What is the nature of children’s developing beliefs about God? This question is central to the psychology of religion but research on the topic is sparse and, at times, contradictory. We suggest that these contradictions stem from differences in children’s concept of God that are not addressed in existing research. Based on review of this research and our own recent findings, we propose that God concepts fall along a spectrum of personal causal relevance; that is, some children conceive of God as a being that is intimately involved in causing events in their daily lives whereas others conceive of God as a more distant, uninvolved entity. Specifying the nature of children’s God concepts is crucial to clarifying developmental changes in belief. Overall, we expect children’s God concepts to become less causally relevant with age, with two individual differences moderating this change: perceptions of control and family religiosity. We will also test the hypothesis that belief in God confers certain affective benefits— particularly when concepts are causally relevant. Together, these studies will explore understudied aspects of religious cognition and clarify the development of children’s beliefs about God. We plan to disseminate the findings of this research to both academic and popular audiences.
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