Monday, November 12, 2007

Nurturing the Best Love of Children in a Globalizing World

Nurturing the Best Love of Children in a Globalizing World

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen
Dept. of Psychology, Eastern University

Chapter Draft for

The Best Love of the Child: (Social) Scientific, Theological, and Legal
Perspectives on the Agapic Love of Children

The United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) uses the phrase “best interest(s) of the child” no fewer than five times in the course of its forty substantive Articles.1 But the meaning of this phrase continues to be a topic of intense debate, not least in America, which is one of only two member countries yet to ratify the UNCRC. To be sure, much of the document’s content is non-controversial for nations on all points of the political and economic spectrum. Few would dispute that it is in the best interests of children anywhere to be protected from abuse, neglect, slander, family separation, or arbitrary imprisonment.2 In addition to such ‘negative rights’ most people would affirm many of the UNCRC’s ‘positive rights’ as being in the best interests of children, such as the right to a name and nationality. And although there are understandable differences – both by nation and sub-culture -- regarding the appropriate level, pace of implementation, and sources of funding for other child-friendly services such as education, health care and social security, most people would in principle probably endorse some form of these positive rights as well.3

However, other parts of the UNCRC are more controversial. Both legal and theological scholars have noted that Article 5 seems to reduce parental rights to merely advising and facilitating their children’s exercise of the rights listed in the document – rights that Article 2 states are applicable (inter alia) regardless of the child’s sex, language, or religion.4 Despite its recognition of adult-child differences in phrases like “the evolving capacities of the child,” Article 5’s language, coupled with that of Articles 12-16, suggests to some that children should have virtually the same rights as adults to privacy, court representation, and freedom of thought, expression, association, conscience and religion.5 Moreover, as theologian Don Browning notes,

[W]hat if parents believe there is more to life – its meaning, morality, and virtues – than can be found in or confined to the Convention? Do parents have a right to guide and direct their children towards these values? Do parental rights exist only insofar as they reinforce the principles and values granted in the Convention?6

Browning notes that earlier UN documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 7 were much clearer on “the priority of parents in relation to the state, law and market ... [The UDHR] states that government should support and guide parents, but government must not replace or undermine parents’ responsibilities,”8 nor their right to influence the content of their children’s developing conscience, religious beliefs and opinions. Largely under the influence of Lebanese philosopher and statesman Charles Malik, the UDHR recognized, to a greater degree than subsequent UN documents, that rights and responsibilities pertain not only to individuals (of whatever demographic category) but also to various relational activities -- or institutions, or spheres of life -- such as family, government, market, labor, scholarship, the arts, etc. Indeed, Browning cautions, without such a balanced recognition of both ‘subjective’ (individual) and ‘objective’ (relational) rights, contemporary rights talk is all too often reduced to arguing about “list[s] of subjective natural rights ... in which these rights increasingly seem to contradict each other, sow seeds of distrust or disregard among the nations of the world, and get used as tools of manipulation by various interest groups around the world to accomplish their own particular political and legal goals.”9

To avoid such distortions, and to promote the ‘best love’ – not just the ‘best interests’ – both of children and by children toward others, legal scholars, social scientists and others may benefit from an introduction to theological traditions which affirm not only the autonomy, or ‘sovereignty,’ of individuals, but also of certain creation-based – yet fallen and retrievable -- social institutions, including the family. Understanding families and children in this theological light does not negate the insights of other disciplines, such as cultural anthropology and evolutionary psychology, but it does help to avoid the hazards of moral relativism -- now inflated by various currents of postmodern thought10 -- that accompany the former and, oppositely, the risk of conflating of what seems ‘natural’ with what is desirable in the latter. After briefly sketching this theological tradition, I will turn to the relatively newer field of cross-cultural psychology, whose theories and empirical research carve out a ‘third way’ between the extremes of cultural relativism and biological determinism. I will demonstrate how its conclusions about children and families – with a special emphasis on gender relations -- overlap with the theological-ethical portrait summarized below.

A Brief Theology of Sphere Sovereignty
The insistence that individual and institutional rights and responsibilities must be kept in normative balance has a long history in western Christian thought. Predating the emergence of individual rights language in liberal political theory, such discussion took on new meaning during the Protestant Reformation, influenced by the Christian humanism which preceded that movement, and the gathering forces of modernity that accompanied it. Both Luther and Calvin rejected medieval Catholicism’s sacred/secular dichotomy, according to which contemplative religious life was the highest and most enduring human activity, and the so-called secular spheres of family, commerce, the arts etc. were inferior institutions – practically necessary but eschatalogically temporary, since humankind’s ultimate telos was seen as the contemplation and glorification of God in eternity. But for Luther – the erstwhile monk turned family man – all ‘vocations’ or spheres of human activity had religious significance, not just because they are necessary to support inferior, bodily needs, but because of their place in creation and redemption.

For Luther, human work -- paid or unpaid, whether as parent, tradesman, artisan or governing official -- neither debases people to the level of animals nor (contra some humanists) elevates them to the status of gods. On the contrary, he wrote, all honest and necessary human activity has significance both providentially, as the way God calls humans to care for the earth and each other, and redemptively, as through its challenges humans imitate in a small way the sufferings Christ endured for them. In his commentary on Genesis, Luther noted that God even milks the cows through those called to that work11 In the Lutheran view of vocation, as summarized by philosopher Lee Hardy,

Having fashioned a world filled with resources and potentials, God chose to continue his creative activity in this world through the work of human hands ... Through our work, humble though it may be, people are being brought under God’s providential care. For God established the various stations of earthly life as channels for his love and providence for the human race; when people respond to the duties of those stations in the activity of work, God is present as the one who provides us with all that we need ... As we pray each morning for our daily bread, people are already busy at work in the bakeries12

Luther’s concept of ‘stations’ or ‘vocations’ anticipated the later Calvinist concept of ‘sphere sovereignty’ and Catholic social teaching on ‘subsidiarity.’ Developed particularly in response to the challenges of the industrial revolution and increasingly centralized states, both traditions reaffirmed a range of God-ordained spheres of activity that have providential purpose for human life, and so need to operate freely according to their own inherent norms. In other words, certain essential ‘scaffolds’ of the common life – such as religion, family, education, labor, science and art – must be arranged and protected to accomplish their unique functions, without being overwhelmed by the state or the market, ignored in the pursuit of individual freedom, or reduced to one another. Late 19th-century Calvinists like Abraham Kuyper13 and Catholics such as Pope Leo XIII,14 warned of the need to preserve a civil society of such autonomous institutions, to mediate between the modern extremes of atomistic individualism and the potential for both state and market totalitarianism. Indeed, in Kuyper’s rendering of sphere sovereignty, a major task of government is to act as honest broker between the other spheres: to make sure that each gets what it needs (no more, but also no less) to fulfill its unique social mandate.15

The assertion that ‘objective’ or relationally-based rights and responsibilities are no less important than ‘subjective’ or individually-based ones may strike some modern readers as quite novel. Most social science students are familiar with Max Weber’s thesis that Protestant Calvinists, with their insistence on an unmediated relationship between God and humans, helped to advance both capitalist and individualist values and behaviors.16 Fewer are aware of their continuing efforts to keep individual freedom in normative balance with the rights and responsibilities of what they took to be God-ordained institutional spheres. The steady march of functional and/or legal separation between religion and state in Calvinist-descended nations has resulted in an emphasis on individual rights that has largely marginalized the Reformed theology of institutional sphere sovereignty.17

But at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation (when social and geographic mobility were still rare) station-based obligations were simply taken for granted – so much so that most individuals were expected to serve God and neighbor by blooming exactly where they were planted. Despite his expanded theology of vocation, Luther retained this medieval image of a static society, to the extent that he supported the German territorial princes when they brutally suppressed the peasants’ revolt against an increasingly crushing tax burden. Luther and the princes assumed that sin was largely reducible to the failure to do one’s individual duty in the station in which one found oneself. It was Luther’s Calvinist successors who pointed out that social stations, even when God-given, are also shaped by human finitude and sin, and so may be in need of reform:

