In 2014, we collected more than 3000 drawings of God in Iran. Here we present the conditions for this collection and the results derived from it. We interpret our findings from the perspective of developmental psychology, and discuss them in terms of social, cultural, and contextual factors (media, formal and informal education). We consider God representation with regard to Iranian-Islamic culture. Additionally, we make a brief comparison between our findings, drawn from participants in Iran, and the findings of studies conducted in Western cultures. Finally, limitations of the study and future research directions are critically discussed.
- Developmental psychology
- God representation
- Religious development
- Psychology of religion
Research indicates that our understanding of the complexity and multidimensionality of children’s concepts of GodFootnote 1 is still developing (Dandarova-Robert et al., 2016; Khodayarifard et al., 2015). For a detailed review of literature on multidimensional factors affecting children’s drawings of God (see Chap. 2, this volume).
At this point, most of the studies about children’s drawings of God have been conducted in Western cultures, often in a specifically Christian context. To date there are almost no corresponding studies in Middle Eastern countries among Islamic cultures, such as the Shia Muslims of Iran. Iran is a Middle Eastern country with a population of around 81,672,300 people (2018 estimate). Persian is the formal language in Iran; however, the Azerbaijani language (Azeri Turkish), Kurdish, Luri, Balochi, and Mazanderani are also spoken informally. Ninety eight percent of Iranians are adherents of Islam (Shi’a 89%, Sunni 9%); Iranian Sunni citizens are primarily concentrated in the provinces of Golestān, Kurdistan, and Baluchestan (Ahmadi et al., 2018). Shia Islam is the official religion of the country.
In this work, we report and discuss the results of a comprehensive study conducted in Iran. The research explores the representation of God in the drawings of Iranian children, and the factors affecting this representation. The investigation addresses the following research questions:
How do Iranian children draw God?
How is the gender of Iranian children related to their representation of God?
How does the age of Iranian children affect their drawing of God?
How do culture and social environment influence Iranian children’s representation of God?
How do demographic factors affect the representation’s gender (if gender is applicable to drawing)?
Population and Sample
Iranian male and female school students, 7–14 years old, were selected as a target population. We used the cluster sampling method to select the counties, and then selected schools randomly in each county, taking into account three variables: gender (male, female), age range (7–8, 9–10, 11–12, 13–14), and county (Tehran, Savojbolagh, Sanandaj, Sari, Neyriz, and Tabriz). Tehran is the capital and the largest metropolitan area in Iran. In Tehran, most people speak Persian and adhere to the tenets of Shia Islam. Savojbolagh is a county in Alborz Province in which most people self-identify as Shia Muslim and speak in both Persian and Azerbaijani. Sanandaj is a county in the Kurdistan Province of Iran and it has grown to become a centre of Kurdish culture. In Sanandaj, most people self-identify as Sunni Muslim and speak in Kurdish. Sari is the capital of Mazandaran Province; Mazanderani is the language informally spoken there, and most people follow the tenets of Shia Islam. Neyriz is a county in Fars Province in which most people speak in Persian and adhere to Shia Islam. Tabriz is a county in East Azerbaijan Province of Iran and it is a centre of Azerbaijani culture. Azerbaijani is the language spoken in Tabriz and most of the people self-identify as Shia Muslim.
Initially, 3025 subjects were selected for the study. We removed from consideration the subjects whose data were incomplete and/or those whose data indicated that they misunderstood the task (n = 276). Of these, 252 belonged to schools for girls in Sanandaj; instruction was not formulated there in the same manner as it was at the other schools where the study was conducted. We retained 2749 drawings for further analysis. Table 12.1 demonstrates the number of participants by age, gender, and geographic-cultural region.
The participants were provided with supplies for drawing (sheets of A4 blank paper, 12 coloured pencils, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener). On the front of the paper, each participant drew his/her representation of god. On the back of the paper, each participant provided additional information (name, gender, date, name of their school, a restatement of the instructions given by researcher, and a description of their own drawing).
