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The Effects of Childhood Maltreatment on Adult Religiosity and Spirituality: Rejecting God the Father Because of Abusive Fathers?

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Current theories can support conflicting accounts of the effects of childhood maltreatment on adult religiosity. However, in the relevant empirical research there are few examples of probability sampling or a focus on nonsexual forms of abuse. It is also uncommon to control for risk factors for abuse, which may themselves also affect adult religiosity. This study attempts to overcome some of these limitations by examining the effects of physical and emotional abuse on adult religiosity and spirituality in a U.S. probability sample of adults at midlife. Neither maltreatment from mothers nor from outside the family has an effect on religiosity, but abuse committed by fathers is related to decreases in religiosity, and abuse from outside the immediate family is related to increases in self-ratings of spirituality. Possible explanation for these results may be related to the image of God as father, which leads victims of abusive fathers to distance themselves from religion.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Correspondence should be addressed to Alex Bierman, Department of Sociology, University of Maryland, 2112 Art-Sociology Bldg., College Park, MD 20742., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2005

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