Whereas for Luther our vocation is discerned in the duties of our station in life, for the Calvinists it is derived from our gifts. We have a duty to use our talents and abilities for our neighbor’s good. Therefore we are obliged to find a station in life where our gifts can indeed be employed for the sake of our neighbor’s good. That station is no longer itself normative, but must be judged by it suitability as an instrument of social service. If it is found to be faulty or ill-adapted to its end, it must either be altered or discarded altogether. We must not only serve God in our calling; our calling itself must be brought into alignment with God’s Word.18

How have subsequent theologians dealt with the challenge of advancing the freedom of individuals to use their gifts as they see fit, without at the same time undermining the sovereignty of institutions such as the family? Reformed and Catholic thinkers – as well as many Orthodox theologians -- broadly agree on the following points: 19

  1. Human beings have both negative and positive individual rights. These are rooted in their dignity as imagers of God, and the higher capabilities -- both cognitive and relational -- that they have received from God. As variously gifted participants in God-ordained relational spheres, including families, humans also have individual responsibilities: they are called to use their talents in God’s service, as they exercise responsible dominion over creation, and strive to love their neighbors as themselves. Both of these mandates are qualified by life stage and external circumstances, since human beings share the limitations of embodiment with other creatures, even though they uniquely carry the image of God.

  2. Because humans are fallen as well as finite, their freedom cannot be absolute, as it can be misused both intentionally and unintentionally. Among other things, such ‘freedom’ needs to operate within the ‘forms’ of institutional life -- including families -- whose inherent rights and responsibilities must be kept in balance with those of the individual, so that both individuals and societies can flourish.

  3. Being populated by finite and fallen human beings, institutional spheres can also fall short of the biblical standards of justice, according to which all creatures and creation-based activities should receive the respect and resources they need to operate for the welfare of God’s whole creation.20 Institutions can be perverted internally (for example, if there is corruption in government, abuse in the family, or worker exploitation in business) or externally (as when the church tries to dictate theories to scientists, or when the state tries to replace the family). But such distortions mandate not the elimination of any of the spheres that are essential scaffolds for human welfare, but their reform and renewal according to Scriptural principles of justice, appropriately adapted to various times and places in history.
Correlations With Cross-Cultural Psychology:
What relevance has cross-cultural psychology to a theology about the normative balance between individual and institutional rights and duties, especially in relation to children and families? Cross-cultural psychology, as a spin-off from the earlier field of social psychology (and with some influence from anthropology) began to carve out its own empirical and theoretical domain only in the latter third of the twentieth century.21 Thus a few words about its terminology and approach may be helpful before I demonstrate its overlap with the theological traditions described above, and some of its empirical work on families and children that supports this. I begin with what distinguishes cross-cultural psychology from related work in cultural anthropology.

The terms ‘culture and personality’ and ‘psychological anthropology’ usually refer to a body of work done by cultural anthropologists in the early to mid-20th century, mainly using a Freudian psychodynamic paradigm. The term ‘cultural psychology’ is more recent, and refers mostly to research done -- or inspired by -- cultural anthropologists, but from a more strictly relativist or (in more technical parlance) emic perspective. According to this approach, cultures are so uniquely constructed by their members over time, and in response to such unique circumstances, that they must be studied largely on their own terms, using categories of analysis generated from within. Scholars in this camp tend to reject the use of any Western theories (e.g., psychoanalysis, Piagetian cognitive-developmental theory, Kohlbergian moral developmental theory) for use in studying pre-modern cultures, including their familial and childrearing practices. This of course would also exclude any kind of ‘Western Christian’ theological framework such as the one described earlier. They also tend to reject the use of quantitative methods (psychometric, correlational, experimental or quasi-experimental) as being inappropriate tools – smacking of Western imperialism -- for studying pre-modern cultures.

By contrast, cross-cultural psychologists have felt free to use theories and methods generated by mainstream Western psychology, but not to use them in an absolutist, or imposed etic fashion. Rather, both theory and method are adjusted as experience in the target culture(s) warrants. The assumption here is that human beings universally do share certain needs, capabilities, and developmental paths, both as individuals and as cultural groups. Thus cross-cultural psychologists do not see it as inappropriate to do cross-cultural comparisons while searching for common patterns, or to use Western-derived quantitative and qualitative methods. At the same time, the fact that environmental challenges and resources – as well as cultural histories – do differ means that adjustments in both theory and method are inevitable and ongoing.22 Cross-cultural psychology’s general mandate is thus to explore just how much behavior and psychological processes, including those involving children and their socialization, vary according to cultural constraints, from those faced by pre-modern, subsistence-level groups to those at increasingly higher levels of industrialization and urbanization, and now even in post-industrial settings.

This ‘third way’ between unreflective Western ethnocentrism and the presumption of strong cultural relativism is commonly referred to as the ‘universalist’ or derived etic approach. It is an extension to the cultural level of the mid-20th century dictum by Harvard social theorists Henry Murray and Clyde Kluckhohn, who famously noted that every person is in certain respects like all other persons, like some other persons, and like no other persons.23 It also represents a third way between “the dogmatic and ideological traps of those biomechanistic evolutionists who are inclined to see any coincidence as a causal relationship [and] those environmentalistically minded social scientists who cling to the view that the biological basis is largely irrelevant to the study of what is typically human in behavior.” On this account,
[t]he human species is morphologically and physiologically quite similar to other species, but the extensive facility for conscious reflection and the formulation of long term goals and plans that can be reached along a variety of routes adds a dimension to human behavior not found to the same extent in other species ... Genes [are not] a deterministic force that preempt moral choices ... Biologically speaking, we cannot really go against our genes, but the observable behavior repertoire is the outcome of a range of possible responses. The fascinating question is what the space is in which humans can operate and build culture.24

It should be evident from the above summary that the paradigm of cross-cultural psychology, though mainly an empirical and not a prescriptive endeavor, is supportive of the theological themes listed earlier. Its balanced assumptions about uniquely-human universals and cross-cultural variation are congruent with theological concepts such as the imago dei, and the cultural mandate to the primal couple to “fill the earth and subdue it” as stewards of God’s creation.25 They also correlate with the Reformed insistence that cultural diversity is not the result either of the primal fall of humankind, or of the human arrogance portrayed in the story of the Tower of Babel.26 On the contrary, the cultural mandate is reaffirmed to Noah and his family after the great flood, when God also promises a faithful rotation of the seasons and the preservation “of all flesh that is on the earth.”27 For Reformed thinkers, this ‘covenant of nature’ ensures regularity to earthly life, a basic set of conditions within which culture-building can take place.

Like individuals and institutions, cultures are a complex mix of good and bad. Nevertheless, the Reformed reading of Scripture holds that all people – whether or not they explicitly acknowledge God’s sovereignty – are capable of doing cultural work that has God’s blessing, including the work of crafting human institutions which make for just and flourishing societies in a range of historical settings. This is part of what Reformed theologians have called ‘common grace.’ Thus, in a significant passage near the end of Isaiah, God is pictured at the close of history in these terms: “Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they will not be shut; that through them may be brought the wealth of nations, with their kings led in procession.28 Throughout this chapter Isaiah sees God gladly receiving the best that human cultural efforts have achieved. And at the end of the New Testament the apostle John reaffirms Isaiah’s vision: kings will bring “the glory and honor of nations” into the New Jerusalem.29

To be sure, John also warns that many of those cultural accomplishments will first need purification, for “nothing unclean shall enter [the City].30 Swords will have to be beaten into ploughshares; nations and other cultural groups may have to answer for patterns of injustice they have practiced.31 Even so, on the Reformed reading of Scripture, the cultural mandate is a universally human mandate, and thus cultural diversity is by no means to be seen merely as a challenge for evangelism. It is an opportunity to affirm universal human and cosmic themes, but also to learn things missed or suppressed, which in God’s grace have been revealed to and through other cultural groups.32