We conducted the study in five stages:
Obtaining Permissions. After delivering a written application to the Ministry of Education and its branches in target counties, we obtained formal permission for conducting research in the schools.
Data Collection. Each participant was seated on a separate bench so as to avoid looking into their classmates’ drawings. Then, they were given the aforementioned paper. First, the children wrote their name, gender, and age (date/month/year), and also the current date (date/month/year) and the name of the school. Then, they were asked: “Have you ever heard the word God?” Subsequently, they were instructed to close their eyes, imagine God and draw it (they were allowed 50 min of time). The researcher asked the children not to speak aloud and to raise their hand if they had any questions so that they could be answered individually. Next, the children were asked to provide a written description of the required task and their own drawings. Working with 7–8 years old children and those unable to write, the researchers interviewed each child and recorded the answers. The researcher examined the child’s drawing and the description and then collected them; if something was not clear in drawing and/or description, s/he asked the child to clarify it.
For the data collection stage, only psychologists or counsellors with a master’s degree were employed. In every county, at least two researchers (one male and one female) were responsible for data collection. The principal investigator trained all members of the data collection team in two instructional sessions.
Identification Coding. To organize the database, we assigned a unique identification code to each drawing and its description. For more information on the coding process, please see Chap. 18, this volume.
Translating and Digitizing the Drawings and Uploading Them to the Database. For more information on the process of this stage, please see Chap. 18, this volume.
Data Analysis. This stage included four steps:
Recruiting and Training the Analysts. For the first analysis, the qualitative analysts included nine (six female, three male) psychologists who were trained by an associate professor of child psychology. In addition, we recruited a Ph. D. level psychologist—an expert in statistics—to assist with statistical analysis. Six briefing and problem-solving sessions were held in the process of data analysis in order to achieve inter-rater reliability and concordance.
Pilot Study of 240 Drawings. For an initial exploratory qualitative analysis, we randomly selected a subsample of 240 drawings from the six counties (Khodayarifard et al., 2015). Then, members of the research team checked both the children’s drawings and their statements on the back of the drawing paper. Using the thematic analysis method, the God representations were labelled with codes and then the similar codes were categorized and thematised. The analysis generated ten initial themes:
Prophet or imam
Non-anthropomorphic living being
Initial Analysis of 2749 Drawings. This step was carried out to make sure that all the drawings could be assigned into one of the ten themes extracted from the pilot study. In this step, due to exploring three new themes, the number of themes increased to 13. The three added themes were as follows:
Ambiversion (abstract-concrete): When the description represents that it is not possible to draw God but His actions can be demonstrated. This may indicate objectivity and abstraction simultaneously (Ex: Child has written something like “I’m not able to draw God”, but s/he has drawn God’s works or some affairs related to Him).
Main Analysis of 2749 Drawings. In this step, we conducted the main coding and categorizing process, based on the 13 themes generated in the initial analysis. To assure proper coding and categorizing, the child’s statements on the back of the paper were always scrutinized and compared with the drawing. There were some cases in which two or three codes and themes could have been assigned to a given drawing; however, the analysts chose only one code (theme) that was most representative of the child’s drawing and statements. At this point, we defined two additional, combinative themes according to the following criteria:
Human (anthropomorphic + prophet or imam)
Abstract (blank + light + spirit)
Additional Analyses. We examined the effects of children’s gender, age and county of residence on their representations of God. In addition, we analysed the gender of the representation (if applicable); we were only able to do this on certain categories (celestial being, anthropomorphic, and prophet or imam) and not all drawings in these categories provided enough information to make definitive decisions. The researchers made the gender determination through factors such as clothing, Hijab, hair, nails, jewellery, and facial features (beard, moustache, makeup, etc.), because the children had not been asked for this information during the data collection. It was a time-consuming process due to the large amount of data available. The raters were trained in common briefing sessions and were asked to determine which of these set of factors were more dominant in the drawing. Any controversial or ambivalent representations were discussed among the group and if we were not able to reach consensus, we excluded the drawing from this analysis.
