Natural-Theological Understanding from Childhood to Adulthood: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Natural-Theological Understanding from Childhood to Adulthood

1st Edition

By Olivera Petrovich


160 pages

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Paperback: 9781138939479
pub: 2018-09-18
Hardback: 9781138939448
pub: 2018-09-13
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pub: 2018-09-13
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It is commonly assumed that young children only begin to think about God as a result of some educational or cultural influence, perhaps provided by their parents. Natural-Theological Understanding from Childhood to Adulthood asks if there is anything about God that children can know independently of any specific cultural input; does their knowledge of God simply come from their everyday encounters with the surrounding world?

Whilst children’s theoretical reasoning in biology, physics and psychology has received considerable attention in recent developmental research, the same could not be said about their religious or theological understanding. Olivera Petrovich explores children’s religious concepts, from a natural-theological perspective. Using supporting evidence from a series of studies with children and adults living in as diverse cultures as the UK and Japan, Petrovich explains how young children begin to construct their everyday scientific and metaphysical theories by relying on their own already advanced causal understanding. The unique contribution that this volume makes to the developmental psychology of religion is its contention that religion or theology constitutes one of the core domains of human cognition rather than being a by-product of other core domains and specific cultural inputs.

Natural-Theological Understanding from Childhood to Adulthood is essential reading for students and researchers in cognitive-developmental psychology, religious studies, education and cognitive anthropology.


A common objection to teaching about religious faith by parents and schools is that this implants ideas that children would otherwise lack. In this fascinating book, Olivera Petrovich explores the validity of this objection. Drawing on data with children and adults from different religious cultures and traditions, Petrovich shows that children’s questions about the physical world lead them to postulate causal agents which transcend the empirical domain. In other words, they behave much as natural theologians have always done. Petrovich’s work has major implications for how we should teach about theology in schools and elsewhere. Professor Michael J Reiss, UCL Institute of Education

Table of Contents



Chapter One


Chapter Two

Causal understanding: Physical and metaphysical

Chapter Three

Children’s theories: Scientific and non-scientific

Chapter Four

Early ontological knowledge: The world and its contents

Chapter Five

In the beginning: Cosmological reasoning in children and adults

Chapter Six

The natural-theological concept of God: A unique causal agent

Chapter Seven

Theology as a core cognitive domain

Chapter Eight

Innateness of religion within the limits of science alone

Chapter Nine

Conclusions, exclusions and some implications



Author Index

Subject Index


About the Author

Olivera Petrovich is Research Fellow at the University of Oxford in the Department of Experimental Psychology. Her research deals with the origin and development of natural religious understanding across different cultures.

About the Series

Essays in Developmental Psychology

Essays in Developmental Psychology is designed to meet the need for rapid publication of brief volumes in developmental psychology.

The series defines developmental psychology in its broadest terms and covers such topics as social development, cognitive development, developmental neuropsychology and neuroscience, language development, learning difficulties, developmental psychopathology and applied issues.

Each volume in the series makes a conceptual contribution to the topic by reviewing and synthesizing the existing research literature, by advancing theory in the area, or by some combination of these missions.

Authors in this series provide an overview of their own highly successful research program, but they also include an assessment of current knowledge and identification of possible future trends in research.

Each book is a self-contained unit supplying the advanced reader with a coherent review of important research as well as its context, theoretical grounding and implications.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Developmental / Lifespan Development