Moreover, the eschatological goal of human history is not a disembodied, purely formal heavenly existence (this is a Platonic distortion of the cosmic biblical drama), but – again in the Apostle John’s words – “a new heaven and a new earth.”33 The metaphor he uses for this is significant: a garden in the midst of a city, the leaves of which are “for the healing of the nations.”34 The vision, it seems, is neither one of a romantic return to a pre-fall, pre-technological Eden, nor a lionization of any one kind of political and technological development, but a finally integral and just coexistence of the two. Like other social sciences, cross-cultural psychology focuses less on social policy issues (and even less on metaphysics) than on describing and explaining cultural processes in terms of a methodologically naturalist paradigm. But its own vision of positive cultural interaction shows through in frequent discussions about the right balance between exporting western theory and methods to less-westernized settings, and encouraging (and learning from) the development of indigenous psychologies rooted in other cultural traditions. In the words of the authors of one of the discipline’s flagship texts,
On the one hand, it does not make sense to ignore the achievements of (a mainly) Western psychology, and to reinvent the wheel in each culture. On the other hand, the ethnocentrism of Western psychology makes it necessary to take other viewpoints on human behavior into account. One of the goals of cross-cultural psychology is the eventual development of a universal psychology that incorporates all indigenous (including Western) psychologies. We will never know whether all diverse data and cultural points of view have been incorporated into the eventual universal psychology, but we should cast our net as widely as possible in order to gather all the relevant information that is available.35

Premodern Children and Families in the Ecocultural Framework
I now turn to some more specific theory and research in the cross-cultural psychology of children and families which may help lessen the tension between the individualist impulses of the UNCRC and the theology of relational spheres embraced by many Catholic and Protestant social ethicists. As an opening comment, it is relevant to note that cross-cultural psychologists themselves have moved from an earlier stance of almost complete indifference to the role of religion in cultural processes to one of increasing interest and respect.36 This is partly a result of Samuel Huntington’s (1996) challenge to modernization theory, which for over a century had assumed that as cultures industrialized and increased in affluence, they would inevitably converge around a set of irreversible ‘modern’ values that includes individualism and secularization.37 But Huntington argued that with the fall of the Berlin Wall, older cultural values have begun to eclipse more recent ideological loyalties, with religious traditions playing a major part in such renewal.38 Of course, in its strong form this thesis -- that cultural values inevitably trump economic and political forces -- is arguably as oversimplified as the modernization theory it claims to challenge. Nevertheless, recent empirical research does show that, even while selectively embracing modernizing forces in the form of technology, urbanization, and individual rights, societies throughout the world continue to inhabit – in some cases retrieving after a long secular interlude -- the historical cultural and religious zones described by Huntington.39

Cross-cultural psychologists have gone on to show that the durability of family ties, both on the nuclear and extended family levels, is part of this cultural trend in all regions of the world, regardless of level of modernization. To anticipate that research, I will explain its origins in prior work done on children and families in pre-modern groups. For cross-cultural psychologists, individual development is in large part the outcome of reciprocal interactions between persons as biological organisms and environmental influences, both physical and socio-cultural. Working from this theoretical foundation, much research has been done in terms of what has come to be known as the ecocultural framework, which was first developed and tested as a result of ethnographic work among pre-modern groups such as hunter-gatherers and subsistence agriculturalists.40

Briefly, the ecocultural hypothesis predicts that in such cultures subsistence style has a significant relationship to childrearing style. For example, subsistence agriculturalists are ‘high food accumulators’ in the sense that they rely heavily on a single harvested crop for yearly survival. Moreover, in such labor-intensive, pre-industrial settings, parents rely on child as well as adult labor for subsistence. In such circumstances, children who do not obey orders risk jeopardizing the group’s entire annual food supply. As a result (and as predicted by the ecocultural hypothesis) the child socialization practices of subsistence farming groups are more likely to emphasize compliance, in the form of nurturance, obedience, and responsibility41 and less likely to promote assertion, in the form achievement, self-reliance, and independence.42

Given such socialization practices, it is not surprising to find that the overall social organization of sedentary agriculturalists tends to be both hierarchical and role-differentiated – that is, collectivist, in the sense that primary concern is for the group, rather than the individual.
By contrast, nomadic hunter-gatherers – for example, the Pygmy and the ¡Kung Bushmen – are ‘low food accumulators,’ in the sense that they obtain their food more on a day-to-day basis. In such settings, a disobedient child (e.g., one who doesn’t gather where she or he has been sent) at worst only jeopardizes a day’s food supply, and at best may discover and exploit a hitherto undiscovered food supply, to everyone’s benefit. It follows that hunter-gatherers should be more likely to socialize children for assertive than for compliant behavior, to have a less hierarchical and role-differentiated social structure, and in general to be more individualist in their values.43

These predictions have been borne out in a number of cross-cultural studies, using archived ethnographic measures from data banks such as the Ethnographic Atlas and the Human Relations Area Files,44 or by testing the theory in a number of field settings in North America, Africa, and Australasia. As an interesting aside, these contrasting subsistence and childrearing styles also have perceptual and cognitive correlates. Hunter-gatherers have, on average, better spatial and perceptual disembedding skills than the more sedentary subsistence agriculturalists – indeed, they tend to score about as high as Western-educated persons, even when using tests adapted from a Western setting. The ecocultural hypothesis holds that such skills develop not only through the perceptual demands of nomadic life, but from training children for generally greater assertiveness.45

In recent years, the ecocultural framework has been extended to include research on groups that have moved steadily away from the mere subsistence level, using the broader framework of individualism vs. collectivism, and I will have more to say about this later. In the meantime, a number of issues regarding children and families arise from the research summarized so far. The first point to be made is that, contrary to much popular belief in the West, the march through time towards assertive, individualist values turns out not to be linear, but curvilinear. Inasmuch as hunter-gatherers are a remnant of our most primal human ancestors, they are more characterized by socialization for achievement, self-reliance and independence than the historically later-appearing agriculturalists. And it is only as subsistence agriculture gives way to more technologized and urbanized living that the socialization goal for children begins to reflect the earlier pattern of greater training for self-assertion. 46

As with all social science findings, assertive vs. compliant modes of socialization -- and their correlation with children’s behavior and perceptual-cognitive skills -- represent statistically significant tendencies, not absolute contrasts. In addition, more recent research has shown that socialization for assertion/compliance is not a single dimension, in the sense that more of one always means less of the other.47 It is possible (as in the case of the Pygmy and the ¡Kung) to have both socialization for assertion and a high level of mutual support within a cultural group.

Nevertheless, the original conclusions, if a bit oversimplified, still stand, and lead to thought-provoking questions. If group survival depends on practicing one socialization style more than another, are there no grounds – other than adherence to a discredited Western ethnocentrism – for making judgments about better or worse ways to raise children? And for those who subscribe to the ethics of sphere sovereignty and the theology of culture outlined earlier, does it mean – absent clear cases of abuse and neglect – that families at whatever points of the assertiveness/ compliance dimensions should simply be left alone to socialize their children as they see fit? If, for example, they believe in quite different standards of distributive justice for girls and boys, are there no grounds for pressuring, or at least encouraging, them to do otherwise? Alternately, in an increasingly post-subsistence, globalizing world, is it possible that families everywhere are reverting to a ‘hybrid’ socialization style – not unlike that of their hunter-gatherer ancestors – in which both individual achievement and strong relational ties coexist for both sexes?

