A Brief History of the Collection of Drawings in Brazil

The story of the Children’s Drawings of Gods project’sFootnote 1 research in Brazil began during the conference of the International Association for the Psychology of Religion (IAPR), held in Lausanne, in August 2013. The way the religious experience of children in different countries was being researched and presented caught our attention at once.

Coming from a place where 90% of the population considers themselves religious, we were immediately interested in finding out if there were any available data drawn from the Brazilian population. We found that at that time there was no initiative related to research in Brazil, so, upon returning from the congress, we began conversations with the intention of joining the research project, and contributing samples that would represent the Brazilian religious panorama.

What initially caught our attention was the possibility of researching the representations of godsFootnote 2 in a country with two exceptional characteristics. First, Brazil has a large geographical extension; it is practically a continent. Second, the population of Brazil is very religious, with about 90% of the population self-identifying with one or more belief systems. The questions that guided our research were these: (1) Which belief system would prevailing representation in Brazil reflect? (2) How would Brazilian children be able to represent their perceptions and ideas about God?

In order to initiate our participation in this research, at the beginning of 2014 we signed a letter of confirmation of interests, confirming the partnership and officially initiating the process of adaptation, collection, and analysis of drawings from Brazil. Soon after, we received an authorization and the first files explaining how the research should be done.

A few months later, a research group linked to the project Dessins de dieux (DDD), also called Children’s Drawings of Gods, was started, within the Psychology department of the Seventh-Day Adventist University of São Paulo. A group of students interested in the theme assembled to collect the first sample of drawings in Brazil.

Before we started the research itself, the students received basic training in Psychology of Religion. Our first task was to translate the documents we received and adapt them to the Brazilian reality, being especially careful with the translation of some research terms, so that they did not lose their intended meaning. We met weekly for this purpose. The phase of translations and adaptations of the material lasted until August 2014. Once this process was finished, we carried out a test phase, when we in the research team applied the protocol to each other, in order to train for ourselves for the task.

The next step was to collect the drawings. The students collected drawings within the urban context of the city of São Paulo, and in the rural context of the state of Maranhão. The data collection lasted through the middle of 2015. Each researcher was responsible for contacting a school, presenting the research, and obtaining the necessary authorization to carry out the research.

Soon after, we began the process of data storage and processing that culminated in the first analysis concerning to the Brazilian reality, the subject of the present work.

The drawings were collected between 2014 and 2015. When we finished the collection process, we started the process of scanning and coding the images. This was one of the most complex phases of the whole process. First, because it took us a long time to arrive at a format and quality of scanned drawings that suited the necessary standards. We scanned our sample of drawings five times, until we deemed the results to be of sufficient quality for detailed analysis.

Unfortunately, it was necessary to discard a large number of drawings from the sample due to errors made in the collection process, especially regarding the instructions given to the children. The errors invalidated the drawings and we were forced to discard them.

While coding the drawings, we found another difficulty that we determined to be due to the differences between the Brazilian educational model and other educational models that had been previously encountered in the project. It became necessary to adapt the school codes to our situation. In some cases, the illiteracy of a portion of our sample also made it difficult for us to create complete records the data; however, we decided not to discard these drawings, since this difficulty arose from an issue pertaining to the participants—not from an error in the application of the research methods.

Finally, with the sample considered adequate, we did the initial analysis that reflects the first results of the Brazilian sample of children’s drawings of God. However, before presenting the results, a brief description of the educational and religious reality of the Brazilian context is necessary, so that our results may be better understood.

The Particularities of the Brazilian Educational Context

The research in Brazil required some adaptations, since the Brazilian educational context presents a series of differences from the European educational systems, for which the research and analysis procedures were initially designed.

The main difference is that in Brazil, besides public schools, we have private schools that may be religious or not religious. Moreover, due to the fact that the level of education provided by the public schools is quite low, a very large number of students attend private schools.

