Differentiating Personified, Supernatural, and Abstract Views of God Across Three Cognitive Domains

Kathryn A. Johnson, Adam B. Weinberger, Emily Dyke, Grace F. Porter, David J.M. Kraemer, Jordan Grafman, Adam B. Cohen, Adam E. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Social scientists have greatly advanced our understanding of how people think and feel about God as a person-like, supernatural being. However, there has been insufficient research and theory investigating abstract God representations. Furthermore, previous research has assessed beliefs about God with descriptors generated by the researchers. We collected qualitative data from 1,030 participants in the U.S. who provided free-response descriptions of how they visualize God. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, we developed a coding scheme that fit well with an integrative, two-dimensional, conceptual framework of God-views. We found evidence that people draw from different cognitive domains (folk-physics, -biology, and –psychology; Dimension 1) to visualize God as personified (20.8%), supernatural (34.0%), or abstract (21.6%; Dimension 2). Some participants provided both supernatural and abstract (multiple God-view) descriptions (16.8%); others had no view of God (6.9%). The God-view groups differed significantly on an array of quantitative measures of God representations and religiosity. This research integrates previous literature and provides additional understanding of the underlying cognitive structure of God-views in general, and highlights the need for more research of abstract God-views in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-142
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology of Religion and Spirituality
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 5 2022


  • God concepts
  • God images
  • God representations
  • God-views
  • mixed methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Religious studies
  • Applied Psychology


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