To Believe or Not to Believe, That Is Not the Question: The Complexity of Jewish Beliefs About God

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Abstract

Belief in a personal God has been central in research and theory in the psychology of religion and spirituality. Beliefs may seem to be less important to Jews. Indeed, recent national surveys suggest that even some observant Jews report disbelief in God. Yet there are historical, philosophical, theological, and cultural reasons to suggest that Jewish beliefs about God are complex and may not be adequately measured as a yes/no survey response. Using both qualitative (in-depth interviews) and quantitative data (2 new measures of God representations), we show that Jews are quite likely to believe that God exists and that they hold diverse representations of God as a benevolent personal being, as a mystical cosmic force, and as ineffable—unknowable and incomprehensible. Jewish God representations appear to be relatively unstable and indefinite compared with the God representations of certain other religious groups. Our findings suggest that more nuanced research methods are needed in assessing religiosity, generally, and beliefs about God among Jews, specifically. Implications for the study of relational spirituality are discussed.

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