Although Brazil adopts an educational policy according to which free education is a right of all children, and a duty of the State (as guaranteed by the articles 205 and 206 of the Federal Constitution of 1988, and the article 53 of the Statute of the Child and Adolescent of 1990), the Brazilian educational system is precarious and still far from guaranteeing these basic rights (BRASIL, 1988).

The difficulties range from structural problems such as lack of schools, schools without ideal conditions for education, to low salaries for educators, a lack of security for students, and a low level of quality in education. The 2017 census (BRASIL, 2017) revealed that 55% of 8-year-olds (approaching age nine) are not properly literate. Data published in 2016 (BRASIL, 2016) revealed that at the end of elementary school, after spending 9 years in school, around 40% of Brazilian students cannot even identify the main subject of a text after reading it.

This scenario, in which the government is not able to offer quality basic education, has contributed to the growth of private schools. The Basic Public Education system in Brazil has 48.6 million children and adolescents. Of these, only 13.9% have access to full-time education. About 8.9 million attend private schools. The country has 184,100 schools and 21.7% of them are private (BRASIL, 2017).

Brazil ranked 39th among the 40 countries that are part of the ranking that was prepared by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The ranking is based on the results of tests applied to students from the 5 to 9 year of the basic educational cycle (students who are between 11 and 15 years old, on average). The state of São Paulo occupies the first place in the Index of Opportunities of the Brazilian Education of 2017, while the Maranhão is in the penultimate position (IOEB, 2018).

Religion in Brazil

Besides the differences in the educational model, the peculiar characteristics of the religious background in Brazil, also must be taken into account for a better understanding of the research. Brazil is a country with multiple religious affiliations. The growth of evangelicals, the decrease in the percentage of Catholics, and the increase of those who claim to be “without religion” are the three main factors indicated by the last two published censuses (IBGE, 2010).

The Catholic hegemony that characterized the country until the early 1990s has been losing ground to the growth of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal evangelical variations, concentrated among the poorest, the least educated, and among the black population.

According to data from the last census (IBGE, 2010), 86.8% of Brazilians self-identify as Christian, of which 64.6% are Catholic and 22.2% are evangelical. Brazil is still the largest Catholic nation in the world, but in the last decade the Catholic church has experienced the loss of about 1.7 million members, a reduction of 12.2%.

At the same time, the number of evangelical Christians has increased significantly. Since 1970, they have jumped from 5.2 to 22.2% of the total population. This increase is mainly due to the large number of Pentecostal churches that have arisen, especially in the outskirts of major cities.

The group of people who consider themselves non-religious in Brazil, corresponds to 8% of the population. About 5% of the population belong to minority religious groups: Spiritists, adherents to religions originating in Africa, Jews, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous religions.

In addition, many people, 44% of the population, claim to follow more than one religion, while 49% now self-identify with a different religious group than the one into which they were born. This religious plurality is maintained in smaller groups, such as that of the indigenous communities, for example.

The indigenous population is marked by a cultural diversity that goes from the various languages spoken by the groups to the various religions native to a particular area. It is curious to notice that the trends shown by the census in the general population, also appear in the indigenous population, and in some groups, such as the Indians of Mato Grosso do Sul, for example, the evangelical population already surpasses the Catholic population.

Brazilian religious syncretism points to a religious experience in which borders are not rigid, and one practice touches another. The Brazilian indigenous practices encountered Portuguese Catholic Christianity, into this mix came the African natives slaves, who combined their own beliefs and practices with hegemonic Catholicism and with indigenous beliefs. Although in the course of history, religions in Brazil have constituted themselves as independent groups, popular practice inherits the tolerance of the miscegenation, and still demonstrates a flexible and pluralistic Brazilian religiosity (Negrão, 2008).

The Collection of Drawings

The process of collecting the drawings took place in four different contexts. In public, private, and private religious schools in the city of São Paulo and its borders, and in the indigenous village of the Guajajaras, in Maranhão. The understanding of the Brazilian religious and educational contexts mentioned above is an important factor for the analysis of the samples.

