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Int J Psychol Relig. 2012;22(1):79-88. Epub 2012 Jun 18.

Recollections of Childhood Religious Identity and Behavior as a Function of Adult Religiousness.

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  • 1Duke University Medical Center.


People have a strong motivation to maintain a self-concept that is coherent and consistent over time. Religion is an central source of social identity for many people, but its importance is prone to dramatic change across the life course. To maintain a consistent perception of self, recollections of one's own past religiousness may shift to better fit with the present. This study examined changes between early and middle adulthood in retrospective perceptions of religious behavior and identity in childhood. Data from a population-based birth cohort sample were matched with data from individuals who participated in at least two of three adult follow-up studies, at intervals of approximately 10 years. Logistic regression was used to analyze the association of final recollections of childhood behavior and identity with previous recollections and current religious characteristics. Consistent with the predictions of temporal self-appraisal theory, participants' perception of their religious identity as children tended to change over time to match their adult religious identity. Recollections of childhood religious behavior were more stable than recollections of religious identity, and change was unrelated to adult behavior. These results have implications for studying religious characteristics using retrospective measures, regarding their accuracy and their independence from contemporary measures.

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