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Social scientists often explain religious effects in terms of religious group affiliations. Typically, researchers identify religious groups by denomination or some broader popular categorization, such as “fundamentalist” or “evangelical.” To capture religious differences more effectively, Steensland et al. (2000) propose an intricate classification of American denominations that takes into account the theology and historical development of various American religious traditions to predict individual attitudes and behaviors. We believe that equal care and attention should be devoted to the development of key measures of belief that may cross denominational lines. In this article, we propose one such measure: personal conceptions or images of God. Our simple measure of conceptions of God predicts church attendance rates, belief in biblical literalism, political party identification, attitudes toward abortion, and attitudes about sexual morality. In addition, this indicator provides a means to understand variation within religious traditions. Views of God’s character provide a straightforward way to describe religious differences and an efficient means to demonstrate how religion affects the world.


This article was originally published in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research in Religion, volume 1, in 2005.

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion



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