Moral Cosmology, Religion, and Adult Values for Children

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We hypothesize that the religiously orthodox, who are theologically communitarian/authoritarian in seeing individuals as subsumed by a larger community of believers and as subject to timeless divine law, are more likely to value obedience in children over autonomy than are theological modernists, who are theologically individualistic in seeing individuals, not a deity, as the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong. We hypothesize further that differences in moral cosmology (orthodoxy vs. modernism) within faith traditions are more important for the values adults seek to instile in children than are differences between traditions. Through analyses of national data from the 1998 General Social Survey, we find strong confirmation of both hypotheses. Moral cosmology is the single-most important factor in valuations of obedience and autonomy in children. While evangelical Protestants differ from Catholics, mainline Protestants, and those with no religion in their values for children, moral cosmology is associated with differences in values for children within each of the faith traditions, including evangelical Protestants. We conclude that intra-faith differences in moral cosmology are key in explaining values for children, but have not completely supplanted interfaith differences.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Brian Starks is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Florida State University, 513 Bellamy Building, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-2270., Email: 2: Robert V. Robinson is Chancellor's Professor and Chair in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University, Ballantine Hall 744, 1020 East Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47405., Email:

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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