The initial proposal was to collect 200 drawings; however, due to difficulties in the collection process that we will describe mentioned later, we finished with a total of 116 drawings that were considered suitable for analysis. Many of the drawings, especially those collected in the indigenous community, eventually had to be discarded because of the difficulty in transmitting the instructions properly to that population, because of the particular language they speak. Not all of the participants were able to understand the Portuguese language efficiently.

In general, we had a larger number of male subjects, as well as a greater concentration of subjects who were 9–14 years old in the sample coming from São Paulo. In the Guajajaras sample, we had a larger concentration of subjects who were 7–11 years old. Gender, age, and school distributions are shown in Tables 13.1 and 13.2.

Table 13.1 Gender and age distribution of Brazilian drawings
Table 13.2 School distribution of Brazilians drawings

Although the Brazilian population has a larger number of Catholics, our sample had a greater number of evangelicals. This is mainly due to two factors. The first one, as previously discussed, is related to the growth of the evangelical and Pentecostal churches of Protestant origin in the last decades. On the periphery of large cities in particular, such as São Paulo, where we collected most of the sample, there is a great number of evangelicals. Moreover, the part of the sample collected in the area of the Guajajaras tribe in Maranhão was heavily evangelized by missionaries in recent years, resulting in a large majority of followers among this group (see Table 13.3).

Table 13.3 Distribution of Brazilian drawings by religious affiliation

Thus, we can say that our sample can be divided into two sub-groups: drawings collected in the state of São Paulo, the most developed region of the country; and drawings collected in the Guajajaras of the state of Maranhão, one of the poorest regions of the country. Our analysis will take these differences into account and will be divided in order to obtain a more accurate picture of these different Brazilian environments.


The first results related to the drawings of the Brazilian sample were qualitative in nature. We sought to list the main themes that appeared in the drawings and, based on the frequency of their appearances, we created the categories that later were used for the analysis. We also tried to use as basis for the creation of the categories, the document that we received with the analysis descriptors of the drawings. The analyses are reflected in the tables and graphics presented here (see Table 13.4).

Table 13.4 Distribution of drawing categories

The anthropomorphic representations of God appeared most frequently. We divided them into four sub-categories:

  1. 1.

    Anthropomorphic Representation of God in Heaven or Sky

  2. 2.

    Anthropomorphic Representation of God (Jesus or God) alone

  3. 3.

    Anthropomorphic Representation of God in Nature

  4. 4.


At this point, it is important to note that we differentiate the Anthropomorphic-Representation-of-God-in-Nature category, in which a divine entity appears in the midst of a landscape or nature, from another category in which human figures appear as families or children playing in the same context. For this specific group we created another category called: Human Figure (s) In Nature or Landscape.

In total, 71 drawings depicted anthropomorphic representations of God. If we take into account that 95 of the children surveyed self-identified as Christian, this fact is not surprising, because the biblical, Christian perspective states both that human beings were created in the image and likeness of God, and that God became incarnate as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Christian participants reproduce this belief by drawing a God figure with physical similarities to a human being. At the same time the Christian theological belief that God is located, or lives, in heaven was also evident in a significant number of drawings (25). Figures 13.1, 13.2, 13.3, and 13.4 provide examples of anthropomorphic representations of God.

Fig. 13.1
figure 1

An example of an anthropomorphic representation of God (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/dVi31O=KSHS2u_Ny5Yh_ug3.20190122T114739746Z)

Fig. 13.2
figure 2

An example of an anthropomorphic representation of God (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/PwI3R4OfS2ml_0cr4x6dOgX.20190122T11430612Z)

Fig. 13.3
figure 3

An example of an anthropomorphic representation of God (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/oCxkVnXqTsi_u3Ou_cp51wh.20190122T114106791Z)

Fig. 13.4
figure 4

An example of an anthropomorphic representation of God (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/Bv3oOz4PSoiQaAQLyYlVSQl.20190122T114026927Z)

The cross of Christ, the greatest symbol of Christianity, was represented in five drawings. Other biblical scenes appeared in an additional three drawings. If we add these categories to the others mentioned, we arrive at a total of 80 drawings that in some way depicted biblical, Christian theological notions. This figure aligns with the Brazilian religious context, in which, according to the last census (2010), 86.8% of the population calls itself Christian.

