Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Study of Children in Religions

The Study of Children in Religions: A Methods Handbook

Edited by Susan B. Ridgely
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 325
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Study of Children in Religions
    Book Description:

    Research in religious studies has traditionally focused on adult subjects since working with children presents significantly more challenges to the researcher, such as getting the research protocol passed by the Internal Review Board, obtaining permission from parents and schools, and figuring out how to make sense of young worldviews. The Study of Children in Religions provides scholars with a comprehensive source to assist them in addressing many of the issues that often stop researchers from pursuing projects involving children. This handbook offers a broad range of methodological and conceptual models for scholars interested in conducting work with children. It not only illuminates some of the legal and ethical issues involved in working with youth and provides guidance in getting IRB approval, but also presents specific case studies from scholars who have engaged in child-centered research and here offer the fruits of their experience. Cases include those that use interviews and drawings to work with children in contemporary settings, as well as more historically focused endeavors to use material culture--such as Sunday school projects or religious board games--to study children's religious lives in past eras. The Study of Children in Religions offers concrete help to those who wish to conduct research on children and religion but are unsure of how to get started or how to frame their research.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7746-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Already, when opening this book and reading through the first pages, you, the reader, will realize that you are holding a book of great importance. I warmly welcome the book and its effort to create a firmer foundation for an area of scholarship that has hitherto been relatively neglected. It brings together two research traditions: the study of religion and the study of children and childhood as understood from the perspectives of children themselves. The volume opens a space in which children’s own perspectives on spirituality, religious beliefs, and religious practices are positioned as central to their social identities, everyday...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In much of religious studies scholarship, as in most religious practice, children appear primarily as reflections of adult concerns about the present or as projections of adult concerns for the future. Until recently, the absence of children’s voices in religion—and the widely shared assumptions about childhood that inform this absence—led many scholars to view children as uncritically following the beliefs of their parents. Scholars assumed that adults are the sole creators and promoters of religious traditions and beliefs, overlooking any roles that children play in the creation or modification of religion as they respond to adult efforts to...


    • 1 Agency, Voice, and Maturity in Children’s Religious and Spiritual Development
      (pp. 19-32)

      When my youngest daughter was about eight years old, at bedtime one night she said to her mother, “At this age, should I believe in God or not? Not that I’m mad at him, I just don’t really believe.” Her mother asked calmly, “What does that mean?” My daughter responded, “Well, I just . . . don’t believe that he exists. I believe in Jesus and Mary and stuff, but not God.” Referring to Jesus, she then said, “I believe that even when he’s a baby, he’s grown up, too. When he’s little he knows that he’s big.” Trying to...

    • 2 Religion and Youth in American Culture
      (pp. 33-49)

      One night, Maia, a budding environmentalist, and her high school boyfriend climbed over the fence of a housing development in southern California that was being built on a site where desert tortoises lived. The teen saboteurs put Karo syrup and tampons into the gas tanks of bulldozers on the construction site and pulled up survey stakes. Maia felt exhilarated when they left the site and marked that night as the moment of her conversion, a “tipping point” after which she was committed to radical environmental activism for several years. Looking back, she saw this period of her life as one...

    • 3 Children’s Rights in Research about Religion and Spirituality
      (pp. 50-64)

      The theologian’s replies raise questions for research about religion and spirituality. How can we explore complexity within children’s and adults’ seemingly simple, transparent religious beliefs? In secular societies, how can we conduct convincing research about spirituality as the “sense of connections between the individual and the surrounding world” (Lundskow 2008: 3) and between humans and other species experienced in terms of mystery and awe, generosity and gratitude (Beck 1992)? Spirituality may involve transcendence and intimations of holiness (Zinnbower et al. 1997). It may be the expression of “our deepest selves” (Roof 1993) and our search for connectedness and meaning (Benson...


    • 4 Navigating the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for Child-Directed Qualitative Research
      (pp. 67-79)

      Above my desk, I have a quotation pinned to the wall, words attributed to the late, great singer Pearl Bailey. Bailey once shared this point of wisdom: “What the world needs now is more love and less paperwork.” Bureaucratic reviews (such as tax returns, tenure applications, grant requests, and institutional reviews of research protocols) generally involve abundant forms to complete. An Institutional Review Board (IRB) application would seem to go astray of Pearl’s advice. Yet, in order to do ethically certified research with children, I have learned to make an exception. Research on children’s views is worth some red tape....

