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.