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The path to commitment: A study of the nature and origin of religious beliefs in Western Australian adolescents

Dixon, Cynthia Kinloch (1988) The path to commitment: A study of the nature and origin of religious beliefs in Western Australian adolescents. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Adolescence sees a major restructuring of the individual's view of the world, with major cognitive, physical and psychosocial shifts. Research has been centred on the nature of cognitive change, social factors of peer group, identity, locus of control, and many other areas of interest. with a curious lack of interest in what might be described as the factors involved in leading the adolescent to some life stance. commitment, ideology or philosophy of life.

With respect to a religious stance or commitment efforts have been made over the last two decades in particular to establish some of the characteristics involved in religion for the young using insights from developments in the fields of psychology, sociology and philosophy.
From the mid seventies the work of Leslie Francis began to appear, focussing on the attitudes of children to religion. In particular he demonstrated that negative attitudes towards religion were appearing at an earlier age than before. Since attitudes are measured from responses on the beliefs of the subject, this research grew out of a concern to establish the nature and origin of religious beliefs in the adolescent. Investigation of the nature of the believing process led to the conviction of the importance of distinguishing between belief and commitment.

Thus this study seeks to discover a) whether older Australian adolescents hold a particular set of religious beliefs, and if so b) where these beliefs come from and c) the extent to which these, rather than other predisposing factors, are responsible for religious commitment. The study is in four main sections.

1. The development of a conceptual model.

In this section an extensive theoretical underpinning is set out. This underpinning consists of a review and critique of philosophical, psychological and theological studies lead to the definition of the major concepts of belief, religious belief and commitment. These concepts are then used to construct a conceptual model of the religious believing process.

From this conceptual model a series of hypotheses is derived. These hypotheses are attempts to answer questions raised in the first chapter on the nature of the factors involved in the adolescent's path to commitment.

2. The development of an instrument.

Justification for the development of yet another measuring instrument is established in the light of the conceptual model. Steps are then taken to develop an instrument which measures both the nature and extent of religious belief, and the factors which contribute to belief and to the outcome of commitment or non-commitment.

Demonstration of the validation and reliability of the instrument established through pilot studies concludes this section. The instrument was named the Gilcomston Belief Questionnaire, as a token of gratitude towards the church of that name in the north east of Scotland where the researcher's own path to commitment was nurtured.

3. The testing of the hypotheses in a natural experiment.

The study was conducted on a sample of 860 year 12 high school students. Of these 430 came from State high schools, 215 from Catholic high schools, and 215 from Protestant high schools.

Five hypotheses were tested with two groups identified in the total sample. The first group represented those who expressed belief in response to the questionnaire, but did not express commitment, while the second group represented those who expressed commitment following an expression of belief.

The hypotheses centred around the expected characteristics of these two groups. Of the five hypotheses three were substantiated, while the fourth and the fifth were only partially substantiated, demonstrating that more complex factors pertained than the hypotheses had suggested.

4. Discussion and Conclusions

A discussion of implications of the findings completes the enquiry, with a range of recommendations for further research emanating from these implications.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Hill, Brian, Andrich, David and Docking, Russell
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