Current State of Science

General Literature Reviews on the role of S\R (Spirituality & Religion) for Family Relationships 

  • Thousands of studies have been conducted in the past 30 years on the role of faith for individual well-being. By contrast, few peer-reviewed studies have been published in journals that focus on faith and family life - around 300 studies up through 2009 - where religion or spirituality is used as a key word in search engines. Many gaps exist in the literature.
  • For in-depth reviews of peer-reviewed, empirical studies on faith and family life, see:
    • Mahoney, A. (2010). Religion in families 1999-2009: A relational spirituality framework. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 805 – 827.
    • Mahoney, A., Pargament, K. I., Swank, A., & Tarakeshwar, N. (2001). Religion in the home in the 1980s and 90s: A meta-analytic review and conceptual analysis of religion, marriage, and parenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 559-596.
  • For a list of the 184 studies that Dr. Mahoney located that were published in peer-reviewed journals from 1999-2009, see: 
  • The following summarizes of the nature of the 184 studies located for the JMF 2010 review
    • 57 quantitative & 23 qualitative studies addressed couples’ relationships
    • 80 quantitative & 24 qualitative studies dealt with parent-youth and family issues (e.g., divorce).  
    • Diverse issues have been examined including:
      •  union formation; maternal fertility; paternal time with offspring; spousal egalitarianism; work-home balance; divorce risk; marital satisfaction; marital conflict; risk of domestic violence and infidelity; pregnancy; discipline, warmth, and physical abuse toward children; parenting style and relational quality with adolescents; domestic violence and postdivorce adjustment. 
    • Few studies exist on any one topic - number of studies range from 4 to 20
    • Most of the 137 quantitative studies located used large U.S. national (52%) or community (34%) samples, so findings were not biased relative to the religious make up of the U.S
    • Only 9% of studies relied on non-U.S. samples
    • 77% used 1 or 2 items to measure religious variables (e.g., affiliation, attendance, self-rated importance, Biblical conservatism)
    • Most studies rely on the self-report of one given family member rather than multiple family members for both religious and family variables
    • Direct observation of family interactions was limited to 2 studies on marital and 8 on parent-youth dyads
    • Most studies used cross-sectional (75%) rather than longitudinal designs (25%), making causal modeling difficult
    • Consistent with U.S. norms, most samples in quantitative studies were predominantly Christian and few focused on ethnic minority families
    • The 47 qualitative studies tended to use smaller samples of highly religious families (51%) and more often involved participants with a U.S. ethnic or religious minority background (e.g., Latter-day Saint, Jewish, Muslim)
  • This sketch shows that although the quantity of research on faith and family has increased since the 1980s and1990s, this area deserves more attention given the salience of religion and spirituality in the U.S. as well as many other societies.  

Theoretical Framework - Relational Spirituality Framework

As indicated above, studies that exist on faith and family life span a very wide number of topics. To provide an organizational framework for this scattered literature, Dr. Mahoney created the Relational Spirituality Framework. Click link for further discussion..

Constructs & Our Measures

To better understand specific spiritual beliefs and practices that may help or harm family relationships, researchers have begun to identify specific constructs that appear to make a difference to family functioning and merit further research. Below is a list of promising constructs that have been identified. 

Updated: 03/17/2021 11:15PM