Gaining a Foothold

Attachment Theory and the Ethical Evaluation of Religion


  • Sarah Bacaller Western Sydney University



attachment theory, psychology of religion, Christianity, religious authority, deconversion, absolute truth, religious questioning, authority


I was born into a church and a family governed by dichotomous frameworks of right/wrong, God/devil, truth/falsehood. Justifying the impulse to ask questions in such contexts was difficult, because Christian faith was perceived in an authoritarian manner as ‘the truth’. But during my undergraduate study, studying attachment theory gave me an existential foothold. The existing literature on attachment theory, particularly the compassionate writings of John Bowlby, facilitated a complete reconstruction of my understanding of the needs and dynamics of human life, both generally and in relation to myself. These alterations then drew into question many of the theological beliefs shaping my religious outlook. Based on these experiences, I explore both the ways in which attachment theory has been brought into dialogue with religious studies and theology, and how it might enable us to develop an axiological and relational hermeneutic that directs attention to the ethical dimensions of theological belief and praxis, and even to a reconfiguration of absolutist approaches to the nature of truth.

Author Biography

  • Sarah Bacaller, Western Sydney University

    Sarah Bacaller is a writer and researcher living on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung land in Victoria, Australia. She is a research officer with the Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney University and is working on a PhD exploring G. W. F. Hegel’s philosophy of religion (also at WSU). She co-directs the Australian audiobook production company, Voices of Today, and has narrated many commercial audiobooks. Sarah’s writing has been published in popular and academic contexts, including The Age, The Conversation, Eureka Street and Sydney Review of Books.


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How to Cite

Bacaller, S. (2024). Gaining a Foothold: Attachment Theory and the Ethical Evaluation of Religion. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 37(1), 68-88.