Attachment to God, Part 4: The Attachment to God Inventory


When I started reading the attachment to God literature there wasn't yet a measurement instrument that assessed attachment to God. For better or worse, as measurement goes so goes experimental psychology. But it is difficult to measure psychological constructs. Often we are reliant on self-report. That's a weakness in psychological research, but you work with the tools you have on hand. It is for this reason--measurement issues-- that my discipline is considered to be a "soft" science.

Generally in psychology advances in an area cannot be made until a decent measurement instrument is developed. And when I entered the attachment to God literature no good instruments were on hand. So my colleague Angie McDonald (who is now at Palm Beach Atlantic) and I set about to develop and validate the Attachment to God Inventory (AGI). As we were set to go to press with the AGI a few other attachment to God measures also appeared in the literature. Researchers now have some choices if they want to measure attachment to God, but our AGI appears to be a popular choice. In fact, I just found out that some researchers in Canada are planning to translate the AGI into French. The AGI can be found by either e-mailing me or here: Beck, R. & McDonald, A. (2004). Attachment to God: The Attachment to God Inventory, tests of working model correspondence, and an exploration of faith group differences. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 32, 92-103.

We patterned the AGI off of a very popular adulthood attachment measure The Experiences in Close Relationships Scale (ECR) developed by Brennan, Clark, and Shaver. The ECR gives two scores on the attachment dimensions of Anxiety about Abandonment and Avoidance of Intimacy. We patterned the AGI off of this instrument, reworking questions as best we could to mirror the ECR.

More specifically, we tried to pick items that captured the various sub-themes of Anxiety about Abandonment and Avoidance of Intimacy. I think these sub-themes may be of interest to readers of this blog.

In my last post, I discussed Anxiety about Abandonment in a superficial way, suggesting that it mainly dealt with fears about being "left" by the attachment figure. This is true. But that fear tends to manifest itself in all kinds of dysfunctional ways. Here are some of the Anxiety about Abandonment themes captured by both the AGI and ECR scales:

Angry protest: Getting angry if the attachment figure is not as responsive as we wish they would be.
Example ECR item: "I get frustrated if romantic partners are not available when I need them."
Example AGI item: “I often feel angry with God for not responding to me when I want.”

Preoccupation with relationship: Worry, rumination, or obsession with the status of the relationship.
Example ECR item: "I worry a lot about my relationships."
Example AGI item: “I worry a lot about my relationship with God.”

Fear of abandonment: Fear that the attachment figure will leave or reject you.
Example ECR item: "I worry a fair amount about losing my partner."
Example AGI item: “I fear God does not accept me when I do wrong.”

Anxiety over lovability:Concerns that you are either not loved or are unlovable.
Example ECR item: "I need a lot of reassurance that I am loved by my partner."
Example AGI item: “I crave reassurance from God that God loves me.”

Jealousy: Concerns that the attachment figure prefers others over you.
Example ECR item: "I resent it when my partner spends time away from me."
Example AGI item: “I am jealous at how God seems to care more for others than for me.”

Turning to the second attachment dimension of Avoidance of Intimacy, the AGI and ECR assess sub-themes here as well:

Difficulty with dependency: Anxiety about depending, relying, or counting on the attachment figure.
Example ECR item: "I find it difficult to allow myself to depend on romantic partners."
Example AGI item: "I prefer not to depend too much on God.”

Difficulty with emotional intimacy: Trouble with expressing affection or communicating intimately with the attachment figure.
Example ECR item: "I prefer not to show a partner how I feel deep down."
Example AGI item: “I am uncomfortable being emotional in my communication with God.”

Self-reliance: Need for autonomy, independence, and self-reliance within the relationship.
Example ECR item: "I try to avoid getting too close to my partner."
Example AGI item: "I just don’t feel a deep need to be close to God."

A couple of things amazed me when Angie and I constructed the AGI. First, I was amazed at how close the AGI could mirror the ECR, a romantic attachment measure. It truly impressed upon me how much people do experience their relationship with God as a human love relationship. The parallels between the experiences are remarkable. Now, I, personally, don't relate to much of the AGI content (more on this later in the series), but clearly many, if not most, Christians find the content of the AGI extraordinarily descriptive of their experience with God.

