Transmission of Religious Cognition and Behavior

Learning Via Written Resources

How do cross-cultural and within-cultural variations in written sources of information provided to children relate to children’s concepts about and belief in natural and supernatural agents and causes?

     A common cultural tool for the transmission of religious beliefs and practices is written text. Research on children’s belief in the reality status of characters in story books indicates children attend to characteristics of the characters and events in a story when determining the reality status of the events and characters in the text. For example, children believe characters from fantasy storybooks are less real than characters from scientific storybook (Woolley & Van Reet, 2006), recognize situations and characters in cartoons are pretend (Li, Boguszewski, & Lillard, 2015), and claim characters from magical stories are fantastical (Corriveau, Chen, & Harris, 2015). The Developing Belief Network will examine the presence and nature of religious education texts in children’s environments and the relation between elements of the text and children’s religious beliefs.


     A growing literature indicates that children privilege information provided by written sources over verbal sources (Corriveau et al., 2014; Einav et al., 2013; Robinson et al., 2013). Some research has considered how adults evaluate the credibility of written claims, but little research has explored evaluation of written information from a developmental perspective. The cultural variability in the extent to which supernatural claims transmitted orally, or both orally and through text-based sources may help to highlight the important role of written narratives in the development of religious cognition.  There is very little known about how children evaluate written sources, and even less known about how children weigh information from written sources with the information they receive from verbal testimony.


     The Developing Belief Network will examine the role of various written sources (e.g., sacred texts, child-focused religious materials) in the transmission of religious beliefs and practices. We will then compare the influences of verbal and written testimony on belief acquisition. We anticipate that with age, written testimony will increasingly become an influential information source - over and above the influence of verbal information.

The Developing Belief Network is funded by The John Templeton Foundation, with additional support from the University of California, Riverside and Boston University, and involves a partnership with Databrary.