Ecocultural Factors and Gender Socialization
What results emerge from tests of the ecocultural hypothesis when gender is a mediating variable? A mid-20th century study of 110 pre-literate groups found that while boys and girls in most of the cultures were equally trained for obedience, girls were much more often socialized for responsibility and nurturance, and much less often for achievement and self-reliance.48 In addition, larger differences in gender socialization – along with the correlated differences in perceptual-cognitive skills -- are more apt to be found in ecocultural settings where a premium is placed on physical strength for survival-relevant motor skills, and where custom and subsistence modes favor large, cooperative family groups. Such (mostly herding and agricultural) families are also more likely to be polygamous, in contrast to hunter-gatherer groups, which are by and large monogamous:

[I]n sedentary, high food accumulating societies not only will females be subjected to more training to be nurturant and compliant, but the degree of the difference between the sexes’ training will also be high. In low food accumulating societies, such as gathering or hunting societies, there will be less division of labor by sex and little need for either sex to be trained to be compliant. Often in such societies ... the contribution of women to basic subsistence activity [is] integral to it. Hence, women’s work is valued by men, who are then not inclined to derogate women or to insist on subservience from them.49

Three broader issues are implicated in these findings. First, as the longstanding tension between liberal and romantic feminists has shown, there is continuous debate as to whether it is females or males who are rendered more valuable (and thus, implicitly, more virtuous) by the behavioral styles – more collectivist vs. more individualist – into which each has generally been trained since the time most human beings stopped being hunter-gatherers and settled down to raise crops.50

Second, as accumulating interdisciplinary work in men’s studies indicates, it is also a matter of debate as to which sex is more advantaged or disadvantaged (in terms of social and economic power, but also in terms of personal comfort or stress) by these differences in socialization.

Thirdly, there is a debate about direction of causality: are males and females socialized differently because their inherent behavioral tendencies are already different, or do they become different largely because of their socialization? The accumulated research in cross-cultural psychology tends to favor the latter conclusion – otherwise, why would there so much more similarity between the sexes among hunter-gatherers (who socialize much less for distinct gender roles) than among agriculturalists?51 Still, women in all subsistence groups must cope with the physical givens of pregnancy, nursing, and limited upper body strength. Thus, at least during their reproductive years, they are less apt to take on economic tasks that require strength, mobility or danger -- which by reproductive default (so to speak) are assigned to males, whether they like it or not. The overall result, at least in many groups other than hunter-gatherers, is much greater economic and social empowerment for males, but often at the cost of tough physical and emotional socialization, in the form of severe initiation rites and shaming. Indeed, one recent analysis of over a hundred cultures in Africa and elsewhere suggests that overall severity of childrearing is greater towards males than females, that boys actually tend to be more compliant than girls in adhering to their prescribed behavioral roles, and that they experience greater overall levels of socialization anxiety in the process.52

There is a lesson in all of this not just for cultural relativists who prefer to ignore the possibility of certain personal and social universals, but also for those at the opposite extreme, who appeal to evolutionary psychology as a way to defend the differential socialization of boys for greater assertion and girls for greater compliance. The latter argument leans heavily on the idea of sexual selection – that is, that due to the greater biological investment that women must make for each child (think, for example, of the relative time and energy investment implied in the terms ‘mothering’ and ‘fathering’ a child) women are biologically hard-wired to be very calculating and pragmatic in selecting a mate who can support them for the long period needed to bring children to maturity. Men, by contrast, can get copies of their genes into the next generation by mating with any number of women, and so are said to be hard-wired for promiscuity – perhaps even for patriarchal dominance and rape -- in a way that cultural training can only partially override. It is often just a short step to the conclusion that girls are more or less genetically programmed to become nurturing specialists, and that ‘boys will be boys,’ with all that this implies in terms of optimal socialization for assertiveness.53

But when evolutionary psychologists conclude that gendered separate spheres persist (and should) because in our genetic heart of hearts we are all still Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, this argument undermines itself. Because to the extent that they are stand-ins for our earliest ancestors, it is precisely the world’s hunter-gatherers who are less likely than the later-appearing subsistence agriculturalists to practice polygamy, highly-differentiated gender role socialization, heavy-handed male dominance and, indeed, rape.54 And it is not just naturalistically-inclined evolutionary psychologists who misread the cultural-historical record. I once spoke with an urban anthropologist who had studied an intentional Christian community (ecumenical, but mainly Catholic/Charismatic) begun in the 1970s as an outreach to University of Michigan students. She recalled sitting in on a community council meeting in which a serious discussion took place on the need to find ways to socialize boys and girls into non-confused (read: ‘biblical’ and ‘natural’) gender identities, now that we no longer live the life of hunter-gatherers. One conclusion was that in the households of this covenant community, it should always be mothers (not fathers) who changed diapers, and fathers (not mothers) who set mouse-traps!55 I can only speculate about the cognitive dissonance that would be generated if members of this community had been exposed to the finding that Pygmy hunter-gatherer fathers engage in the most hands-on infant care of any pre-literate cultural group.56 Or, for that matter, to Martin Luther’s famous prayer of thanks to God for the privilege of changing and washing his child’s diapers.57

Among both evolutionary-psychological and religious conservatives, there are also those who defend the doctrine of separately-gendered spheres as the best possible arrangement (given our supposed natures, whether ‘naturally evolved’ or ‘God-given’) for the protection and flourishing of women and children. But there is a large body of cross-cultural research that actually points to the opposite conclusion. On average, it is preliterate cultures with the most gendered division of labor and other activities that show the greatest hostility and contempt on the part of adult males towards females of all ages, and the harshest socialization of boys through the use of physical cruelty and shaming. A major reason for this is that the greater the gendered division of labor, the less salient fathers are in the care of young children. As a result, boys tend to develop a cross-sex identity when they are young (identifying more with the mothers who are their primary caretakers than with the fathers they interact with much less frequently). This tendency is later suppressed by severe adolescent male initiation rites, and also by men’s individual efforts to exaggerate their manliness, in part by avoiding and showing contempt for anything perceived to be ‘feminine.’58 By contrast, in sociologist Scott Coltrane’s two analyses of about a hundred premodern groups (using the standard cross-cultural sample of the Human Relations Area Files) the cultures least likely to disempower women and girls, or to engage in harsh socialization practices towards boys, were those in which fathers engaged in the most hands-on care of children.59

The Ecocultural Framework and Modernizing Families
So far we have seen that inasmuch as preliterate cultures teach us anything about humankind’s ‘natural’ forms for family life and child socialization, the picture is very mixed.60 All such groups – whether hunter-gatherers, subsistence farmers or subsistence herders – are more collectivist than most Westerners, with their legacy of political, technological, and economic modernization, have embraced in the recent past. Moreover, as cultural development moves from nomadic to more sedentary, such collectivism – placing group needs, norms, and identity above those of the individual; stressing communal sharing over instrumental exchange – becomes associated with greater gender role differentiation, male contempt for women and girls, the economic disempowerment of females, and severe physical and emotional socialization of boys.

However, the steady movement away from agricultural subsistence, toward economic and political modernity and psychological individualism, has not been without its own problems. Children – increasingly of both sexes -- raised in competitive, individualistic cultures do indeed have more choices about what they can do, at all stages of life. They can take more pride in their personal achievements, become geographically and economically less bound to their families of origin, and enjoy more privacy. Moreover, as cross-cultural psychologists have expanded their reach to include studies of individualism and collectivism in a range of nation states, they have found that it is among the national descendants of the Protestant Reformation -- e.g., the U.S.A., Netherlands, Great Britain and its emigrant offspring such as Canada and Australia – that average measures of individualism run highest. 61 It is also among nations with the highest proportion of Protestants that gender role ideology is the most egalitarian.62

But it is also among Protestant-heritage nations that divorce rates are by far the highest. This suggests to some that modernization theory was right: with the steady increase of affluence, and the related weakening of all hierarchical social structures, permanent nuclear as well as extended families will soon be minority phenomena. However, such a conclusion may be too hasty. To begin with, there is accumulating cross-cultural data on what has come to be called subjective well-being (SWB).63 This involves measures of personal satisfaction in spheres of life such as family, work, recreation and friendship, as well as more general feelings of happiness and unhappiness. One might think, on economic and political grounds alone, that the developed and democratic nations would rank much higher on SWB measures than less developed and/or more authoritarian nations. But in fact their rankings on overall SWB are only slightly higher, and they are accompanied by much higher rates of suicide and divorce – and this in spite of the fact that in individualistic nations, average satisfaction measures on specific domains such as marriage are relatively high. Scholars trying to account for this paradox have speculated that while people in individualist nations do have more freedom to pursue their own interests and desires, they also have less social support when trouble arises, since the distressed person and his or her compatriots tend to assign responsibility for both success and failure to the individual. Thus, individualists may experience more extreme fluctuations of SWB, while collectivists have a more dependable – even if more confining – set of social scaffolds that produces fewer very happy people, but also fewer who are isolated and depressed.64

