The image of God in literature for children: A thematic content analysis of twentieth century fiction titles in a Christian context
Utilizing both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, this study sought to identify and analyze fiction written for children and published in the twentieth century (1900–1999) through thematic content analysis, to determine the parental image or images of God, as understood in Judeo-Christian theology, represented in such books. The study also explored the centrality of God to the story and interaction between God and the fictional characters in these titles to determine the nature of that interaction. A search of the WorldCat database using the keywords God, juvenile, and fiction was combined with a search for titles that have the words God and fiction in the subject field to compensate for the fact that the term juvenile fiction was not employed in cataloging of materials before 1986. An instrument was developed to record and code data for the purpose of analysis.
Based on the predominant operating images of God identified in research with children and adults, the study examined the image of God in stories for children as it pertains to God as (a) Provider, (b) Punisher, or (c) Passive Observer. The predominant image of God identified in the 103 books in this study is that of God as Provider, except for a few titles published in the 1970s and 1980s. Eleven aspects of God as Provider emerged from the books studied, the most frequent of which were God as Giver, God as Creator and God as Helper. While the results of this study indicate that the fictional literature of the twentieth century affirms the God of Love that experts deem so crucial to the child's self esteem and general well-being, they do not confirm all of the research findings pertaining to the child's perception of interaction with God. The data collected confirms research concerning the male protagonists and boys' perceptions of active interaction, but the data concerning females and passive interaction does not. The results also indicate that the appearance of the word “God” in a specific field of a bibliographic record does not accurately predict the level of centrality for that book.