Another fact worthy of note is that 13 children made drawings that identified God with nature. Of these, eight drawings were made by the Guajajara Indigenous participants, which shows that although conversion to Christianity is widespread in this native community, an animistic notion still appears to be very strong among them. Despite this, only one child mentioned the belief in a divine entity from the indigenous religious tradition.

Table 13.5 helps to reveal the difference between the samples collected in São Paulo, and those that were collected among the Guajajaras, with respect to the anthropomorphic representations of gods.

Table 13.5 Anthropomorphic and non-anthropomorphic representations grouped by location

A comparison of the samples helps us to perceive some interesting data relating to the anthropomorphic representations. On one hand, when we look at the categories of anthropomorphic representations, the Guajajaras sample has fewer (19 drawings, 54%) than the São Paulo sample (52 drawings, 65%). In other words, among the participants from Guajajaras, it is less common to represent divinity anthropomorphically, even though this type of representation is the choice of the majority of participants, overall. On the other hand, in the non-anthropomorphic categories of representation, the Guajajaras sample contains more (11 drawings, 31%) than the São Paulo sample, (11 drawings, 13%). This means that the Guajajaras participants display a more varied repertoire of representations of the divine.

We can suggest at least two reasons for this. First, as already mentioned, the Guajajaras representations may bear an animistic influence, a remnant of the primitive religions of Brazil. Second, the rural context of the Guajajaras makes nature an important tool not only for representing aspects of their spirituality, where it is a major component of their religious conceptions, but also for representing the world in general.

We also found that the Guajajaras used a smaller number of categories in their representations of God. This group, for example, did not use representations of crosses, children, or biblical scenes. We can raise the hypothesis that this is due to the lack of contact that this population has with information media such as books, television, and the internet. Thus, the Guajajaras’ repertoire of representations, in general, ends up being smaller than that of children living in São Paulo.

In a statistical analysis of the data (see Tables 13.6 and 13.7), we noticed that there was no statistical significance of the difference between the groups evaluated. Thus, we reaffirm that our analysis applies to the specific groups we studied, and cannot be generalized to a larger sample of the population. We encourage further studies in this area, in order to verify these findings in larger samples.

Table 13.6 Representation * groups crosstabulation
Table 13.7 Chi square test results

The Guajajaras Sample

In the indigenous community of Guajajaras, participants did not attend traditional schools. For this reason we set up a separate school category for them. Since this is a very peculiar sample, we present some of their data separately as well. We collected 35 from the Guajajaras Indians in the municipality of Amarante, in the state of Maranhão (see Figs. 13.5, 13.6, 13.7, 13.8, and 13.9 for examples of drawings from Guajajaras). The Guajajaras comprise one of the most numerous indigenous populations of Brazil today. In 2010, it numbered 23,949 people. The indigenous in this region speak Portuguese and the Teneteara language (from the Tupi-Guarani family). They have been in contact with colonizers for more than 380 years. They rely on agriculture and hunting for survival. The villages of the Guajajaras are the most populous in this region of the state of Maranhão. They maintain their indigenous culture through events, specific language, commemorative dates, and rituals (Gomes, 2002).

Fig. 13.5
figure 5

An example, from the Guajajaras sample, of God represented as nature (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/_H4pHG1IQr=Hb1VeWbodrgW.20190122T11373915Z)

Fig. 13.6
figure 6

An example, from the Guajajaras sample, of God represented as nature (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/xm8g3mZsQLmhF3jBSzAjHgK.20190122T114013964Z)

Fig. 13.7
figure 7

An example, from the Guajajaras sample, of God represented as nature (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/MAktv8tjSkq=bpAxDtGp4wK.20190122T113821407Z)

Fig. 13.8
figure 8

An example, from the Guajajaras sample, of God represented as nature (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/uRuufXiiTDO7FWXAjXEmZAk.20190122T113732636Z)

