Monday, June 7, 2010

Bridging the Gap

Recently, I was talking with someone about the 2011 SECFR conference. While the conference will definitely be in Birmingham, the specific site hasn't been nailed down yet, as our conference/program committee is still researching prices, facilities, etc. When I mentioned that Samford University was a candidate for hosting the conference, the point was made that Samford was a religious institution and that some people might be discouraged from attending the conference given this fact. I was thinking, "Why would the fact that Samford is affiliated with the Baptist church be an issue? Samford is a fine university (ranked in the top tier of national doctoral research universities by U.S. News & World Report and more academically rigorous than many public institutions) with a beautiful campus located in a very nice, accessible, and scenic part of Birmingham." Anway, this discussion really got me wondering about the divide between family science and religion. Why is there such a gulf between the two? There are exceptions, but it seems that many family scientists consider religion to be a taboo topic and/or a non-factor in the realm of human development and family relations. Others are openly hostile toward anything that remotely smacks of religion, and when they do discuss religion, it's invariably in a negative sense.

When I was a graduate student, religion never came up in any of the classes I took nor did we ever read anything that described research on the relationship between religiosity, religious activity and attendance and human development and family relations. Whenever we discussed factors involved in healthy child development, healthy parent-child relationships, healthy family functioning, and healthy marriages, every conceivable factor under the sun was mentioned save one -- religion. It was made to appear that religion didn't matter whatsoever when it comes to human development and family relations, although later with Ph.D. in hand, I discovered some solid empirical literature documenting that religion does, in fact, matter and is associated with a wide variety of benefits for children and youth, marriages, and families. Interestingly, contrary to some people's biases, you won't find much empirical research out there that indicates that religion has negative effects or causes harm to children, relationships, and families.

I feel myself starting to ramble (or babble), so I'll close, However, it does appear to me that an unfortunate chasm exists between family science and religion, and in the interest of having an accurate family science, we have to start acknowledging the positive influence that religion can and does have on individuals, marriages, and families.


  1. Well, I happen to be one who believes that faith does, indeed, impact family relations. Mostly positive, sometimes negative (I don't particularly like it when pastors wade in uninvited into divorce negotiations, for example because they tend to have some "theological" considerations that sometimes don't play well with my goals).

    It seems to me that, whatever one's feelings about religion are, this is one facet of life that ought not to be ignored in any study of family dynamics.

    As for a facility being affiliated with a relgious organization as be "offputting," that is simply amazing to me. Can't we drop our prejudices in favor of a good, accessible facility?

  2. Religion plays a big part in the lives of the women I help. My work involves helping pregnant women and mothers with substance use and mental health problems get back onto their feet. Through counseling (group and individual), case mgmt and increased access to resources, increasing self-sufficiency, and increasing natural supports, these women can and do improve their lives, one step at a time. Many of the women I help have lost their faith (in general, and some specifically) during the time of active addiction. In Recovery, this is a time for them to experience pain, joy, happiness and grief. Using drugs became a part of coping for sometimes years and years; it follows that faith, and belief that things will get better by the grace of a higher power or God, will help them some, even if they do not fully understand how.

    We do not offer religious connections or readings that are strictly religious; however, we often utilize readings that contain messages of faith. It is the hope contained in these messages that is often the seed planted that day.

    I tend to agree with the posts: rather than fear religion's connection with science, we need to allow those we work with to show us how they NEED and WANT it to connect, to some extent. After all, the people we serve often show us and tell us what they need in other ways too.
    - Amanda Carrick, UNC Horizons at Alamance
    NCSU Grad student --HDFS (FYD) program