Religion as Attachment: A Psychological Exploration of Relational Dynamics in God Representations
Hanneke Schaap-Jonker [+]
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Exploring religion from the perspective of attachment theory, Schaap-Jonker addresses how people’s conceptions of God are informed by early attachment processes (i.e. the development of a close emotional bond between a child and an attachment figure, usually the parents). This relational psychological approach therefore examines religion in the context of experiences in early interactions and their mental representations, conscious and subconscious relational dynamics, and attachment styles. Schaap-Jonker first presents attachment theory. Starting with the development of infants, she explains the concepts of attachment styles, internal working models and the mentalizing process. She then discusses the theory of God representations as core aspects of religiousness from an attachment approach. She does so by building on the work of Lee Kirkpatrick, one of the first researchers in this field. Stating that a God representation can function as an attachment figure, Kirkpatrick formulated two hypotheses – correspondence and compensation – to explain the psychological function of religion in a person’s life. Schaap-Jonker illustrates the relation between attachment processes and God representations by discussing the results of quantitative and qualitative research on God representations. She concludes by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of conceptualizing religion as attachment, the most important limitation being that attachment theory alone can obviously not explain the function of all God representations.