Inter-Rater Reliability. In order to determine inter-rater agreement and internal validity, we calculated a Kappa coefficient. Kappa is a correlation statistic used for determining the agreement between two or more raters when the measurement scale is categorical. We selected 240 drawings from across the various counties, both genders, and all age groups and assessed them again by pairs of analysts (different pairings than those used in the initial analysis). The Kappa coefficient was then calculated at K = 0.78, which guarantees an inter-rater reliability.
Data Analysis Methods
First, we explored the drawings using the qualitative theme analysis described above. In addition, we employed descriptive statistics (absolute and relative frequency) and chi-squared tests (Table 12.2).
We explained the nature of the project to the participants; telling them about the international scope of the study and the activities that would be involved, namely drawing and answering questions. Children could decline to participate in research before it began, or could withdraw from any part of the research at any time. Children could decline to complete the drawing task for any reason. In such a case, the child wrote his/her reason for declining on the provided sheet of paper. To protect confidentiality, only the first name of the child was required.
In this section, we report the results of the study. First, we look at the total and relative frequency of each theme. We explore the effect of the participant’s gender on the theme of the drawing, then, the effect of the participant’s age on the theme of the drawing. Next, we consider the impact of the location of the participant (county) on the drawing. Finally, we focus on the gender ascribed to the human based God figures in the drawings by the Iranian participants. It is important to note that because we excluded the girls’ schools of Sanandaj due to improper administration; we also excluded the boys’ schools of Sanandaj for the sake of approximate gender equality and reliable subsequent conclusions. However, we did include the boys’ schools of Sanandaj when assessing the impact of location (county) on boys’ drawings in order to reflect the findings obtained from varieties of cultures.
Table 12.3 shows the number of drawings by the theme of the drawing.
According to Table 12.3, light is the most frequent theme drawn by Iranian children (18.2%). God’s blessings, prophet or imam, celestial being, blank, Islamic objects, anthropomorphic, and spirit come next, respectively. Akhirah (1.4%) is the theme used least frequently.
Children’s Gender Effect
To investigate the effects of a participant’s gender on their drawing of God, we calculated the frequency of all categories with regard to gender and made comparisons through chi-squared tests (see Table 12.4). In addition to the mentioned 13 categories, the two combinative themes, human (anthropomorphic + prophet or imam) and abstract (blank + light + spirit), were also calculated.
According to Table 12.4, there is a significant difference between girls and boys with regard to the following themes: light, prophet or imam, blank, Islamic objects, spirit, Islamic rituals, human, and abstract. It seems that the boys draw God in four themes (light, Islamic objects, spirit, and abstract) significantly more frequently than the girls do. On the other hand, girls draw God in four themes (prophet or imam, blank, Islamic rituals, and human) significantly more often than the boys do.
Children’s Age Effect
To investigate the effects of participant’s age on the drawing of God, the frequency of all categories were calculated with regard to age. Significant differences were examined through chi-squared tests (see Table 12.5).
According to Table 12.5, there is a significant difference between age ranges on all themes except non-anthropomorphic living being, Islamic rituals, and Akhirah. According to Table 12.5, an increase in the age of participants results in increase in the frequency of more abstract themes, and a decrease in the frequency of the themes indicating a physical and concrete God.
Next, all themes except five (ambiversion, none, spirit, light, and blank) were categorized as concrete while spirit, light, and blank were categorized as abstract, and ultimately, the analysis was carried out once more (see Table 12.6). It is worth noting that we made this categorization according to the criterion of whether the drawing refers to a (would-be) physical, touchable, and sensible object or one with partial possibility of objectification; however, this categorization may not be clear-cut and exhaustive.
According to Table 12.6, increase in participant’s age leads to decrease in concrete depictions, and increase in abstract representations. The difference between age ranges is significant. As children get older, they tend to draw less concrete and more abstract drawings of God.
Differences Between Counties
To investigate the effects of participant’s cultural background on the drawings of God, the frequency of all themes were calculated with regard to county and the comparisons were made through chi-squared tests (see Table 12.7). This time we performed the analysis with all six counties; however, we included only the boys, as explained above.
