Theistic Relational Spirituality: Development, Dynamics, Health, and Transformation

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Abstract

Most of the world’s population identify as religious or spiritual, and most religiously affiliated believers identify with one of the world’s major monotheistic traditions: Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Within each of these traditions, especially Christianity, one important aspect of many believers’ religion/spirituality is how they view and relate with God. The purpose of this paper is to describe a model of theistic relational spirituality (i.e., the ways monotheistic believers view and relate with God) that integrates theory and research from the fields of psychology, attachment, social cognition, and interpersonal neurobiology. We argue that theistic relational spirituality comprises two main types of God representations: doctrinal (primarily explicit and affect-light) and experiential (primarily implicit and affect-laden) representations. From an attachment perspective, we discuss the development and dynamics (e.g., context-dependence) of these God representations. We propose that doctrinal–experiential congruence forms the basis of a healthy theistic relational spirituality, when it is contextually adaptive, consistent across time and situations, and aligned with the theistic believer’s behaviors. We also delineate potentially adaptive transformation of less healthy forms of theistic relational spirituality. Lastly, we discuss ways in which this model of theistic relational spirituality might direct future research.

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