Children's Divine Dreams: A Conceptual and Empirical Study with Implications for Religioius Education

Article excerpt

This doctoral study is a conceptual and empirical exploration of the belief in, and experience of, dreams which the dreamer attributes a divine connection to. Whilst psychology is the contemporary home of dream research, the earliest records of discussion of dreams are located within religious contexts (Doniger and Bulkeley, 1993). Dreams with a perceived divine connection ('divine dreams') have been recorded since ancient times, and have primarily been the dreams of adults, not children. However, a small amount of literature suggests that some children dream about God (Adams, 2001) and some children attribute a divine origin to some of their dreams (Coles, 1990). This work studies the phenomenon of divine dreams in a sample of Christian, Muslim and secular children aged 9-12, and explores the implications of the findings for Religious Education in the British primary school.

The conceptual framework for studying children's divine dreams is achieved through a multidisciplinary approach. This approach draws primarily on: the dreams in Judaeo-Christian and Islamic sacred texts and in their religious traditions; literature about the scriptural dreams; psychological theories and findings about dreams, particularly those of children; and, to a lesser extent, children's spirituality and anthropology. Within psychology, an interdisciplinary argument is developed which draws on a range of theorists and empirical researchers.

Central to the work is an empirical study of children's experience and understanding of their own divine dreams, which focuses on the content of the children's dreams, and the children's understanding of their dreams, particularly why they attributed a divine connection to the dream.

The analysis of the empirical data synthesises the findings with the Abrahamic understanding of dreams and with psychological findings about dreams. Initially, 478 children were given a questionnaire in their schools in Scotland and England. These consisted of twenty-six schools, in both rural and inner-city areas. The questionnaire asked if the children had ever had a dream that they believed God/Allah had sent, and/or, in the case of Christian and secular children only, if they had had a dream in which God was present. Those who reported a dream were invited to be interviewed about it. Reports which contained evidence purporting to fabrication were identified during interviews. These occurred when children in the same school had written the same information on the questionnaire and only one child was able to offer information in the interview. After eliminating such reports, a total of 107 valid dreams were included in the study (resulting in a total of 22.4 per cent of all children asked). There was a higher ratio of female to male children reporting dreams: female n = 66, and male n = 41. The sample had an average age of 10 years 7 months and median 10 years and 11 months.

Of these 107 children, ninety-four were interviewed. The interview sample was broken down as follows: Christian (n = 35), Muslim (n = 26), secular (n = 24) and a group named 'Marginal Christian' (n = 9) where children did not make a clear distinction between having had a Christian upbringing and having had a non-religious upbringing. …

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