According to Table 12.7, there is a significant difference between counties on almost all of the themes. God’s blessings was the theme identified most frequently in Neyriz and Sanandaj. In Tehran and Sari, light was the theme most frequently produced by boys. In Tabriz, the theme prophet or imam occurred most often. In Savojbolagh, boys produced the theme Islamic objects most frequently. Regarding the combinative themes, boys in Sanandaj produced the least number of drawings identified as abstract, compared to boys in other counties. Boys in Tabriz produced the highest number of drawings identified as human.
Gender of Representation by Gender of Participant
To investigate the effects of the participant’s gender on the gender of the representation, we used chi-squared tests in order to perform calculations based on the number of drawings to which we were able to attribute gender and the gender of the corresponding participant (see Table 12.8). We were able to attribute gender to only some of the drawings categorized as celestial being, anthropomorphic, and prophet or imam.
According to Table 12.8, there is a significant difference between boys and girls in terms of the gender of their representations. The human-based representations exhibit attributes of male gender in most cases. Overall, the children (male and female) tended to draw God as male; however, we learned specifically that boys are much more likely than girls are to draw God as a male figure.
Gender of Representation by Age of Participant
To investigate the effects of the participant’s age on the gender of the representation, the frequency of all feminine and masculine representations was calculated as a percentage with regard to participant’s age and the comparisons were made through chi-squared tests (see Table 12.9). For this calculation, we considered only those drawings to which we could attribute gender. This process was applicable only to some of the drawings categorized as celestial being, anthropomorphic, and prophet or imam.
According to Table 12.9, there is a significant difference between children with different age ranges in terms of the gender of the representation of God. The children who drew God as female were predominantly younger children.
Gender of the Representation by County
To investigate the effects of participants’ environmental culture on the gender of the representation, we calculated the frequency of male and female representations as a percentage with regard to county and the comparisons were made through chi-squared tests (see Table 12.10). For this calculation, we considered only those drawings to which we could attribute gender; this process was applicable only to some of the drawings categorized as celestial being, anthropomorphic, and prophet or imam.
According to Table 12.10, there is a significant difference between children from different counties in terms of the drawn God’s gender. We found that, in general, children draw God as a masculine figure more frequently than as a feminine figure. Yet, the children from Savojbolagh and Tabriz tend to draw God as masculine more frequently than the children of other counties do. The children from Sari and Tehran, by contrast, produced a greater quantity of feminine representations of God.
The current research was part of a cross-cultural and comprehensive project, investigating representations of God in children’s drawings. The Iranian collection, including almost 3025 drawings, is a large sample and may provide strong findings and reliable evidence.
Children’s Representations of God
To answer the first research question, the data (Table 12.3) suggests that most Iranian children draw God using the following themes: light (18.2%), God’s blessings (17.3%), prophet or imam (14.2%), and celestial being (14.1%). The God’s-blessings theme includes features such as nature, food, tree, stone, star, and home; the light theme includes features such as sun, anthropomorphic light, colour, and rainbow; the prophet-or-imam theme includes features such as Muhammad the Apostle of God (PBUH) and Alī bin Abī Ṭālib (PBUH); the celestial being theme includes images like angels. Drawing God in the form of light along with His blessings is consistent with Islamic teachings. In the Quran, Allah has been introduced as the creator and arranger of the universe. According to one teleological argument (as an argument for the existence of God), the natural world has a designer, whom we may know through his reflections in nature. Allah, as the unique, omnipotent, and only deity, has been frequently described by the word light, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth” (35th verse of the 24th Sura of the Qur’an, Sura an-Nur). Our finding with regard to light suggests that the teleological argument and the verse that mentions light may have been well transmitted via textbooks and parents. Vahed-Dehkordi et al. (2015) have demonstrated that the figure of the sun in Iranian children’s drawings represents safety, happiness, power, and a secure base. These may be the attributes that children look for in God. Eskandari (2003) argued that imagining God in the form of His blessings might imply a sense of gratitude.
