Date of Submission

7-4-2004

Abstract

Prayer is a central element of all religions (Coleman, 1999; Engebretson, 1999). Alongside the sense of the theological importance of prayer there has been increased recognition of the psychological function and personal benefit of prayer for adults (Pargament, 1997). This thesis reports on research that investigated the theological and psychological perceptions of prayer held by children, shown through their understanding of the meaning and function of prayer.

This thesis contributes to the research field of children's spirituality. As there is little existing research literature on children and prayer, the findings of this study provide valuable new understanding and propose new aspects of theory with implication for professionals involved in the education and the welfare of children. The research reported in this thesis represents the first Australian research on children's perception of the meaning and function of prayer.

The choice of participants reflects the diverse philosophical and religious traditions found in the Australian, multifaith society. Semi-structured interviews were video-recorded with 60 participants from primary school Year Five (10-12 years). Five male and five female participants were selected from each of six different schools in the Melbourne metropolitan area. These were: the Catholic, Independent (Christian), Christian (Parent-Controlled or Community School), Jewish, Islamic and the Government schools. Students completed a drawing exercise and a written sentence completion exercise as part of the interview, and the three sources of data were analysed qualitatively using the method of Grounded Theory. The data was interpreted in the light of a detailed literature review on the nature and function of prayer as part of children's spirituality.

This study has provided Australian data on the meaning and function of prayer for children as part of children's spirituality. Considerable agreement has been observed through the data, between children educated in a variety of school systems which embraced different philosophical and faith traditions. In the multicultural Australian community said to be secularized, prayer for these children has been shown as a valued aspect of life. The personal experiences of prayer for many were seen to be associated with the community of faith to which the participants belonged, and for others, prayer was learnt eclectically and practised in a private individualistic manner. All participants indicated that they had prayed and all contributed ideas about prayer through the interviews. All participants perceived prayer to function as an aid in life. Prayer was used by participants at significant moments in their life, and the words or thoughts in prayer helped to clarify and articulate deep feelings. Eight elements of theory (in accord with the literature on Grounded Theory ) have been generated through this research which are presented as recommendations for professionals engaged in religious education and student welfare.

School/Institute

School of Religious Education

Document Type

Thesis

Access Rights

Open Access

Extent

326 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Faculty

Faculty of Education

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