BOWLING GREEN - The role religion plays in parenting will be studied by researchers at Bowling Green State University through a $1.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
While many social-science studies have explored the impact of religion on family life, only a handful have been conducted on faith and parenting, according to Annette Mahoney, a BGSU psychology professor and lead researcher on the project.
"This is a very unstudied topic," said Ms. Mahoney, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Houston.
Working with her will be BGSU professors Kenneth Pargament, a psychologist, and Alfred DeMaris, a sociologist.
The Philadelphia-based Templeton Foundation, with a reported $895 million in assets, says in its mission statement that it seeks "to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science."
The BGSU study will look closely at how people use religion to interpret and experience marriage, pregnancy, and having a baby, Ms. Mahoney said.
Rather than using typical indicators of religiousness, such as church attendance and frequency of prayer, the BGSU team will look at the degree to which couples "view the world through a sacred lens," Ms. Mahoney said.
Those who view the world through a sacred lens consider some aspects of life to have divine character and significance, such as believing that a baby is a gift from God, she explained.
The researchers' approach to spirituality reflects the growth of nontraditional religious views in the United States, Ms. Mahoney said, with an increasing number of people saying they believe in God although they may not participate in traditional faith communities.
Arthur Schwartz, vice president for research and programs in the human sciences at the Templeton Foundation, said in a statement that the BGSU project is "state-of-the-art social science research" and that the foundation "is very interested in areas of spirituality and religiosity that have yet to be examined or understood scientifically."
Ms. Mahoney plans to recruit 160 Toledo-area couples, who will be first-time parents, from a cross section of the community with various religious backgrounds and degrees of spirituality.
"We are not necessarily excluding anyone from any faith or tradition," she said, "although the way we've designed the study some of the questions will make more sense to people who have a monotheistic religion."
The BGSU researchers will conduct interviews, use questionnaires, and observe marital and parent-child interaction.
Ms. Mahoney hypothesizes that couples who see "divine character and significance" in pregnancy and birth are more likely to make a commitment and investment in prenatal care, marital adjustment, and parenting.
The researchers also speculate that during stressful times, couples who look at life through a sacred lens will be more likely "to turn to their relationship with God and other believers to cope with their struggles."
Ms. Mahoney, who has been at BGSU since 1994, and Mr. Pargament are co-advisers of the university's Spirituality and Psychology Research Team, or SPiRiT.
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