The image of God that often occurs to Muslims is similar to that repeated in qur’anic verses. In this view, God is self-existent; He is not an object, He has not been born, “He neither begets nor is born; nor is there to Him any equivalent” (112th Sura of the Qur’an, Sūrat al-Ikhlāṣ). God’s existence is appreciated through His blessings and creatures; that is why Iranian children may represent God as a supernatural agent that is unseen. Recurrent appearance of the themes light and God’s blessings in the Iranian children’s drawings may provide evidence for the powerful influence of religion and religious education as one of the cultural factors affecting God image and God concept. This interpretation may not be in line with some researchers in the field who place more emphasis on psychological factors in this process. For instance, Rizzuto (1979) argues that the primary representation of God, as drawn by children, is determined mainly by intrapsychic factors and it is only later that the influence of social and cultural factors comes into play. She believes that representations of God originate from a variety of sources. We agree that the psychological factors should not be taken for granted. Thus, we suggest that, in future research, we incorporate deep interviews with children and their parents.
Historically, the colour yellow, being closely associated with gold, represented eternity and indestructability (Gage, 1999), both of which are thought to be divine attributes. Depiction of God as light may imply that children crave a powerful God that brings them a guiding light. Children achieved this effect by producing sun and yellow colours at the top of the paper as an attempt to portray God overseeing our activities and life from the heavens (see Chap. 8, this volume).
Representations of God in Terms of Child’s Gender
To answer the second research question, the data show that a child’s gender significantly affects the representation of God. We see this especially in representations that display themes of light, prophet or imam, blank, Islamic objects, spirit, and Islamic rituals (see Table 12.4). The themes of light, Islamic objects, and spirit appeared significantly more often in boys’ drawings than in girls’ drawings. Girls, more often than boys, depicted God using the themes of prophet or imam, blank, and Islamic rituals. This finding is partially similar to Kay and Ray (2004) who found that, generally, girls drew God as an archetypal figure: a smiling, bearded old man dressed in a tunic. This figure resembles graphic representations of the Prophet, or imams in Islam. Iranian girls’ involvement with religious life (representing by themes prophet or imam, and Islamic rituals) is consistent with Lehmann’s study who found that girls were more likely to employ concepts associated to their own life to describe God (Lehmann 2003, cited in Schaap-Jonker, 2008). In addition, this finding is consistent with Hilger and Dregelyi (2002) who, in their study, showed that boys emphasized God’s power and were more likely to regard God as distant, while girls emphasized God’s nearness and personal relatedness. The Iranian boys’ production of the themes light and spirit and Iranian girls’ production of the themes prophet or imam and Islamic rituals are consistent with the above described findings.
The data also demonstrate that Iranian boys’ drawings of God are more abstract when compared to the drawings of Iranian girls. The drawings of female participants suggest that they have paid more attention to religious life by depicting prophet or imam and Islamic rituals. This may be explained in light of the different religious obligations for boys and girls. In the Shia Muslim tradition, girls are obliged to practice religious obligations at the age of nine, while boys are not expected to do so until the age of 15.
Children’s Representations of God in Terms of Their Age
Findings of the study demonstrate that the effects of a child’s age on God representation is significant on all themes except non-anthropomorphic living being, Islamic rituals, and Akhirah. The results show that an increase in a participant’s age leads to a decrease in concrete depictions, and an increase in abstract representations (Table 12.6). Some other researchers (e.g. Tamm, 1996) have also found that an increase in the participant’s age results in decrease in anthropomorphic representations of God. This is consistent with developmental psychology theories especially Piaget’s ideas. The path from the concrete operational period to the formal operational period is achieved through biological and innate patterns, but contextual and implicit trainings may facilitate and promote this process. Several children in the Iranian sample have made statements such as “I cannot draw God” and “God is bigger than my paper” on the back of their drawings. These statements provide convincing evidence of abstract thinking. Astaneh (Chap. 15, this volume), provides more information in this respect. In Islamic teachings, direct and indirect religious education is provided according to a child’s developmental level and age range. Thus, abstract and philosophical contents are not presented to children under 12 years of age because they comprehend God as concrete. However, it is worth noting that the abstract-labelled themes may have been produced as a mere reflection of education and media, and not solely as the result of the child’s conceptualization. Therefore, a Piagetian clinical interview seems essential for proper understanding of the child’s thinking.