This research is part of the relatively new field of ‘positive psychology,’ a term coined for research that focuses on what factors predispose individuals to wellness, as opposed to mental illness. High levels of autonomy and competence but also relatedness are among the features that characterize wellness, according to the theoretical framework of the Western-trained psychologists who have been on the front lines of such research. This is because, even in Western nations, the highest levels of SWB are to be found in people who are high achievers as individuals, but also have strong connections with families and/or friends and voluntary organizations -- including (for many) religious institutions. Subjective well-being, it turns out, is not just a synonym for individualistic hedonism and/or acquisitiveness. On the contrary, even in Western settings SWB correlates better with the expression of what its theroreticians have called ‘higher-order needs’ – autonomy, competence, and mutuality in relationships -- than with a focus on ‘lower-order needs’ such as financial success, social status, and physical attractiveness. And it is noteworthy that at least one American study has shown that a focus on lower-order or extrinsic needs is more likely to emerge in children of controlling, cold and uninvolved parents, whereas the pursuit of higher-level, intrinsic needs is correlated with parenting that is warm, involved and autonomy-focused in an age-appropriate way.65

In other words, just as Western social scientists have had to rethink the secularization hypothesis in light of cultural and political changes after the cold war, so also have they begun to think twice about the previously taken-for-granted correlation between subjective well-being and almost unqualified personal autonomy. And while some Western social scientists continue to believe that families ties will steadily weaken as more and more nations modernize (and that in the long run this is not problematic in terms of the health of children or adults) others, both in the West and in the ‘majority world,’ are discovering that family ties are more durable and more positive than classic modernization theory suggests. 66

One indicator of this comes from the Value of Children Project (VOC), begun in the 1970s by researchers in nine nations at various levels of modernization, to which eight other countries were later added. Its focus was the cross-cultural examination of reasons adults give for wanting children, and also the qualities they desire in their children.67 With regard to the first, respondents in less modernized countries are (not surprisingly) likely to say that a child is most desired to look after a parent in old age, and that having several children makes it more likely that such care will be forthcoming. Regarding desired qualities in a child, they are (again, not surprisingly) more likely to stress obedience and interdependence over self-assertion and independence. Now modernization theory, as already noted, predicts that with urbanization and industrialization both material and psychological interdependence within families will decrease. And yet the evidence for this is decidedly mixed, as there are examples of economically-advanced societies such as Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore where the expected decrease in collectivist orientation has not taken place, and where interdependence between parents and even adult children remains strong. How might we explain this less-than-completely ‘modern’ pattern?

Psychologist Çiğdem Kağitçibaşi (one of the original VOC researchers) concluded, on the basis of longitudinal data from her own Turkish sample, that though the instrumental value of children to parents decreases with modernization, their psychological value remains intact, or indeed even increases. According to her family-change model of ‘emotional (or psychological) interdependence’ there is an emerging child rearing orientation in the majority world68 – even (indeed, especially) in the face of increasing urbanization -- that encourages an ‘autonomous-related self.’ Such a self develops autonomy in terms of personal achievement, but also maintains relatedness in terms of continuing psychological closeness to family members – extended as well as nuclear.69 The overlap between these findings and those emerging from the (largely Western) research on subjective well-being is striking. Together they suggest that the cultivation in children of both autonomy and relatedness addresses two irreducible and universal human needs. Freud called them ‘love and work.’ Talcott Parsons labelled them ‘expressive’ and ‘instrumental’ needs.’ Unfortunately, both assumed that they should – for functional and/or psychological and/or (mistaken) historical reasons – always be divided by gender.70

By contrast, although she comes from a more collectivist culture, Kağitçibaşi is emphatic about not romanticizing the doctrine of gendered separate spheres, largely because it disadvantages women and girls, whose ideal development in collectivist cultures is too often seen in terms of family service instead of schooling, and in terms of early marriage and uninterrupted childbearing. In addition, I would add, such sharp gender-role dichotomy reproduces asymmetrical parenting – that is, the under-involvement of fathers with young children – and thus helps to perpetuate the intergenerational cycle of male contempt for female-associated traits and activities, and the unnecessarily-harsh socialization of boys.

Kağitçibaşi affirms instead the gender-neutral conclusions of Diana Baumrind’s well-known longitudinal research on parental disciplinary styles in America. That research distinguished among authoritarian parents (who tend to be unsympathetic, unaffectionate, and punitive towards children), permissive parents (who give their children maximal freedom and are loving, but exert almost no control), and authoritative parents, who reason with their children in an age-appropriate way, listen to their objections, but remain firm and in control, even as they strive to be loving and understanding.71 Subsequent research in America has shown that it is authoritative parenting of younger children that correlates best with both academic and psychosocial competence as they get older. In Kağitçibaşi’s terms, it is the parenting style most likely to produce the autonomous-relational child: one who grows up to be self-reliant, independent and achievement-oriented, but also friendly, happy and with a sense of belonging to – and being responsible in varying degrees toward – family, friends, and wider social networks.72

One reason it has been easy for social scientists to miss this universal trend toward blending autonomy with close family bonds is because in the past most have conflated ‘family’ with ‘physical household’. This in turn has mistakenly appeared to support the modernization-theory hypothesis of steady family decline (in both size and functional interdependence), from extended to nuclear to (possibly) single-parent form. In the words of James Georgas (himself a student of family systems in Greece):

The major problem of much demographic research on family types is the lack of information on family networks. In addition, some family researchers implicitly adopt the position, a vestige of Parsons’ theory, that the nuclear family is functionally independent and autonomous, a position which is supported by the demographic approach of counting the number of persons and family positions in the household ... [D]emographic studies measure primarily structural dimensions of the family, that is, the number of persons and their positions, e.g., mother, father, children, kin in the household. They rarely investigate kin relationships. If the increase of nuclear families in a society is just the increase of separate household because of increased affluence, but with continued kin contact and close bonds, then these changes do not necessarily indicate a change of family systems.73

Georgas and a number of other cross-cultural psychologists have recently completed a study of close to 5500 university students, in 27 countries at various levels of modernization and affluence, aimed at correcting this distortion. The study included country-level ecocultural and sociopolitical measures, including those indicating religious adherence.74 At the individual level, there were psychological several scales tapping various aspects of individualist vs. collectivist traits and values. In between were three sets of measures designed to illuminate family relationships. Significantly (and quite deliberately) not a single one of these asked the students about the structure – i.e., size and composition -- of their households of origin. Instead they asked about family networking and family roles. There were questions about how -- and how often -- contact took place with parents of each sex, younger and older siblings, grandparents, uncles and aunts. There was a scale designed to measure the degree of emotional closeness to these various types of family members, as well as to other categories of people (fellow students, teachers, neighbors, etc.) Finally, there was an extensive set of questions regarding the degree to which each type of family member was seen as being involved in expressive family roles (those concerned with maintaining the family’s emotional connections) and instrumental family roles (those concerned with maintaining the family’s economic well-being).75

