About The ARDA | Tools | FAQs | Contact Us
Attachment Theory

Attachment theory posits that religion can be explained by understanding the human need for attachment in general, and one’s relationship to her/his parents specifically.  Childhood experience is of particular importance to explaining adult religiosity from this perspective.  Attachment styles are generally divided into a tri-chotomy of:

  1. Secure,
  2. Avoidant, and
  3. Anxious/ambivalent.

Parental relationships are implicated in religiosity in one of two ways:

  1. Modeling, where one’s human attachment style serves as the pattern for attachment to religion and the divine or
  2. compensation, where religion serves as a substitute for human relationships.

Within the framework of the theory, the need for attachments is underpinned by biosocial impulses and desires that have developed over the period of human evolution.


Bowlby, John.  1969.  Attachment, vol. 1 of Attachment and Loss.  New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, John.  1973.  Separation and Anger, vol. 2 of Attachment and Loss.  New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, John.  1980.  Loss, vol. 3 of Attachment and Loss.  New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kirkpatrick, Lee A.  1992.  “An Attachment-Theory Approach to the Psychology of Religion” in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 2(1):3-28.

Kirkpatrick, Lee A.  2005.  Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion.  New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Kirkpatrick, Lee A. and Phillip R. Shaver.  1990.  “Attachment Theory and Religion: Childhood Attachments, Religious Beliefs, and Conversion” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(3):315-334.

The following Concepts can potentially capture some of the ideas of this theory.
This refers to one's level of religious commitment. It is most commonly measured through self-report of various practices. Frequency of attendance at religious services, frequency of prayer, and reading sacred texts are all potential indicators of religiosity.  However, beliefs such as Biblical literalism can also be used as indicators of religiosity, but they are limited in their general application due to a tradition-specific relevance.  It is also worth noting that religious groups vary in the frequency with which they require certain types of practice.  Other potential measures, such as how much money a person gives to their place of worship, are occasionally used. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:

View related items in Measurement Wizard Scales:

The type and amount of religious actions an individual exhibits. Closely tied to the concept of religiosity, religious behavior focuses upon what individuals are doing in relation to religion specifically. The most commonly used measure of religious behavior is church or worship service attendance. Research shows that the act of attending alone exerts a powerful influence on individuals. Private forms of practice such as frequency of prayer or the reading of sacred scriptures are also important considerations.  Other forms of religious behavior that can be operationalized are contributions toward, and participation in religious activities or entities outside of worship. Self-reported religious experience can also be used as a measure of religious behavior. This measure is less well-known and as such, utilized less in research. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:
This refers to an "individual's evaluations of competing religious goods" (Sherkat 1997:69). Religious preferences as a concept is used to explain why individuals participate in different religions or choose varying styles of religion. It seeks to answer why specific religious choices are made. Generally, religious preferences are adaptive, grow stronger with consumption, and can respond to new information. Individuals learn their preferences through socialization and past experiences; immersion in religious communities causes individuals to have particular religious understandings which give religion value (Sherkat 1997:70). Some possible operationalizations of religious preferences include how individuals view the Bible, God, or the path to salvation. Each of these are theological (and therefore cultural) issues that serve as markers to what types of religious goods individuals prefer. Worship style preference could also approximate the preferences individuals might have for religious goods. Some might desire an experiential or emotionally expressive faith, while others prefer more formalized rituals. View related items in the Measurement Wizard:  
More Theories
QuickSearch The Knowledge-Base

To search the knowledge-base, enter a term below:

Select a Theory below to learn more:

Select a Concept below to learn more: