NORTH ANDOVER, MA — Dolls, action figures, and video games all dominate the wish list for many children this time of year. Not G.I. Joe, but rather Jesus Christ and Job, as well as board games such as Catholic-opoly, Missionary Conquest, The Great Mosque Game, have the sales of religious games and toys doubling annually.
Dr. Rebecca Sachs Norris, professor and chair of religious and theological studies at Merrimack College, is studying this phenomenon to better determine how and why religious-based games and toys are used, and their impact in areas as diverse as politics and psychology.
“Religious games are not only an important indicator of cultural values and practices, but they are also an influence on the formation of religious identity and principles,” said Norris.
Determining the origin of certain religious games is also part of Norris’ research. For example, the popular American game Chutes & Ladders is believed to be derived from a game invented by a Tibetan Lama in the 12th century. The object of the Tibetan game was to improve karma and gain ground towards enlightenment; a child playing Chutes and Ladders ascends based on good deeds.
Norris also co-authored a book on the topic of religious toys and games entitled “Toying with God” with Nikki Bado-Frlaick of Iowa State University. The book is scheduled to be released in February 2010.