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Research on religion and children’s development

20 November 2015


From the Revd Dr Howard J. Worsley

Sir, — With reference to your report "Religious children are ‘more selfish’" (News, 13 November): it is helpful to gain a better understanding of the original research article before drawing conclusions.

First, the article is published in the journal Current Biology. In other words, it is more interested in genetic connectors between genes and culture than the educational impact of the nurturing environment.

Second, the article is examining children aged five to 12. In other words, it is not looking at the next stage in children’s development as they progress towards adulthood.

If the research was to draw on wider cross-disciplinary data and also to take a longitudinal view, it would be interested to notice that children from religious homes are not only more sensitive to injustice than others, but they will often travel through a judging or moralising stage (which is an early interpretation of their parents’ faith) before coming to their own faith.

A longitudinal research sample would be likely to evidence that the child’s new faith stage will be either a rejection of the parental faith or an adoption of a new "owned faith" that is probably more altruistic than other young people. Subsequently, these religiously motivated adults are very likely to evidence strong altruism, as is attested by the large number of religious people working in the voluntary sectors.

Nevertheless, despite these inadequacies in the cited research article, I also wish to commend it as being exemplary in looking at children across the world in seven countries, and for using an international team of both men and women, who are working together. I also affirm their assumption that religious nurture might well be toxic if it is not equally balanced by spiritual care.

It is a timely reminder that religions no longer hold the moral high ground in public discourse, and it prompts Christian parents and teachers of children to offer prayerful imagination in their strategic task of teaching children.

Vice-Principal and Tutor in Missiology
Trinity College
Stoke Hill, Stoke Bishop
Bristol BS9 1JP

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