    • 5 “Maybe the Picture Will Tell You”: Methods for Hearing Children’s Perspectives on Religion
      (pp. 80-94)

      As I sat with John and Sarah, parents of seven children, in their farmhouse, discussing the stereotypes of conservative Christian families, their eldest daughter, nine-year-old Gwynn, sat down beside me. She listened quietly until I asked her father what key principles of Christianity he tried to teach his children, both through his missionary work and at home. He replied, “Along with being good and loving, [God] is deserving of our lives. And just the whole fact, at least as we believe it, he created the world and created us.” Here Gwynn jumped in, “At least as we believe it? Didn’t...

    • 6 Boundary and Identity Work among Hare Krishna Children
      (pp. 95-107)

      Religious culture is vital to the success of new religious movements, given their oppositional stance toward the larger society (Rochford 2007a; Stark 1996). Without a supportive religious culture, alternative religions lack the foundation for sustaining a vibrant community of the faithful. As the noted sociologist Ann Swindler (1986) suggests, a stable culture allows belief and everyday experience to become aligned and thereby produces “settled lives.” Part of the cultural work required of new religions involves establishing group boundaries to deflect the ongoing challenge of mainstream culture. These boundaries also facilitate the construction of oppositional religious identities, perhaps especially so for...

    • 7 Playing with Fire (and Water, Earth, and Air): Ritual Fluency and Improvisation among Contemporary Pagan Children
      (pp. 108-120)

      Despite children’s omission from a significant portion of the anthropological record, it is often the case that ethnographic methods can provide access to information by and about children that might be otherwise overlooked or inaccessible. Anthropologist Lawrence Hirschfield’s provocatively titled article, “Why Don’t Anthropologists Like Children?” contends, “Mainstream anthropology has marginalized children because it has marginalized the two things that children do especially well: children are strikingly adept at acquiring adult culture and, less obviously, adept at creating their own cultures.”¹ Among contemporary American Pagans—and, indeed, among children in new religious movements in general—this marginalization is exacerbated by...

    • 8 “La Virgen, She Watches over Us”: What Cholos and Cholas Can Teach Us about Researching and Writing about Religion
      (pp. 121-136)

      We sat under some mesquite trees as he caressed the black and white tattoo of the Virgin of Guadalupe etched on his right forearm. A crochet rosary in green and red hung around his neck, next to the gold medallion of the Virgin of Guadalupe that hisabuelita, his grandmother, gave him when he was a little boy. Mark, a member of the South Phoenix gang Wetback Power (WBP), narrated his life story; he spoke passionately about his love for “la Virgen de Guadalupe,” his “familia,” and his “nueva familia,” his gang peers. He talked about his faith, shooting rival...


    • 9 Going through the Motions of Ritual: Exploring the “as if” Quality of Religious Sociality in Faith-Based Schools
      (pp. 139-156)

      It was lunchtime in the teachers’ room of a Danish Jewish day school on the last day before Passover recess. At the door, two fourth-grade girls asked politely for their Judaics teacher. “Is it all right if we go home too? The other class has finished and gone home.” The students looked hopefully at their teacher, who answered, “No, we’re going to stay. We still have theafikoman, the blessing, and the songs” (April 2008).

      This excerpt comes from field notes taken on the day of the Model Seder. Just two weeks into fieldwork at a Danish Jewish school, I...

    • 10 Catholic Children’s Experiences of Scripture and the Sacrament of Reconciliation through Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
      (pp. 157-171)

      Joining a growing number of childhood studies scholars who advocate child-centered research, I was interested in exploring how Catholic children encounter and respond to scripture and its impact on their relationship with God. I decided to focus on a particular faith formation program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) because it views its programs and its theological content as completely child centered. From February to May 2007, I observed six-to-nine-year-olds at a Catholic Montessori school during their weekly two-hour class. I must admit that my own interest in conducting child-centered research with CGS children stemmed in part from a...