Children’s Representations of God in Terms of Their Social Environment
Findings also showed that the county in which the children reside, being representative of cultural, religious, and social background, has significantly affected the content of God representations (Table 12.7). The significant differences are seen in all themes. We may expect that the children’s mental representations of God be affected by their social life style and subculture.
Our data revealed that children in Tabriz have composed more drawings of God that fit the prophet-or-imam theme. A socio-historical approach may help to interpret this finding. Tabriz is thought to be a centre of Azerbaijani culture. Most of the people in Tabriz are Shia Muslims of Azerbaijani ethnicity. Azerbaijani people’s interest in, and love for, infallible imams are quite well-known in Iran. Azeri people have made more acquaintance with the household of the Apostle of God in recent centuries. Historically speaking, Azeri people have shown an inclination to follow great religious leaders (e.g. Abbas ibn AliFootnote 2) and national heroes (e.g. Sattar Khan,Footnote 3 Baqir Khan,Footnote 4 and Babak KhorramdinFootnote 5) with great attention. This adult devotion to the Prophet or imams in Tabriz may have been reflected in the children’s drawings too. The high frequency of the prophet-or-imam theme in the drawings from Tabriz results in an increase in production of human representations because this combinative theme (human = anthropomorphic + prophet or imam) appears in Tabrizi children’s drawings more frequently than it does in the drawings from other counties.
We also analysed the county impact on boys’ drawings (this time, including Sanandaj County as well). An important finding is observed in the Sanandaj data. We find that Sanandaji boys produced considerably fewer abstract representations of God than the boys in other counties. The theme God’s blessings occurs most frequently in this county. In Sanandaj, Sunni Muslims are in the majority; however, we cannot decisively attribute the differences in representations of God to differences in the branches of Islam. In other words, although the frequency of abstract God-drawings in children from Sanandaj is lower than that in other counties, we have no reason to attribute this difference to their denomination (Sunni Islam) within Islam. Their educational system and textbooks are the same as those for children in other counties. However, an Iranian survey demonstrated that Sunni people report higher religious behaviours (with regard to the concrete side of religion) when compared with Shia people, who reported higher religious beliefs and affects (the abstract side of religion) (Khodayarifard et al., 2010).
We may also suppose the differences to originate from subculture, ethnic identity, and familial life style. Sanandaji people are Kurds and speak the Kurdish language. Navabakhsh and Geravand (2011) demonstrated that ethnic identity is the dominant influential force in Kurdish culture. Universal identity and national identity are respectively their second and third priorities. This shows that the Kurds are highly influenced by their ethnic identity. Kurds are famous for their dance in nature and their ethnic customs, and they may use these for objectifying themselves and acknowledging their ethnicity (Aziz, 2015). According to Mahmoudian and Nobakht (2010), attitudes and perspectives are certainly affected by ethnic and cultural differences. Nevertheless, the impact of ethnic identity on God representation remains a question. This gap of knowledge deserves more deliberate research and detailed ethnographies.
Another interesting finding of the current research is that the Islamic objects theme was the theme most frequently found in the drawings by boys’ from Savojbolagh. They have drawn several Alams. The Alam procession on Ashura is much more common and customary in Alborz Province (of which Savojbolagh is a county) as compared to the other areas in Iran. The Mourning of MuharramFootnote 6 and Muharram processions are strictly held in Savojbolagh. Therefore, it seems that the environmental atmosphere significantly affects children in their processes of developing God image and God concept.
