restricted access The Study of Children in Religions: A Methods Handbook (review)
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The Study of Children in Religions: A Methods Handbook. Edited by Susan B. Ridgely. New York: New York University Press, 2011. 325 pp. $39.00.

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This volume is a series of essays intended to help researchers in the social sciences who study children and religion. The essays included in the anthology fall into four categories: the theory and various methodologies related to the study of children and religion, ethnographical approaches for research on present-day children, recommendations concerning how to study children in religious educational settings, and guidelines for using adult-created sources to access contemporary and historical children’s voices.

The essays proceed from the view that children are autonomous beings with religious practices and beliefs distinct from those of their parents, teachers, and religious leaders. They emphasize that the study of children and religion should therefore strive to consider how children perceive and understand their religious realities. Several of the authors offer suggestions for how scholars of religion can study children in religious contexts and include children’s perspectives in their studies. For example, one author contends that the traditional questionnaires and sterile interview sessions conducted by sociologists and psychologists be replaced with extended face-to-face interviews with children whose parents are not present, play-centered activities, and parent-child conversations. This modification in the way the researcher engages her subject is a nod to the fact that children express their religious insights in a multiplicity of ways and settings, and that traditional one-sided surveys are not always useful when dealing with young subjects.

Another concern of the authors is the reevaluation, and conceivable abandonment, of religious scholars’ reliance on the cognitive developmentalist and stage theory models of childhood. It is too difficult, argue several of the authors, to place children into discrete age categories when studying religion. One author decries the “hegemony of Piaget” and insists that scholars of religion need to move away from the reductionist developmental models of the likes of [End Page 75] Piaget, Erikson and Kohlberg, in order to learn about children’s contributions to and reflections on religion.

This handbook is an invaluable tool for scholars of religion in every field, and a title that should be on most university libraries’ shelves. It presents readers with ideas about how to approach their own work and think creatively about adding children to complex discussions of religion and spirituality. The study of children and religion has picked up speed in the past decade, and this useful anthology offers scholars practical suggestions for how to consider children’s contributions as they conduct their research. Another asset of this anthology is its international scope and its acknowledgement that its readers come from a variety of methodological backgrounds. Much recent scholarship on children and religion has solely dealt with Christian traditions, but this group of essays treats children from Jewish, Christian, pagan, Muslim, Hindu, Native American, Tibetan Buddhist, and syncretic backgrounds. Beyond its discussions of methodology and its interdisciplinary and religiously plural scope, this volume reminds us that there is a need for more thorough studies of children and religion. One can hope that this book will inspire scholars to one day compile their works in an anthology that moves beyond discussions of how to study children, and instead solely presents essays that are the products of research into children’s views of and contributions to religion.

Carrie T. Schultz
Boston College