And this brings me to my second point. I never had thought much about things like jealousy in the God relationship. But in study after study in which I use the AGI people report being jealous. For example, these believers feel envious of how close other people are to God relative to themselves. They get upset if God seems to answer someone else's prayers and not their own. They, in short, feel jealous. Like a frustrated or paranoid lover. I've found this phenomena fascinating.

I have not yet got around to more closely studying spiritual jealousy, but it seems like a real and complex phenomena. Maybe you can take up this research. But at the very least constructing the AGI impressed upon me that there is so much about the God-relationship that is left to be discovered. To date, the attachment to God research has only scratched the surface.

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7 thoughts on “Attachment to God, Part 4: The Attachment to God Inventory”

  1. Thanks Jason. I just got finished reading a fantastic biography about William James whose The Varieties of Religious Experience is still the seminal work in my field of psychology of religion. Reading James again made me want to post some on religious experience proper and not just about theology. My work in attachment theory seemed to fit the bill. Those more interested in theology over experience will have to wait this series out:-)

  2. The article in JSTOR about attachment to God, is really problematic and demonstrates many logical fallacies.  This AGI that you are attempting to create goes further down that road pushing the fallacies further into absurdity.

    For example, it isn't probably that an individual has a closer attachment to God if they were distanced emotionally from their mother.  They could, in all probability, development attachments to authoritarian parental figures, (which at first may seem to include God).   But Authoritarian attachments can be, and often are, abstractions.  For example, the same individuals who you claim to be religious, may also demonstrate attachments to the military, to conservative ideologies, to tradition.

    And that is where you push the fallacy further.  When a peer group, (say 10 year old-ish girls), have an attachment to a popular culture icon, (Justin Bieber), and that attachment is with someone who is distant, without a quanitfiable physical connection or experience, AND this relationship is reinforced by the fear of expulsion from the peer group, then the confession of affection is considered artificial at best, delusional at worst.

    So, instead of comparing attachment to God, to attachment to traditional romances, compare it to something more "intangible".  And, instead of measuring attachment to God, measure attachment to TRADITION.  You seem to be furthering a theory grounded in poorly equating "Attachment to God" to "Attachment to Tradition and Authoritarian Ideological concepts.

  3. Good day Mr. Beck! I have read about your posts and I really got interested to use this Attachment to God Inventory for my thesis. 
    I am Reyna Mari Yamzon, a Filipino fourth year BSPsychology student from Cavite State University - Main Campus.
    I am conducting my research1 this semester and I am searching for an instrument to use in my study until I saw this attachment to God Inventory and got really feel thankful. I find this very interesting and I am thinking if you will allow me to use this as an instrument for my study. My study is to determine the level of depression of students with Attachment to God and Attachment to Parents. I merely like to know if this Attachment to God or Parents has its relation on the depression level of my respondents. You can deal with me.
    I am hoping for your immediate response. You can also email me at yamzonreyna@yahoo.com. Thank you very much in advance! May God bless you more. :)))

  4. Good day Mr. Beck! I have read about your posts and I really got interested to use this Attachment to God Inventory for my thesis. 
    I am Reyna Mari Yamzon, a Filipino fourth year BSPsychology student from Cavite State University - Main Campus.
    I am conducting my research1 this semester and I am searching for an instrument to use in my study until I saw this attachment to God Inventory and felt really thankful. I find this very interesting and I am thinking if you will allow me to use this as an instrument for my study. My study is to determine the level of depression of students with Attachment to God and Attachment to Parents. I merely like to know if this Attachment to God or Parents has its relation on the depression level of my respondents. You can deal with me.
    I am hoping for your immediate response. You can also email me at yamzonreyna@yahoo.com. Thank you very much in advance! May God bless you more. :)))

  5. Good day Mr. Beck! I have read about your posts and I really got interested to use this Attachment to God Inventory for my thesis. 

    I am Reyna Mari Yamzon, a Filipino fourth year BSPsychology student from Cavite State University - Main Campus.
    I am conducting my research1 this semester and I am searching for an instrument to use in my study until I saw this attachment to God Inventory and felt really thankful. I found this very interesting and I am thinking if you will allow me to use this as an instrument for my study. My study is to determine the level of depression of students with Attachment to God and Attachment to Parents. I merely like to know if this Attachment to God or Parents has its relation on the depression level of my respondents. You can deal with me Sir.
    I am hoping for your immediate response. You can also email me at yamzonreyna@yahoo.com. Thank you very much in advance!
    May God bless you more. :)))

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