Faith strengthens families and gives hope, study finds

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A new study has shed light on the way in which faith strengthens families, helping them stay together in the face of adversity and providing a foundation for an ongoing source of hope in future life.

In a study by Brigham Young University (BYU), researchers conducted in-depth interviews with nearly 200 religious families from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, asking a range of questions about their family practices and the role religion played.

Despite no questions directly referencing hope, it was a central part of many answers, leading researchers to include it as a category in the responses. For many of those surveyed, their faith offered a source of hope, fed by a belief that God actively works in their lives and they can live secure in the promise of the afterlife.

"One of the main things I take away from this study is how much commonality there is across faiths," said David Dollahite, BYU family life professor and co-author.

"The overarching message from our research is that faith and religion and belief, when taken seriously, produce profound similarities, including increased hope for the future and hope in God's plan for their family. Highly religious people across faiths have a lot in common."

For those who listed hope in their answers, there was a significant trend of characterising hope as a collective trait and value, seeing it as 'our hope'. Parents also saw it as one of the most important things they could offer their children to equip them to deal with challenges they might face in later life. Additionally, hope served to strengthen marital bonds and moderate conflicts.

"When something happened in my family, faith let us know that we have the same hope... When I had challenges of career or health, I realized that all of our life is in God's hand. This gives me a lot [of] comfort and also gives me promise," noted one interviewee.

But, the researchers believe that hope has a role to play outside the family and that deepening our understanding of the benefits it brings could offer ways of improving society.

"We're finding that virtues instilled as part of a religious family are very relational," noted Dollahite.

"While there have been news stories about the epidemic of loneliness in society, our research shows the power that faith and religion have in strengthening relationships.

"Faith and family are a powerful antidote to loneliness. Faith and family can bring hope and can be a remedy to some of the main issues we see in society."