Masculinity-Femininity of the Representation of God in Terms of Participant’s Gender and Age
We also examined the effects of the participant’s gender on the masculinity or femininity of their representation of God. Findings show that most Iranian children prefer to produce a masculine representation of God. Additionally, boys significantly tend to draw God as masculine more frequently than girls do. As children become older, they gradually tend to draw God as masculine rather than feminine. These findings are inconsistent with Riegel and Kaupp (2005), who found that God gender is balanced in children’s drawings and when imbalance was observed, God was represented more often as feminine than as masculine.
Muslims’ beliefs in God’s attributes of might,Footnote 7 wrathFootnote 8 and power may suggest Allah to be a masculine figure. In a study in the United States, Heller (1988) showed that most boys emphasize a rational, thinking, and knowledgeable God, and they also assumed God to be an active agent; this perhaps suggests rather a largely male-oriented and father-like conception of God. The female participants, by contrast, described a deity characterized by aesthetic appeal, assigning femininity to God. McMillan (1982) observes that the aesthetic versus rational division is the primary socialization difference between women and men. However, Heller (1988) argues that the continuing changes of gender-role norms in societies may influence the God representations of future generations.
Kay and Ray (2004) have demonstrated that boys do not cross the gender line and draw feminine Gods; however, girls sometimes do draw masculine representations of God, primarily as a kind old man. Brandt et al. (2009) have reported a similar finding. The Japanese data, however, are inconsistent with this idea. They bring forth more dynamic aspects of culture and visual media. Wilson (1997) also supports the idea that the gender of the portrayed God is an imitation of animated characters. Children’s identification with animated characters may predict the masculinity or femininity of the God representation. Generally, when children draw God as human being, they cannot take God’s gender for granted (Khodayarifard et al., 2015). Dessart, Dandarova-Robert and Brandt (Chap. 5 this volume), raise and deal with this issue in-depth.
The Iranian study elucidates the role of demographic factors in development of God representation in children. In the study, some positive attempts have been made to strengthen and refine the findings. First, a large dataset was generated due to the selected sample size. Second, the analyses were carried out repeatedly to enhance validity and reliability. Finally, the inter-rater agreement was calculated.
The present work took into consideration the effects of children’s age and developmental issues. Additionally, we explained the way children’s gender functions in their representations of God. Moreover, we sought to understand the influence of culture and environment on the task of drawing God. The findings we have presented represent a sample of children from specific parts of the country of Iran; therefore, generalization of these findings to other populations should be done with care.
We discussed the fact that subcultural factors (e.g. ethnic identity) may be important in investigating the God representations. Heller (1988) argues that family members, functioning as role models, are the primary socializers of religious imagery; family effects are evident because parents transmit and interpret formal religious knowledge to their children. As Dandarova-Robert et al. (2016) emphasize, investigating children’s drawings of God requires a multidimensional perspective; a paradigm which simultaneously considers age, gender, language, parenting styles, ethnic identity, attachment styles, media, oral literature, etc. Cultural differences depend on cultural elements (life style, history, art, religion, language, customs, etc.); therefore, we recommended that future research address these specific elements.
Understanding religious and/or spiritual concepts in children is a rather complex task since spirituality is an elusive concept in and of itself. In addition to adopting a multidimensional perspective, it seems necessary to utilize parallel instruments along with drawings. For example, carefully designed interviews, play-oriented activities, letters to God, and storytelling may assist researchers in specifying codes and categories more reliably; however, researchers have to be conservative with regard to the size of participant groups. It is important that the data collection occur in a spontaneous atmosphere—free of any researchers’ suggestions regarding God—so as to help the participant’s inner world emerge naturally and to prevent parrot-like renditions.
Theologians and those who are concerned with religious education and the promotion of religiosity (e.g., media and school staff) may benefit from such findings. They may do this in two ways: (1) They may assess their efforts to nurture religiosity and spirituality in children and see how children imagine God; (i.e., how is the adult world responsible for children’s thinking about God?), and (2) They may apply the scientific findings in updating and upgrading the content and procedures they include in religious education. Children freely reveal their spiritual needs and desires in their drawings, and these needs and wishes can be sources of inspiration for the authorities in mosques, churches, schools, and media. Therefore, the study of the religious imagination may contribute to novel direct and indirect methods for enhancing religiosity (Khodayarifard et al. 2016a, 2016b, 2019); do we take children’s religious conceptions and communications seriously enough?
