimensional picture of how families are influenced by and draw meaning from religion" (Dollahite et al. …

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