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The Spiritual Life of Children

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  176 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
A look at faith through the voices of children from varied religious backgrounds, by the Pulitzer-winning author of The Moral Intelligence of Children.

A New York Times Notable Book

What do children think about when they consider God, Heaven and Hell, the value of life in the here and now, and the inevitability of death? Child psychiatrist, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer,
ebook, 384 pages
Published October 10th 1991 by Mariner Books (first published 1990)
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For years this book has been on my shelf and I have finally gotten around to reading it. I am not sorry. Although I approach the spiritual life of children from a different perspective (as a priest and teacher of religion), I have learned a lot through Coles' social-scientist lens. I am fascinated with his methodology and a little envious of the prolonged and repeated time he can spend with each child. The chief thing I learned: LISTEN. Time after time, he reports being about to speak during a l ...more
Robert Coles is a Child Psychiatrist and researcher. He has spent years interviewing children of may cultures about their spiritual lives. The wonderful thing about Coles is that, to the best of his ability, he does not impose his own cultural norms and values on the children. As you can imagine, a Harvard educated white man coming of age in the middle of the last century has quite a set of cultural norms and values. Yet, when he interviews Hopi children they come alive with the spirit of their ...more
Nobody is better qualified to write about the spiritual life of children than Robert Coles. As an MD trained by William Carlos Williams, and a trailblazing expert in phenomenological research, Coles studies children by letting them tell their own stories. The results are profound, especially in this book about children and spirituality. Remarkable and very moving.
Apr 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been meaning to read this book for about 20 years and I finally did it. Interesting exploration of how children experience the Divine in their everyday lives. Coles limits his discussion to children raised in the 3 monotheistic religions + children raised without religion. He clearly loves his work, and although the study sometimes drags, I admire his recognition of his own shortcomings. Coles respects these children and their experiences, regardless of their backgrounds. He is their eager ...more
Oct 11, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Coles writes about the qualitative interviews he's conducted with children as a child psychiatrist over the years, and what children from all reaches of the globe have to say about religion, spirituality, and God.
Ruth Billington
A valuable resource for me as a pastor. The stories are eye-opening, showing me what treasures are there for those who can listen. I've been dipping into this book for years, and each time I find more insight. Truly a book to have on one's shelves.
Daniel S
“Reality and illusion are not contradictory terms. Psychic reality-whose depth Freud so brilliantly unveiled-cannot occur without that specifically human transitional space for play and illusion... Men cannot be without illusions. The type of illusion we select-science, religion, or something else-reveals our personal history-the transitional space each of us has created between his objects and himself to find a "resting place "to live in.” [pg.5]

“The mind's search for meaning and purpose throug
Erik Akre
Oct 12, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone whose primary spiritual practice is caring for children
No book of scientific analysis, this presents spiritual philosophy and idea from an honest and readily-admitted subjective point of view.

Robert Coles, as a psychiatrist of and for children, exerts much effort here in describing his own self-consciousness and his own psychology, as he interacts with them. This is a fascinating element of the book: The psychiatrist is his own patient as he interacts with the spiritual thoughts, feelings, and philosophies of the children in his care. In that sense,
Elijah Abanto
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first secular book I've read in years (Christian books are my reading diet), and it's still about spirituality. Few pique my interest like spiritual things and children, and this book is about them both. And so I bought this, expecting myself to be disappointed. But I was wrong. This book is good. Robert Coles, who turned out to be a respected child psychiatrist, showed that children have their own sense of God and the spiritual, and though they may be influenced by the religion they ...more
Oct 02, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is an okay book but not what I was looking for--it focuses on school-age children,and I am interested in the faith development of infants and toddlers. This takes a more sociological/psychological look at children's concepts of God across religions, whereas I was looking for information about Christian faith formation.
Sep 28, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
not bad, really... but not as indepth as i wanted. i learned a lot about robert coles, but not a lot of new stuff about kids-- and his definition of "children" seems to be 10-12 year olds... and i was really wanting to learn about really young kids.
Apr 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Gave up on this after 100 pages or so...seemed to narrowly defined on the Christian spiritual tip; more clinical than spiritual, very methodological. Reminds me of Oliver Sacks--I like the storyline, but the perspective turns very clinical and I lose interest. Maybe I'm not a scientist...
Adam DeVille, Ph.D.
Deeply fascinating and compelling, especially in its records of how children deal with death and God.
Miriam Krupka
Meh. Not as good as his other books. If you want to start with Robert Coles - read The Call of Stories. That was wonderful.
Combining two of my favorite topics - psychology and spirituality - this book left me wondering if these responses were from children - as they felt quite inauthentic and clinic
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Child psychiatrist, author, Harvard professor.

Robert Coles is a professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at the Harvard Medical School, a research psychiatrist for the Harvard University Health Services, and the James Agee Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard College.
More about Robert Coles...