Moreover, child psychologists and developmental theorists will be interested in the imaginative realm of the child and in broadening the scientific borders in this field. The way children view transcendence may shape their thinking, feeling, and actions; thus, the content of deity representations may be used in formulating and refining psychological theories. Children’s religious explorations, the effects of their creativity level in this process, and how their inner world is projected onto the transcendental world are tremendous subjects for research.
Why the term god begins sometimes with an uppercase letter G, sometimes with a lowercase letter g, and why it appears sometimes in the singular and sometimes in the plural, is explained in the introductive chapter of this book (Chap. 1, this volume).
Abbas ibn Ali, also known as Qamar Banī Hāshim, was a son of Imam Ali, the first imam of Shia Muslims. He is highly revered by Shia Muslims for his loyalty to his half-brother Husain, his respect for the Household of Muhammad, and his role in the Battle of Karbala.
Sattar Khan, honorarily titled Sardār-e Melli (meaning National Commander) was a pivotal figure in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and is considered a national hero. Sattar Khan was born in Tabriz, of Iranian Azerbaijani origin.
Bagher Khān, honorarily titled Sālār-e Melli (meaning National Chieftain), was one of the key figures in the Iranian Constitutional Revolution.
Babak Khorramdin was one of the main Iranian revolutionary leaders of the Iranian Khorram-Dinān.
The Mourning of Muharram (or Remembrance of Muharram or Muharram Observances) is a set of Islamic rituals. The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala, when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph. Family members accompanying him were killed or subjected to humiliation. The commemoration of this event during the yearly mourning season, with the Day of Ashura as the focal date, serves to define Shia communal identity.
An example of might would be “When He wills a certain thing, He commands it ‘Be!’ and it is” (36:82).
An example of wrath would be “Ask of the Children of Israel how many a clear revelation We gave them! He who altereth the grace of Allah after it hath come unto him (for him), lo! Allah is severe in punishment” (2:211).
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We greatly appreciate the funding made by the University of Tehran. We also would like to thank Professor Pierre-Yves Brandt and Zahra Astaneh for having guided us in many ways, and Dr. Saeed Akbari-Zardkhaneh for his comments on the early proposal. We extend our sincere gratitude to Dr. Ruhollah Mansouri for his assistance with quantitative analyses. Additionally, hereby we acknowledge all assistants’ valuable efforts for data collection and qualitative coding, without their help such a large data would have not been gathered and investigated.
Editors and Affiliations
Appendix: Samples of Themes and Examples of Masculine or Feminine God Representations
Appendix: Samples of Themes and Examples of Masculine or Feminine God Representations
Blank (Fig. 12.1)
Celestial Being (Fig. 12.2)
Islamic Objects (Fig. 12.3)
Islamic Rituals (Fig. 12.4)
Anthropomorphic (Fig. 12.5)
Prophet or Imam (Fig. 12.6)
Non-Anthropomorphic Living Being (Fig. 12.7)
God’s Blessings (Fig. 12.8)
Akhirah (Fig. 12.9)
Light (Fig. 12.10)
Spirit (Fig. 12.11)
Ambiversion (Abstract-Concrete) (Fig. 12.12a, b)
None (Fig. 12.13)
Sample Drawing Depicting a Masculine God (Fig. 12.14)
Sample Drawing Depicting a Feminine God (Fig. 12.15)
© 2023 The Author(s)
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Khodayarifard, M., Pourhosein, R., Pakdaman, S., Zandi, S. (2023). Iranian Children’s Drawings of God: Demographic and Contextual Considerations. In: Brandt, PY., Dandarova-Robert, Z., Cocco, C., Vinck, D., Darbellay, F. (eds) When Children Draw Gods. New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion , vol 12. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-94429-2_12
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-94428-5
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-94429-2