Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Diversity and the God Image: Examining Ethnic Differences in the Experience of God for a College-Age Population

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Diversity and the God Image: Examining Ethnic Differences in the Experience of God for a College-Age Population

Article excerpt

This study examined ethnic group differences in the emotional experience of God for a college-age population. The researchers collected in-depth demographic data and administered the God Image Scales (GIS) and a series of attachment inventories with a sample of 211 college students. Using three levels of factor analysis, the researchers uncovered significant differences between White and non-White cohorts in their experience of God and in the influence of various factors including religiosity, spirituality, age, and having received psychotherapy. Additional results have implications for the interrelationship of models for the God image, faith development, ethnic identity development, and clinical practice.

The differentiation between the God concept, how a person cognitively or intellectually understands God, and the God image, how a person emotionally experiences God, has received increased attention in recent years. However, research addressing the God image has not considered the effects of ethnic, racial, and cultural differences. Neither has it considered potential developmental dynamics that may be associated with developmental processes. In this light, our purpose was to examine relationships between a broad set of demographic variables including a careful examination of ethnicity and dimensions of the God image among a population of college students. To address cultural issues, we examined variables addressing one's identification as religious and/or spiritual, as well as experiences with psychotherapy and the relationship of these measures with God image factors. In what follows, we review relevant literature addressing the God image, developmental theory, diversity issues, and our research question.

The God Image

The early development of God image theory and research emerged from the work of Rizzuto (1979) who relied upon Freud and object relations theory to develop her initial conception of how early parental relationships (i.e., attachments) influence one's experience of God later in life. Several studies have since supported the connection between attachment and parental relationships with the God image (Brokaw & Edwards, 1994; Hoffman, Jones, Williams, & Dillard, 2004; Tisdale et al., 1997). However, one should carefully distinguish between being influential and being a determinant; many forces influence how the God image develops. For example, initial research by Cheston, Piedmont, Eanes, and Lavin (2003) suggested that the God image changes as a person goes through the process of therapy. Hoffman et al. (2004) found evidence that the God concept, among other factors, influences the God image. This suggests that there is still much to learn about the God image.

Sorenson (2004) and Aron (2004) have each called for reinterpretations of God image theories in light of contemporary psychoanalytic thought. Aron challenged previous psychoanalytic views of the God image suggesting that they undervalued the intersubjective components of religious experience. Though not addressed in Aron's article, one could expand upon this critique to address the rather stagnant understanding of the God image (consistent with object relations theory) as compared with a more fluid understanding of how one experiences. God. This critique is consistent with contemporary psychoanalytic and relational theory. This would suggest an important limitation in current measures and theory. Additionally, if the God image is fluid, it might change routinely across the lifespan necessitating a more complex understanding of this construct.

Developmental Theories

Several theorists have addressed the importance of seeing spirituality, religion, and faith from a developmental perspective (Boone, 2005; Cox, 2005; Fowler, 1981; Nierenberg & Shildon, 2005; Schlesing, 2005). L. Hoffman (2005) extended this argument suggesting a developmental perspective for the God image. Two approaches to faith or spiritual development are particularly relevant for this study. …

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