Spirit of the Child

Some students at a camp recently asked me for more info on Dr David Hay’s research on the Spirit of a Child – so here it is. David Hay’s research followed on from decades of quanitative and qualitative research by Alistair Hardy and Edward Robinson’s work at the Religious Experience Research Unit in Oxford.

They quantitatively researched the biological basis of spirituality, asking,

“Have you been aware of, or influenced by, a greater power (whether or not you’d call it God) different from normal life?”

Long story short, they found a strong majority of people respond in the affirmative, and identified the following types of spiritual experiences:

  1. Synchronicity (patterning of events)
  2. Direct Awareness of God, a sense of safety, love, peace, or joy
  3. Aware of receiving help in answer to prayer
  4. Aware of the presence of someone who has died
  5. Aware of a sacred presence in nature, & mystical union with it
  6. Aware of an evil presence
  7. Aware that all things are coherent, a unity, one
  8. Being guided by a presence expressly not referred to as God

They also found that

  • almost universally, the response to these experiences was “makes me want to behave better.”
  • the more oppressed people were, the less spiritual sensitivity they had
  • when they interviewed Seikhs, they found they didn’t understand why the question. They just “always were” aware…

So David Hay wondered, what if children are born with a spiritual awareness, and cultural factors cause some kids to lose that awareness… And their research to date bears this out.

Hay & Rebecca Nye published the following categories of spiritual sensitivity in children:

Awareness-sensing [paying attention to what’s happening]:

  • Here-and-now
  • Tuning
  • Flowing
  • Focusing


  • Wonder and Awe
  • Imagination


  • Delight and despair
  • Ultimate goodness
  • Meaning

To explain what these are takes a lot more detail – best to google the book. Likewise how they measured these.

But, they write a lot about “Relational Consciousness,” measured through observing play, processes, language, strategies, & consequences. They observed kids’ consciousness of themselves, the world, others and God. How they connected relationally to the world, their sense of transcendence, and presence in which they live and have their being.

In sum, their research strongly suggests there is a universal transcendent reality, the description of which is culturally influenced.

Can we help people slow down and tune in again?


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