The most striking finding from this study was that, in spite of the steady structural nuclearization of the family with the rise of modernity and affluence, functional intergenerational ties – to parents, to grandparents, to siblings and others – were strongly expressed by participants everywhere, and for all stages of life.76 This finding is all the more striking when one recalls that those participants were university students, whom modernization theory would argue are the very people most likely to express higher individualist values, whatever their country of origin. Ties to parents and siblings were universally the strongest, with grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins following in that order, but in each case both instrumental and emotional ties were cited. In varying degrees, depending on the closeness of the relationship and the age and gender of the relative, these students saw a wide range of family members as being instrumentally supportive of the family (in relation to health matters, finances, child care, etc.) and emotionally supportive (in relation to hospitality practices, handing on traditions, maintaining family unity, etc.) The study thus challenges a major assumption of modernization theory -- that of inevitable family fragmentation. Urban families are indeed taking advantage of increasing affluence to reduce household size. They are also becoming markedly more likely to share instrumental power and resources across generations and sexes. But they have continued to find creative ways to maintain nuclear and extended-family connections. As the authors of the study summarize it:

We have found that hierarchy is rejected by young people and that hierarchy is negatively associated with socioeconomic development ... but there is nevertheless valuing of close family ties. Therefore, we believe that the hypothesis that families in all societies will eventually converge to the separate-independent nucleated family of Parsons’ and others’ models of Western societies is not correct.77

As the above quotation indicates, there was more cross-cultural variation in students’ attitudes toward collectivist family values – i.e., father as the most powerful instrumental figure, with mother and children deferring to him regardless of age or life stage. The more family-agricultural (and therefore less affluent) the country, the more likely students were to endorse these ‘traditional’ hierarchical values. But as urban acculturation, affluence, and education increase -- and are more equally available to both sexes -- the more likely it is that students of both sexes will reject the patriarchal model of the family. This, however, is not to say that parental roles are becoming completely androgynous. As modernization proceeds, fathers and mothers do indeed have progressively more-equal instrumental power. But in all regions of the world, women in general and mothers in particular continue to be the primary channels of expressive values, in both the practical and symbolic activities of family nurturance. In return – at least in this international student sample – mothers, on average, are seen as the emotionally closest family member. Fathers, by contrast, ranked third – behind both mothers and siblings.

How the mothers and fathers feel about these remaining asymmetries is of course unclear, since it was only their college-student children who participated in this study. Mothers in a globalizing world might -- or might not -- conclude that doing a ‘second shift’ of family nurturance (in addition to whatever public-sphere work they are engaged in) is a small price to pay for all the extra bonding points they get in return from children.78 Recall too that as affluence increases, student respondent of both sexes are steadily more likely to reject patriarchal family values. This suggests that, under the pressures of globalization, fathers are at least having enough positive expressive contact with their children (as well as sharing enough instrumental power with their mothers) to weaken the intergenerational cycle of asymmetrical parenting, with its associated misogyny. And although increasing national affluence has not much changed how much routine housework fathers perform, the psychologists who conducted this study are agnostic about causal mechanisms: they cannot say whether the internationally-low participation of men in housework is due to psychological resistance on the part of one or both sexes, to social-structural reasons or some of both. They thus conclude that their data “do not permit us to clarify whether further increases in affluence will lead to a further increase in the housework workload of adult males.”79

In the meantime, the cross-cultural psychological work summarized in this paper suggests at least three conclusions with regard to the document that began this discussion – namely, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

  1. Families matter, and they should not --- as the UNCRC tends to imply – be treated simply as collections of rights-bearing individuals of varying ages who happen to live together. As the earlier UDHR recognizes, rights and responsibilities pertain as well to relational spheres, such as parenting families. Thus, as Don Browning suggests, the UNCRC should be read in light of the earlier and more comprehensive U.N. Declaration of human rights, in order to maintain an appropriate (and for religious believers, creational) balance between individual and institutional sphere sovereignty.80

  2. Although we cannot assume that whatever is ‘natural’ is always ‘best’ in terms of family arrangements, the cross-cultural psychological studies summarized above do help to explode several myths about ideal -- or at least inevitable -- family arrangements. We have seen that, both among our earliest hunter-gatherer ancestors and in families under the present pressures of globalization, neither rugged individualism nor the doctrine of gendered, separate (and unequal) spheres is normative. To be sure, in neither case is complete androgyny the norm. But there is a largely-equal sharing of instrumental power, and considerable sharing of expressive functions by fathers and mothers, as well as the practice of socializing children of both sexes towards the goal of becoming relational-autonomous selves, with gendered practices more and more seen as a secondary, rather than an essential focus. This corresponds with the overall trajectory of the biblical theology of creation and culture that I outlined earlier. Thus, the UNCRC’s inclusion of an article which (inter alia) denounces gender discrimination is not merely a trendy concession to political correctness. Whatever weaknesses the document has with regard to the recognition of institutional rights, its focus on gender neutrality with regard to children’s rights is in line with a Reformed reading of creation theology.

  3. The Families Across Cultures study, by breaking down the standard confusion of families and households has been able to show that even (indeed, especially) with the march of modernization, family ties – both instrumental and expressive, both on the nuclear and extended levels -- remain strong. However, by ignoring structural features of families, its authors (by their own admission) have sidestepped important questions about the effects of divorce and single parenting. It is true that, in the case of high-conflict families, divorce may be the lesser of two evils. But in the most-Westernized nations, most divorces take place in low-conflict relationships, and such divorces, on average, are good neither for adults or children. Children of single mothers have, on average, more -- and more enduring -- problems in both achievement and relational realms, even after controlling for ethnicity, family background, and intelligence test scores.81 And, as we have seen, the absence of fathers from expressive childcare – whether physical, psychological or both – has intergenerational consequences in terms of the reproduction of misogyny. Intact mother-father households in which equal regard is the norm, and in which both sexes can assume both instrumental and expressive functions (though not necessarily equally at all points sin the family cycle) would seem – other things being equal – to be the best setting for the rearing of autonomous-relational children of both sexes.82

This in no way negates the importance and value of wider kin (and other) connections. But the ‘village’ that raises children – whether among hunter-gatherers or within the increasingly-globalized urban scene is secondary to the immediate family in which instrumental and expressive learning first --- and optimally -- take place.

[This is a DRAFT version of this article, and may not be reprinted except by express written permission of the author, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. All rights reserved by author.)

