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Academics

God Images and Empathy

Faculty Supervisor:
Paul Lewis
Year of Project Completion:
2012
Student:
Naomi Graber

Abstract

By examining the relationship between positive/negative God images and empathy levels within the Mennonite community, this study seeks to empirically begin to evaluate Mennonite identity. This study also seeks to engage the way Mennonites approach their identity by more closely and empirically examining questions asked by Mennonites, specifically regarding theological priorities. It is predicted that positive God image will relate significantly to high empathy, that urban congregations would have significantly more positive God image and higher empathy. There was also a factor analysis of a Mennonite theological priorities measure. Sixty-nine active members of 6 different congregations of MCUSA WDC took the NEO PI-R to control for personality, the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire, the revised semantic differential God images index, and a theological priorities measure. Positive God image was found to be significantly correlated with and to predict higher empathy levels, though the personality factor of agreeableness was found to have more significant relationship with empathy levels. These findings point toward a broader framework of a strong relationship between religiosity and behavior; though the findings also suggest that personality factors, especially agreeableness, play a central role. Contrary to predictions, there was shown to be no significant differences between congregations on composite God images or empathy. These findings demonstrate that despite conventional wisdom, no congregation had a significantly more or less positive God image and no congregation was significantly more or less empathetic, not even when separated into rural and urban groupings. Factor analysis of the theological priorities measure found two factors, Community and Social Justice, that had significant relationships to both principal hypotheses. Community and Social Justice together significantly influenced God image; and congregations differed significantly on both factors. The direct relationship of these factors to a prominent dichotomy within the insider perspective reveals the importance of empirically considering questions of the insider.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.