A Contextual Perspective on Transmission of Faith in Families

Parents are the most important people in the transmission of faith to their children, according to previous researches (like researches of Danielle van de Koot – DeesAnnemie Dillen). Traditionally, family, school and church formed the triangle in which transmission of faith took place. In a time where for schools it is no longer self-evident that they play a role in the transmission of faith and the bond with institutional church weakens, parents remain as the most important people in the transmission of faith to their children.

Effects of parent-child relationships

This transmission of faith takes place in moments like prayer, Bible-reading, parent-child conversations, and so on. It also takes place in the context of what has been transmitted and how a new generation builds on this; it makes transmission of faith reciprocal. The relationship between parents and their children plays a significant role in transmission of faith, but the question is: how does this relationship affect the transmission of faith?

About this research

In this research, we examine the relationship of parents and children in terms of the Contextual Approach, as has been developed by Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy (1920-2007), a Hungarian-American psychiatrist and developer of contextual therapy. Significant for Nagy’s approach is the dimension of 'relational ethics'. Nagy distinguishes four dimensions of relational reality:

  • facts (like genetic input, health, ethnic-cultural background, and socioeconomic status)
  • individual psychology
  • systemic transactions (all kinds of interactions and how they are shaped)
  • relational ethics. In this dimension the nature and roles of concepts, like fairness, reciprocity, loyalty, trustworthiness, and accountability, within and between generations become visible.

Our research focuses on how relational ethics and transmission of faith in families are related: what is the role of features of the relational ethics in relation to transmission of faith in families? 

Research question

For the collecting of data we use interviews. Part of these interviews is the use of the 'genogram', which is a pictorial display of a person’s family relationships. We use it as a tool to trace and map transmission of faith between generations. This research can be summarized in the following research question:

How can the contextual approach contribute to the understanding of the transmission of faith within the context of trans- and intergenerational relationships?


Jan Minnema is the researcher. He is a minister in the Protestant Church in The Netherlands. The project is under the supervision of Prof. dr. Henk de Roest, dr. Theo Pleizier and dr. Ronelle Sonnenberg.