top of page
Top of page

Children & Religion

Prayer      Religious Rituals    Origin Beliefs     The Soul

Interested in participating in current paid research opportunities?
Families with kids ages 4-10 are invited!

DBN Flyer.png
Religious Ritual
Origin Beliefs

Development of Children’s Understanding of Prayer 

Our lab currently has funding from the Social Science Research Council to conduct innovative research on the study of prayer. Our project is one of the first attempts to examine how preschoolers’ exposure to and understanding of prayer influences their development of religious concepts. Our objective is to examine if differences in exposure to, understanding of, and participation in prayer are related to individual differences in the development of religious concepts during the preschool years.

During this time, your child will be given simple cognitive tests and asked questions regarding his/or her understanding of different concepts. Researchers will also interview you regarding your family background and the cultural activities you and your child participant in.

To be eligible for the study, your child must be between 3y 6m to 5y 6m of age and English must be the primary language spoken in your home.  There will be the potential for a follow-up study for you and your child to come back to the lab for another visit.

Richert, R. A., & Granqvist, P. (2013). Religious and spiritual development in childhood. In R. F. Paloutzian & C. L. Park (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of religion and spirituality (2nd ed.) (pp. 165-182). New York: Guliford Press. (PDF)
Religious Rituals



Religious Rituals 


Research suggests that concepts of religious rituals are the products of cultural learning and natural cognitive processes (Barrett & Lawson, 2001; Richert, 2006).  Our lab’s research examines the influence of social cognition on ritual concepts. Two current studies are examining this phenomenon. First, we are examining adult’s concepts of familiar and unfamiliar rituals. Second, we are examining children’s concepts of intention and the role they play in the formation of concepts of unfamiliar and familiar rituals.


Additionally, we are examining the role of the physical actions of rituals in the formation of religious concepts. Religious knowledge has been hypothesized to be embodied, integrally tied to the situation and context in which the memories were formed. In addition to religious visions and religious beliefs, religious knowledge is thought to be embodied within the physical actions of religious rituals (Barsalou et al., 2005). Research in our lab is examining the connection between concepts of religious rituals and the physical actions of those rituals.



Shaman, N. J., & Richert, R. A. (2013, July). Embodied Rituals: Physical performance and supernatural agents. Paper presented at the 121st Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association. (PDF)
Shaman, N. J., & Richert, R. A. (2013, April). Children’s concepts of religious rituals and the role of social cognition and ritual familiarity. Poster presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, WA. (PDF)
Shaman, N. J., & Richert, R. A. (2012, April). The role of social cognition in children’s representations of religious rituals.  Poster presented at the 10th Annual APA Mid-Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality, Baltimore, MD. (PDF)


Origin Beliefs 

Research into children’s beliefs about the origin of species has suggested that children are predisposed toward creation beliefs (Evans, 2001), a predisposition that has been termed “intuitive theism” (Kelemen, 2004). Ongoing research in our lab examines the extent to which creation beliefs are universal and how variations in cultural practices and beliefs influence the cognitive proclivities that promote creation beliefs.


The creation of belief:


Chinese children’s use of evolution to explain the origin of species. One way to examine the universality of creation beliefs is to examine beliefs about the origin of species in a culture where religious beliefs are not prevalent and are not encouraged. This particular project has focused on understanding 8- to 12-year-old Chinese children’s preference for explanations about the origin of species. Results indicate that in this entire age range Chinese children, unlike American children, select evolutionary explanations for the origin of animates.


Cultural variation.

In another series of studies, we are examining the role of specific cultural, cognitive, and individual difference variables on beliefs about the origin of species and understanding of evolutionary theory. Specifically, these studies aim to go beyond religious affiliation in explaining the influences on beliefs and understanding, as well as understanding how beliefs and understanding are related.



Richert, R. A., & Smith, E. I. (2010). The role of religious concepts in the evolution of human cognition. In U. Frey (Ed), The nature of God: Evolution and religion (pp. 93-110). Antwerp, Belgium: Tectum. (PDF)
Richert, R. A., & Smith, E. (2009). Cognitive foundations in the development of a religious mind. In E. Voland & W. Schievenhövel (Eds.), Biological evolution of religious mind and behavior (pp. 181-193). New York: Springer. (PDF)


The Soul

An additional way to examine if concepts of the soul are rooted in children’s normative cognitive development and tendencies toward psychological essentialism is to examine the variation in these concepts cross-culturally. Thus, our lab is investigating how 8- to 12-year-old Chinese children conceive of concepts of the mind, brain, and the body, as well as their relation to concepts of identity.



Richert, R. A., & Smith, E. I. (2012). The essence of soul concepts: How soul concepts influence ethical reasoning across religious affiliation. Religion, Brain, & Behavior, 2(2), 161-176. (PDF)

The Soul
bottom of page