End Notes:
1 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3, Articles 3, 9, 18, 20, and 40.
2 Articles 7, 9, 10, 12, 16 and 19. The UNCRC’s Article 1 defines a child as someone “below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” The document implies but does not specifically use the language of ‘negative’ (or ‘positive’) rights.
3 Articles 7, 18, 24, 26 and 28.
4 For example, David M. Smolin, “Overcoming Religious Objections to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Emory International Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 1 (spring 2006), pp. 81-110 and Don S. Browning, “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Should It Be Ratified and Why?” Ibid., pp. 157-84. The full text of the UNCRC’s Article 2 reads: “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.”
5 Article 5 of the UNCRC reads: “States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.”
6 Browning, “Should It Be Ratified?” p. 161.
7 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Dec. 12, 1948, United Nations Doc. A/810.
8 Browning, “Should It Be Ratified?” p. 161. For a historical account of the framing of the UNDR, see for example Mary Anne Glendon, A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt an the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (New York: Random House, 2001).
9 Ibid., pp. 172-73.
10 As for example in Kenneth J. Gergen, The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 1991).
11 Martin Luther, Werke Kritishe Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 44(Weimar:Hermann Bőhlaus, 1893), p. 6.
12 Lee Hardy, The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 48.
13 Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1931).
14 Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum (1891), in David J. O’Brien and Thomas A Shannon, Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis, 1992), no.9. See also Browning, “Should It Be Ratified?”
15 For Kuyper, writing at the turn of the 20th century, the state’s mandate is limited. It must not become “an octopus which stifles the whole of life.” Nevertheless, its positive mandate is threefold: it must adjudicate disputes among the other life spheres, “compel[ling] mutual regard for the boundaries of each; within each sphere it must defend the weak against the strong; and it must exercise its power to guarantee that the burdens of running and protecting the state are fairly distributed. (Lectures on Calvinism, pp. 96-97). See also Luis Lugo, ed., Religion, Pluralism and Public Life: Abraham Kuyper’s Legacy for the Twenty-First Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), especially Part II.
16 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958).
17 See for example Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1986).
18 Hardy, The Fabric of This World, p. 66. A contemporary Catholic rendering of the same sentiments can be found in Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical, Populorum Progressio, especially sec. 32.
19 There is also convergence between Catholic and Orthodox thought on many of these points. For a good introduction (though more in the context of ecclesiology than broader social ethics) see Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1998), especially Part VII.
20 See for example James Skillen, The Biblical Theme of Justice Washington D.C.: Center for Public Justice, 2000).
21 The field’s first journals appeared only in 1965 (International Journal of Psychology) and 1970 (Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology). The International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (I.A. C.C.P.) was formed in 1972, and now has about 1000 members from almost seventy countries. Comprehensive textbooks in cross-cultural psychology only began to appear around the 1980s.
22 John W. Berry, Ype H. Poortinga, Marshall H. Segall and Pierre R. Dasen, Cross-Cultural Psychology: Research and Applications, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 2002), ch. 1, 11, and 12. This position also has some interesting overlap with recent philosophical attempts, in a neo-Aristotelian framework, to grapple with the universalism/ localism dilemma, as these apply to the ‘majority world,’ especially regarding issues of gender justice. See for example Martha C. Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2000), especially ch. 1.
23 James Georgas, John W. Berry, Fons J. R. van de Vijver, Çiğdem Kağitçibaşi and Ype H. Poortinga, Families Across Cultures: A 30-Nation Study Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 187-88.
24 Berry et al., Cross-Cultural Psychology, p. 283-84..
25 Gen 1:28.
26 Gen 11:1-9.
27 Gen 9:17
28 Is 60:11.
29 Rev 21:24. The term translated here as ‘nations’ (goyim in Hebrew; ethne in Greek) is better rendered as ‘tribes and nations,’ as it applies to people groups at all levels of cultural and institutional differentiation, and certainly not just to what are today called ‘nation states’ – which would be an anachronistic reading of these texts.
30 Rev 21:27.
31 Rev 21:26
32 Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1983); Richard J. Mouw and Sander Griffioen, Plualisms and Horizons: An Essay in Christian Political Philosophy (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1993).
33 Rev 21:1. See also Volf, After Our Likeness, ch. 7, especially pp. 276-82.
34 Rev 22:2.
35 Berry et al., Cross-Cultural Psychology, p. 464.
36 Thus in the 2002 flagship text by Berry et al. (See note 21) there are only two passing references to religion, and these do not even appear in the book’s subject index, apparently prompting Gustav Jahoda (one of the field’s elder statesmen) to make a plea in his preface to that volume (p. xiv) for more theory and research on the role of supernatural attributions in cultural/psychological processes. By the time two of its contributors had co-authored Families Across Cultures: A 30-Nation Study (see note 19) religion as a ‘sociopolitical’ variable was being examined with the same seriousness, and approaching the same detail, as the longer-researched economic and social-structural variables.
37 See for example Alex Inkeles, One World Emerging? Convergence and Divergence in Industrial Societies (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1998).
38 Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
39 For example, Ronald Inglehart and Wayne E. Baker, “Modernization, Cultural Change, and the Persistence of Traditional Values,” American Sociological Review, Vol. 65, No. 1 (January 2000), pp. 19-51. This study examined data from three waves of the World Values Survey (which includes the dimensions of Traditional vs. Secular-Rational values, and Survival vs. Self-Expression values) gathered from 65 societies representing 75 percent of the world’s population, and found that the broad ‘faith heritage’ of a society – Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Confucian, or Communist – leaves an imprint on values that endures despite modernization, and that the differences in values held by members of different religions within given societies are much smaller than cross-national differences.
40 In particular the work of Herbert Barry, Irvin Child and Margaret K. Bacon, as summarized in their seminal article, “Relation of Child Training to Subsistence Economy,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 61 (1959), pp. 51-63.
41 Nurturance is defined as the degree to which children are trained to care for and help younger siblings and other dependent people; obedience as the degree to which they are trained to obey adults, and responsibility as the degree to which they are trained to take on subsistence and/or household tasks.
42 Achievement is defined as the degree to which children are trained to match standards of excellence in task performance; self-reliance as the degree to which they are trained to take care of themselves and be independent of others in supplying their own needs and wants; and independence as the degree to which they are further trained toward freedom from domination, control and supervision.
43 The cultural syndrome of individualism/collectivism is probably the most researched (some would say over-researched ) topic in cross-cultural psychology. The scales developed to asses it variously aim to measure contrasts such as a) whether the self is defined more in personal or group-membership terms, --i.e., as more independent or interdependent; b) whether personal goals have priority over group goals, or vice-versa; c) whether resources are distributed more in terms of instrumental exchange or communal sharing; d) whether personal attitudes or social norms are more likely to affect individual behavior; e) in general, whether values such as self-reliance, competition, hedonism and emotional distance (for individualism) are more common than values such as interdependence, family integrity and loyalty, in-group sociability, and out-group hostility (for collectivists). See for example Harry C. Triandis, Individualism and Collectivism (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1995).
44 George P. Murdock, Ethnographic Atlas (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1967); G. P. Murdock, C. S. Ford and A. E. Hudson, Outline of Cultural Materials, 4th ed. (New Haven CT: Human Relations Area Files, 1971).
45 See Georgas et al., Families Across Cultures, ch. 2, for a summary of the accumulated empirical findings testing the ecocultural hypothesis. One of the largest of such projects was a multi-year, multi-disciplinary comparison of Pygmy hunter-gatherers and non-Pygmy farmers in and around the rain forest of the Central African Republic, looking at the correlations among subsistence style, childrearing style, and cognitive style in both groups. See John W. Berry, Jan M. H. van de Koppel, Claude Sénéchal, Robert C. Annis, Serge Bahuchet, Luca L. Cavalli-Sforza and Herman A. Witkin, On the Edge of the Forest: Cultural Adaptation and Cognitive Development in Central Africa (Lisse, Netherlands: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1986).
46 The discovery of this fact, perhaps not surprisingly, has led some observers to romanticize groups like the Pygmy and the ¡Kung as living in the best of all possible worlds: enjoying an Eden-like pre-technological existence, while sharing what Westerners like to think are their own dominant personality traits. For example, the feature film The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980, director Jamie Uys) paints just such a romanticized portrait of the ¡Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari. But the same criticism has been leveled at anthropologist Colin Turnbull’s supposedly-more academic treatment of the Mbuti Pygmy in his book The Forest People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961).
47 Lewellyn Hendrix, “Economy and Child Training Reexamined,”Ethos, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1985), pp.246-61.
48 Herbert Barry, Irvin Child, and Margaret Bacon, “A Cross-Cultural Survey of Some Sex Differences in Socialization,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 55 (1957), pp. 327-32.
49 Berry et al., Cross-Cultural Psychology, p. 36; Mary S. Van Leeuwen, “A Cross-Cultural Examination of Psychological Differentiation in Males and Females,” International Journal of Psychology, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1978), pp. 87-122.
50 For a historical analysis of this debate, see for example Rosemarie P. Tong, Feminine and Feminist Ethics (Boulder CO: Westview Press, 1993).