    • 11 Religion and Youth Identity in Postwar Bosnia Herzegovina
      (pp. 172-186)

      Vice-president Joseph Biden quoted the poem above on May 19, 2009, as he stood before the Bosnian Parliament and delivered a speech that was generally a well received by the Bosnian press. The words of Hajat Avdović, who left Sarajevo when he was a child and moved to America with his family,¹ profoundly convey his feelings about religion and conflict in his birthplace.

      A need to access precisely such words and worldviews of Bosnian youth and children prompted me to conduct research as a Fulbright fellow at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, University of Sarajevo (Fakultet Islamskih Nauka, Sarajevski Univerzitet)...


    • 12 The Battle for the Toy Box: Marketing and Play in the Development of Children’s Religious Identities
      (pp. 189-201)

      “Will you join ‘The Battle for the Toy Box’?” asks the poster in large letters across the top. The seriousness of this battle is shown through the image of muscular Samson and Goliath action figures locked in combat and the accompanying text: “one2believe, a faith based toy company, has been given an opportunity to spread the word of God to children throughout America. . . . one2believe is in a Battle for the Toy Box. Which side are you on?” (“Battle for the Toybox” 2007: 190).

      What’s going on here? Aren’t toys supposed to be fun?

      Playthings are indeed fun,...

    • 13 “God made this fire for our comfort”: Puritan Children’s Literature in Context
      (pp. 202-219)

      The seventeenth-century English world witnessed a proliferation of literature designed for children. Puritans and other dissenters from the Church of England after the 1662 Act of Uniformity wrote much of this literature, from which emerged a new genre—a child’s martyrology—that collected accounts of children dying with admirable piety. Historians have used these books to scrutinize adult intentions and psychology and to argue that Puritan childhood was fear filled and repressed. A focus on children and religion in the study of this literature, however, challenges historians to reexamine the sources, to reevaluate historical method, and to consider how literary...

    • 14 Childhood in the Land of Hope: Black Children and Religion in Chicago, 1920-1945
      (pp. 220-235)

      The fears about the religious and moral lives of children expressed in the quotation above were not exclusive to Black Chicago; rather, these concerns were common among adults of many races, religions, and regions in the twentieth-century United States. In the case of Black Chicago, adult fears reflected a gap between adult and child experiences of urban life. The generation of children growing up in Black Chicago between 1920 and 1945 could be called “the gospel generation.” While not all of them listened to or performed gospel music, they were a generation of migrants growing up in a city that...

    • 15 The Baptism of a Cheyenne Girl
      (pp. 236-251)

      This chapter approaches the rite of Christian baptism through the eyes of a Cheyenne child.¹ The eight-year-old girl was baptized into the Episcopal Church in a gold mining town in Colorado in 1866. Baptism is intended as a signal event in the life of an individual, as well as for his or her family and church community. This baptism was all those things, but its meaning also extended beyond its immediate environs. Delicate treaty negotiations between the United States and the Cheyenne nation felt the effect of this baptism during a particularly violent period of the military conquest of the...

    • 16 Examining Agency, Discourses of Destiny, and Creative Power in the Biography of a Tibetan Child Tertön
      (pp. 252-266)

      Ascertaining a child’s perspective and experience of religious tradition and practice can be a difficult feat, made all the more complex by the tendency for adults and scholars to reinterpret, overlook, or even omit children’s explanations of their experiences in depictions of religion. While recent scholarship (particularly by the scholars included in this volume) has introduced the child’s voice into studies of religious ritual and experience in a number of cultural contexts, in studies of Tibetan religion, children remain largely absent as agents and participants. Establishing the perception of historical children and their experience is made all the more difficult...

    • 17 Memory Work and Trauma in Research on Children
      (pp. 267-284)

      Sometime in 1942, Max’s grandfather took him by train to Friesland. At the train station at Leeuwarden, he gave Max to a stranger who was waiting for them.

      My grandfather said to me, “You have to go with that gentleman, and he’ll take care of you.” My grandfather popped in the train, and he was gone. And . . . then you can feel your heart pounding. “What’s going to happen to me?” And . . . well, the man, he took me by the hand and, well, he was talking to me, but I couldn’t understand him because he...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-300)
  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 301-304)
  12. Index
    (pp. 305-309)