Despite the fact that prayer is one of the, if not the, first shared religious activities in which children engage, very little research has examined the influence of engaging in prayer on children's developing religious thinking. Our research project is part of a Social Science Research Council grant to produce innovative research in the study of prayer. Our objective is to examine if differences in exposure to, understanding of, and participation in prayer are related to individual differences in the development of religious concepts during the preschool years.
We seek to gain a diverse perspective on the prayer practices to which children are exposed; thus for this project, parents and children are interviewed about prayers from three religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Children are interviewed to assess their concepts of God, supernatural causality, and prayer. Parents provide information about their child's daily exposure to prayer. Parents and children also engage in a dyadic-interaction in which they discuss prayer. This project is one of the first attempts to examine how preschoolers' exposure to and understanding of prayer influences their development of religious concepts.
Research into children’s beliefs about the origin of species has suggested that children are predisposed toward creation beliefs (Evans, 2001), a predisposition that has been termed “intuitive theism” (Kelemen, 2004). Ongoing research in our lab examines the extent to which creation beliefs are universal and how variations in cultural practices and beliefs influence the cognitive proclivities that promote creation beliefs.
The creation of belief: Chinese children’s use of evolution to explain the origin of species. One way to examine the universality of creation beliefs is to examine beliefs about the origin of species in a culture where religious beliefs are not prevalent and are not encouraged. This particular project has focused on understanding 8- to 12-year-old Chinese children’s preference for explanations about the origin of species. Results indicate that in this entire age range Chinese children, unlike American children, select evolutionary explanations for the origin of animates.
Cultural variation. In another series of studies, we are examining the role of specific cultural, cognitive, and individual difference variables on beliefs about the origin of species and understanding of evolutionary theory. Specifically, these studies aim to go beyond religious affiliation in explaining the influences on beliefs and understanding, as well as understanding how beliefs and understanding are related.