51 This does not rule out the possibility of genetic selection for such perceptual-cognitive skills, but this is a difficult hypothesis to test, as it would involve raising the children of hunter-gatherers in a quite different context and seeing if the skills typical of their parents persisted (in part or in whole) even without the advantage of the hunter-gatherer ecocultural setting.
52 Michael R. Welch and Barbara Miller Page, “Sex Differences in Childhood Socialization Patterns in African Societies,” Sex Roles, Vol. 7, No. 12 (Dec 1981), pp.1163-73. See also David Gilmore, Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1990) and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper: What the Social Sciences Do (and Don’t) Tell Us About Masculinity (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), especially ch. 3-7.
53 For example, Stephen Goldberg, The Inevitability of Patrtiarchy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973); David Buss, The Evolution of Desire (New York: Basic Books: 1994); Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Basis of Sexual Coercion (Cambridge MA: M.I.T. Press, 2000).
54 Rape is a not-uncommon form of violence against women in about one-fifth of band and tribal cultures, particularly those characterized by separation of the sexes, male dominance, and interpersonal violence, all of which – along with rape -- are rarely found in hunter-gatherer groups. See Peggy R. Sanday, “The Sociocultural Context of Rape,” Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 37 (1981), pp. 5-27.
55 This particular group, The Word of God Community in Ann Arbor MI (www.wordofgodcommunity,org) experienced a split in 1990 between those who wanted to maintain a more centralized, authoritarian and gender-traditional [sic] structure and those who did not. The anthropological observations mentioned in the text took place before that split, with the supporters of the former structure regrouping as the Word of Life Community ( Their attempt to read Scripture, church tradition and the social sciences as supporting a doctrine of distinct socialization and separate spheres for males and females is summarized – at great length -- in Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences (Ann Arbor MI: Servant Books, 1980). It should be noted that on the Reformed account, ‘spheres’ are relational/institutional activities and not biologically marked groups of people. But historically, this has not prevented the mistaken conflation of spheres of activity with specific groups of people. Thus Kuyper (like most Victorian social theorists) defended the doctrine of separate spheres for men and women, assigning men largely to the ‘assertive’ activities of the academy, marketplace and political forum, and women to the ‘nurturant’ activities of home, charity, nursing, and the teaching of young children. And though he did not make the same mistake with regard to ethnicity, many of his so-called adherents in South Africa did, parlaying his theology of sphere sovereignty into a rigid doctrine of Apartheid. For more on these two distortions of the concept of sphere sovereignty, see Lugo, Religion, Pluralism and Public Life, especially Part I, ch. 4 and Part V, Ch. 4.
56 Barry S. Hewlett, Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care (Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992).
57 Luther wrote that “when our natural reason ... takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores ...?’ What then does the Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock this little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of this child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? Oh how gladly will I do so, thought the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight ... God, with his angels and creatures, is smiling – not because the father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so with Christian faith.” Luther: Works, Vol. 45, 39-40, ed. Robert H. Fischer (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961).
58 Margaret Mead was one of the first anthropologists to develop this theory of ‘masculine overcompensation’ in her book Male and Female (New York: Wm. Morrow, 1949). Its empirical grounding was later expanded in John M. W. Whiting, Richard Kluckholn and Albert Anthony, “The Function of Male Initiation Ceremonies at Puberty,” in Readings in Social Psychology, 3rd ed., Eleanor E. Maccoby, Theodore M. Newcomb and F. L. Hartley (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1958), pp. 359-70, and in Beatrice Whiting and John Whiting, Children of Six Cultures: A Psycho-cultural Analysis (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1975). Its significance for gender relations in modern society was later expounded by feminist scholars such as Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur (New York: Harper and Row, 1976) and Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 1978). See also Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper, ch. 6-7.
59 In Coltrane’s study, nurturant fathering was the best predictor of both equitable gender relations among adults, and lower levels of adult male aggression toward boys and other adult males, outweighing factors such as subsistence mode and social-structural features such as inheritance customs (patrilineal or matrilineal) and marital residence rules (patrilocal or matrilocal). See Scott Coltrane, “Father-Child Relationships and the Status of Women: A Cross-Cultural Study,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 93, No. 5 (1988), 1060-95, and “The Micropolitics of Gender in Nonindustrial Societies,” Gender and Society, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Mar 1992), pp. 86-107. For an expansion of this analysis to the North American context, see Scott Coltrane, Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework and Gender Equity (New York: Oxford, 1996).
60 Added to this, of course, is the question as to whether or not social scientists have ever been able to study subsistence-level groups in their ‘pure’ form -- that is, unaffected by cultural contact either with other groups practicing other forms of subsistence, or with any modernizing influences whatsoever.
61 A particularly influential cross-national study of the individualist/collectivist dimensions (conducted on 116,000 corporate employees in fifty different countries) was that of Gert Hofstede. See his Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values (Beverly Hills CA: Sage, 1980).
62 John E. Williams and Deborah Best, Measuring Sex Stereotypes: A Thirty-Nation Study, 2nd ed. (London: Sage, 1990). This was one part of an attitude survey of university students in countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North and South America.
63 .
64 Edward Diener and Eunkook M. Suh, eds., Culture and Subjective Well-being (Cambridge MA: M.I.T. Press, 2000); David G. Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty (New Haven CT: Yale University PRess, 2000).
65 Richard M. Ryan, Kennon M. Sheldon, Tim Kasser and Edward L. Deci, “All Goals Are Not Created Equal: An Organismic Perspective on the Nature of Goals and Their Regulation, “ in Peter M. Gollwitzer and John A. Bargh, eds., The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior (NEw York: Guilford, 1996), pp. 7-47.
66 Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms With America’s Changing Families (New York: Basic Books, 1997); Ron Lesthaeghe, “A Century of Demographic Cultural Change in Western Europe,” Population and Development Review, Vol. 9, No. 3 (1983), pp. 411-34. An excellent historical overview of the history of family studies can be found in Georgas et al., Families Across Cultures, ch. 1.
67 Gisela Trommsdorf and Bernard Nauck, eds. The Value of Children in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Lengerich, Germany: Pabst Science Press, 2005).
68 ‘Majority world’ is the term coined by Kağitçibaşi to refer to the roughly two-thirds of the world’s nations whose cultural and historical legacy is not Western, in the political, economic, and/or cultural sense. It preferred by many cross-cultural psychologists to politically dated terms such as ‘third world’ or arguably ethnocentric terms such as ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’ world.
69 Çiğdem Kağitçibaşi, Family and Human Development Across Cultures: A View From the Other Side (Mahwah N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996).
70 As a social theorist working in the Reformed tradition, I have discussed these in terms of the two cultural mandates embedded in the creation account of Gen 1-2 – namely, ‘sociability’ and ‘dominion,’ and have noted that both mandates were clearly given by God to both members of the primal pair. See Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Gender and Grace: Love, Work and Parenting in a Changing World (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
71 Diana Baumrind, “Current Patterns of Parental Authority,” Developmental Psychology Monographs, Vol. 4 (1971), pp. 1-103.
72 Kağitçibaşi, Family and Human Development Across Cultures, ch. 3-5.
73 Georgas et al., Families Across Cultures, pp. 46 and 49.
74 The ecological variables were: percentage of each country’s population engaged in agriculture, each country’s highest monthly temperature, and various indices of economic affluence. The sociopolitical variables were: average educational attainment of each country and percentage of each country’s population associated with various religious traditions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Muslim and Buddhist/Hindu/Other. See Georgas et al., Families Across Cultures ch. 6.
75 In addition to the quantitative study of 27 nations, qualitative family portraits from 30 countries (overlapping with the first set) were solicited from knowledgeable academics in each locality.
76 That is to say, the differences between less- and more-modernized national samples , while statistically significant, were much smaller than modernization theory would predict.
77 Georgas et al., Families Across Cultures, p. 240.
78 American studies of this continuing gender-role asymmetry include Arlie Hochschild, The Second Shift (New York: Avon, 1989), and Anne Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood (New York: Metropolitan, 2001).
79 Georgas et al., Families Across Cultures, p. 202.
80 Browning, “Should It Be Ratified, and Why?” p. 164.
81 Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). Children of divorce are less likely to go to university, and particularly to elite schools. Cornell University researchers Jennifer Gerner and Dean Dillard noted a few years ago that only about 10% of Cornell students came from divorced families, and in a subsequent analysis of the top fifty American univeristies, found a similar pattern. See Kay S. Hymowitz, Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age (Chicago: Ivan R. Doe, 2006), ch. 1.
82 For a review of the pertinent literature, in light of many of the theological themes expressed in this essay, see for example John Wall, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, and Stephen Post, eds., Marriage, Health and the Professions: If Marriage is Good for You, What Does This Mean for Law, Medicine, Ministry, Therapy and Business? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

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