Explanations concerning how individuals conduct themselves and how they change have troubled men and women of learning all through the centuries. As such, the psychology of religion seeks to provide an explanation of religious behavioral practices based on psychological methods. In two separate interviews, a series of questions were posed to Annie Begaj, 9 years and 2 months of age, and Kevin Begaj, 12 years and 8 months of age, concerning their understanding of their religious identity and ideas.
The answers that Annie gave revealed that she does not have enough grasp of religious concepts and she thinks that everyone embraces the same beliefs as she. For example, she did not know the reason why certain religious festivals, such as Christmas, Easter, and Passover, are celebrated, though she claimed to be Christian. Nevertheless, her “attitudes to religion are positive and he is able to relate a number of ideas together, even if only at a concrete level” (Goldman, the portrait of a nine-year-old section).
It is important to note that with advancing age, a child starts to understand some of the complexities of religious practices and rituals. For example, Kevin provided answers that are more elaborate when he was asked why certain religious festivals are observed. And, he understood that religion comes from within an individual rather than being determined externally. He was starting to show abstract and differentiated religious thinking. For instance, his answer to the question, “Can you tell me something important that Jesus said or did?” was succinct. This illustrates a considerable age-related cognitive difference in terms of how children conceive religious concepts.
According to Freud, one of the ways that religious concepts are transmitted from one person to another is through the possession of proofs that have been handed down from one generation to another since ancient times (38). Thus, both Annie and Kevin knew that God is a male figure because of the pictures they had seen about Him. Interestingly, it seems that all of them had rejected Freud’s idea that religion is an obstacle to mental health and embraced Fromm’s idea that some aspects of religion, especially the ethical teachings, are important to the health (Fromm, 4). For example, both of them believed that God could answer the prayers of people for their benefit.
In the questions that were related to the character of God, both Annie and Kevin showed that religion is an outshoot of the Oedipus complex. The answers they gave reveal that they had an ambivalent character of God, similar to how they view their father. Kevin said that “People say that [God] helps people in need”, and Annie said that “[God] sometimes punishes children when they are bad and don’t listen to their parents.” Thus, they viewed God as merciful and forgiving, but also as a rough imposer of tough rules that deserve punishment when not obeyed.
Overall, the results of these two interviews illustrate the change of religious perception from concrete, separate, and external to more abstract, general, and internalized as a child advance in age (Goldman, comments section). Additionally, the answers provided reveal that religious experiences in childhood are related almost entirely to congregational situations, as the case in which Annie sometimes enjoys going to church. On the other hand, as a child approaches adolescence stage, such experiences were more frequently associated with everyday situations, for example, Kevin preferred to pray as a way of going through life. Generally, parallel answers were given for other questions relating to communication to God, life after death, and God’s guidance in life, which suggests their developmental differences.
Freud, Sigmund. The Future of an Illusion. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1964. Print.
Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961. Print.
Goldman, Ronald. “The Children and Adolescents We Teach.” Goldman. N.d. Web.