Attachment and Religious
Representations and Behavior
LEE A. KIRKPATRICK
Probably in all normal people [attachment] continues in one form or another throughout
life and, although in many ways transformed, underlies many of our attachments to
country, sovereign, or church.
—BOWLBY (1956, p. 588)
Although Bowlby’s theorizing about attachment focused largely on the evolutionary origins of the attachment system and its manifestation in infant–mother relationships, he clearly believed from the beginning that the processes and dynamics of attachment have broad implications for social development and psychological functioning across the lifespan. Early forays into attachment in adulthood were led by Parkes (1972) and Weiss (1973) in their applications of attachment theory to bereavement and loneliness, respectively. Seminal papers by Hazan and Shaver (1987; Shaver, Hazan, & Bradshaw, 1988) led the way to a now-burgeoning literature on the role of attachment in adult romantic relationships (see Feeney, Chapter 17, this volume, for a review). Contemporaneously, work by Main and others (e.g., Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985) has spawned a parallel literature concerning mental representations of attachment in adulthood as they relate to parenting and to the intergenerational transmission of attachment patterns (see Hesse, Chapter 19, this volume, for a review). Researchers have also begun to explore applications of the theory to other domains of adult life, including work and career (Hazan & Shaver, 1990), fear of death (Mikulincer, Florian, & Tomacz, 1990), and coping with stressful events (Carpenter & Kirkpatrick, 1996; Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992) and life-threatening events (Mikulincer, Florian, & Weller, 1993). The purpose of the present chapter is to demonstrate that many aspects of religious belief and behavior can be meaningfully and usefully interpreted in terms of attachment dynamics as well.
Serious students of attachment theory are well aware of the potential dangers inherent in extending the theory beyond its valid limits. Bowlby’s choice of the term “attachment” was in one sense unfortunate, because of the word’s much broader meaning in everyday language: People speak colloquially of feeling “attached” to many objects and persons in their lives, from important possessions (cars, homes, a favorite pen) to social groups to sports teams to the Grateful Dead. Whether such phenomena—including patriotism, as suggested in the Bowlby quotation above—can be understood properly in terms of attachment as defined by Bowlby remains an open question, and one that should be approached with considerable skepticism. (Even the widely accepted extension of the theory to adult pair-bond relationships may be problematic and open to alternative interpretations; see Kirkpatrick, 1998a.)
Nevertheless, I wish to argue that many aspects of religious belief and behavior represent