Fig. 13.9
figure 9

An example, from the Guajajaras sample, of God represented as nature (http://ark.dasch.swiss/ark:/72163/1/0105/yJrxBS48TeeiSCmSVEiLwQC.20190122T113913856Z)

The people of this region have the same religious traditions as the Tupi-Guarani peoples, sharing the same beliefs in particular supernatural beings. Among them are Maíra, the twins Maíra-ira and Mucura-ira, and Zurupari. These entities have played a large part in myths that are full of allusions to the daily life and culture of the Guajajaras and that have helped to explain much of their world. Nowadays, however, many Guajajaras no longer believe in these entities, or in related religious traditions, due to the activities of missionaries in their region. The evangelical missionaries to the Indians in Brazil, for example, have been working among them for more than 30 years. The sample of drawings from the Guajajaras shows clearly how these evangelistic efforts were successful, since 28 of the 35 subjects surveyed claimed to be evangelicals.

Another important factor that needs to be mentioned in order to better understand the drawings collected among the Guajajaras has to do with the fact that most of them were not literate and did not know the exact date of their birth, just their age. This is due to the social and educational instability in which they live. For this reason, it was not possible to collect the description of most of the drawings of this sample, and some of the data remain incomplete.

The psychologist Eduardo Araújo, a former researcher on the project, spent 3 days traveling through these villages to collect samples for the research. According to his report, access was only possible in four-wheel-drive or all-terrain vehicles. Moreover, although these places are considered peaceful communities, he found that it was not advisable to make visits without the supervision of government teams. In his case, a multi-professional federal health care team accompanied him.

Araújo acknowledged that the difficulties encountered in the process of data collection were numerous. As an example, he reported the following incident. When proposing the activity of the drawings in one community, a boy refused to do the drawing. The researcher respected the wishes of the child and did not press him to complete the drawing task. However, the boy called the Pajé (leader of the indigenous community) and complained that the researcher was asking the children to make “demonic” drawings. Communication became more difficult at this point, because the conversation continued among the indigenous people, and they had shifted over to using their local language exclusively. The Pajé looked aggressive and held a machete in his hands. After some additional exchanges, the researcher was able to clarify the facts, and regain a more congenial atmosphere. This is but one example of the challenges faced by our researchers when collecting samples in Brazil.

Main Challenges and Prospects for the Future

Within the Brazilian setting, we conducted the first phase of the Children’s Drawings of Gods research project between the years 2014 and 2018. This phase was important in the sense of data collection, but even more so in the sense of establishing a partnership, adapting the research instruments, and forming the first group of researchers to collect samples that would provide insight on children’s drawings of god in a Brazilian context.

On one hand, undertaking this research in Brazil was challenging. Regarding the technical part of the project, we conclude that some of the main difficulties arose due to lack of training and practice in the collection and treatment of samples. Factors such as the process of scanning images and naming files were difficult points at first. As previously noted, we scanned our sample more than 5 times in order to reach an acceptable level of quality. Naming and coding the archives were also challenging processes, since the differences in the Brazilian educational model forced us to adapt the school portion of the identity codes.

On the other hand, this research undertaking has been very rewarding. We find in Brazil to be a fertile ground for the collection of samples due to the religiosity of the people and interest in the subject. Both the researchers and the research subjects showed great willingness to participate.

In 2018, we entered a second phase of the research, in which an important milestone was reached: The study became affiliated with the Program of Social and Work Psychology of the Institute of Psychology of the University of São Paulo. Through the postdoctoral research (in progress) under the responsibility of Camila Mendonça Torres, we will begin a new cycle of data collection for the Children’s Drawings of Gods project. We are now working with the translation and cultural validation of all the material into Brazilian Portuguese, with an aim of collecting 500 new drawings from different cultural and religious contexts in the country.

We encountered a number of difficulties in the first phase of the project; what we learned from those difficulties will allow this second phase will be even more productive. We conclude that, to researchers in this area, children’s religiosity in the Brazilian context offers a wealth of discoveries.