An investigation into some aspects of the development of religious thinking in children aged between six and eleven years
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Children's thinking has been described by Piaget and others in general terms, which suggest that there are major developmental changes that affect children's thinking at various stages of their development. Some criticisms of Piaget's theory have related to his approach to describing children's thinking as a context free phenomenon. In relation to this point, arguments have been put forward for the need to investigate the development of children's thinking, within particular content areas, and the investigations reported in this thesis have concentrated on the development of religious thinking of children aged from ~6 to 11 years. A review of previous investigations into this area of children's thought development reveals major shortcomings, both in the experimental approaches used and in the theories that have been constructed. In particular it is argued that there has been a tendency for investigators to propose stage development theories on the basis of inadequate results. It is argued that there is a need for investigations which approach this problem from new directions. As a first step, a series of investigations, which employ a variety of approaches and which investigate various cognitive and semantic factors that may influence the development of religious thinking in children, are presented. The investigations that are reported involved individual interviews with 440 children, in the age range from 6 to 11 years. A variety of experimental techniques were employed, including those investigating the children's understanding of various biblical parables, their understanding of the meaning of words used in religious discourse, their conception of historical time and ability to sequentially order events in time, and the way that these factors affected their understanding of religious ideas. The results of the investigations are discussed in terms of the variety of aspects, which they reveal, relating to the development of religious thinking in children. It is argued that this evidence does not support the idea of the development of religious thinking being a unidimensional stage related process; however, the evidence collected from these studies is insufficient to form the basis of an alternative model. It is argued that future studies that follow this approach will be necessary if a satisfactory theory is to be constructed. The educational implications of these findings are discussed and it is argued that certain curriculum changes in the area of religious education may have been made on the basis of insufficient evidence and inadequate theories.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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