People use numerous metaphors to describe God. God is seen as a bearded man, light, and love. Based on metaphor theories, the metaphors people use to refer to God reflect how people think about God and could, in turn, reflect their worldview. However, little work has explored the common metaphors for God. This was the purpose of the current investigation. Four trained raters coded open-ended responses from predominantly Christian U.S. undergraduates (N = 2,923) describing God for the presence or absence of numerous metaphoric categories. We then assessed the frequency of each of the metaphor categories. We identified 16 metaphor categories that were present in more than 1% of the responses. The top categories were “GOD IS POWER,” “GOD IS HUMAN,” and “GOD IS MALE.” These findings were similar across religious affiliations. We attempted to support our coding analysis using top-down and bottom-up automated language analysis. Results from these analyses provided added confidence to our conclusions. We discuss the implications of our findings and the potential for future studies investigating important psychological and behavioral outcomes of using different metaphors for God.
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Fetterman AK, Evans ND, Exline JJ, Meier BP (2021) What shall we call God? An exploration of metaphors coded from descriptions of God from a large U.S. undergraduate sample. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0254626. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254626
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