Spiritual DNA? BGSU researchers seek sacred building block to family life


$1.2 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, to fund the first in-depth, long-term study of the part religion plays in couples' transition to parenthood

BOWLING GREEN, O.--Marriage has been known as "holy" matrimony and childbirth as a "blessed" event for as long as there have been weddings and newborn babies. But is there something more to those spiritual terms?

Dr. Annette Mahoney, a Bowling Green State University psychology professor, calls religion's role in marriage and parenting an aspect of family life that's been overlooked by social scientists. Few researchers have studied it, let alone shown how spirituality impacts families over time.

Now, with $1.2 million in funding from the John Templeton Foundation, Mahoney and her Bowling Green colleagues Dr. Kenneth Pargament, a psychologist, and Dr. Alfred DeMaris, a sociologist, will embark on what is believed to be the first in-depth, long-term study of the part religion plays in couples' transition to parenthood.

"This is state-of-the-art social science research," according to Dr. Arthur Schwartz, vice president for research and programs in the human sciences at the Templeton Foundation, based in suburban Philadelphia.

The Foundation "is very interested in areas of spirituality and religiosity that have yet to be examined or understood scientifically," Schwartz says, adding that sanctification of pregnancy and parenthood fits that description. "We know so little about this area of human life that we wanted to fund something that was scientifically rigorous."

The four-year project is designed to examine the impact of sanctification of marriage, pregnancy and becoming a parent, and will involve 160 couples in the Toledo, Ohio area.

Sanctification is defined as perceiving aspects of life to have divine character and significance, or seeing life "through a sacred lens"--the title of the project led by Mahoney.

Spiritual emotions such as gratitude, awe and humility are among the implications of sanctification, as are investment in and commitment to that particular aspect of life and access to other spiritually based resources that help people cope effectively with stress.

"If pregnancy's a spiritually meaningful event both emotionally and mentally, we think it's going to lead to better outcomes for the parent and the child," according to Mahoney.

"The more people view the emergence of family through a sacred lens, the more they'll invest in the family," she hypothesizes.

The Foundation's hope, Schwartz adds, is that, regardless of their findings, Mahoney and Pargament, already "so well established in their field," will be regarded in future years as having "blazed a new trail" in research of sanctification of parenthood.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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