Religion and Youth

Uploaded by ClemsonUniversity on 04.02.2011

The purpose of the book was really so that anyone interested in religion or the religious
lives of youth would realize the complexity of defining what it means to be religious.
People talk a lot about whether youth today are more or less religious or are abandoning
religion. One of the very first things we do in the book is talk about how we measure
religion, and all the complexities involved with trying to measure a concept as complex
as religion. And so one of the first things we want to do is highlight the different ways
to think about and conceptualize religion. And then looking at how that plays out in
the lives of youth and how they understand religion and its role in their own lives.
Our hope is that the book will appeal to a variety of audiences. We’re interested in
understanding how youth do or don’t incorporate religion into their lives, how they understand
its roles in their own lives, that’s part of the reason for the title A Faith of Their
Own. We are looking at how youth themselves perceive religion in their lives, and so we
think the book will be a value to a wide variety of audiences.
Obviously we want scholars of religion to read it and to understand the issues surrounding
measuring religion, and we have tried some new approaches to measuring religiosity in
youth lives that we think will be of interest to scholars who study religion. But we also
think it will be of interest to practitioners, people who work with youth, whether that be
within a ministry-type context like youth pastors or social workers, and then parents
also have shown an interest in the work coming out of this project in helping understand
the ways in which they influence their children lives, and understanding the process that
their youth are going through in trying to integrate religion into their lives, or make
decisions about their religious futures.
There are many facets to religion. There is practice, there’s beliefs, there’s salience,
or importance of religion, and youth tend to package those things together in very different
ways, in unique ways. We found that there were five typical profiles that most youth
fit into that describe how they manage and balance those different aspects of religion.
The first is what most people would typically think of as a very religious teen and we call
these the abiders. The abiders are those who are living out a pretty standard or traditional
method of religious identity. They are highly involved on all of our different religious
questions. We used eight different measures of religion to determine the profiles, to
measure them. So the abiders, they are regularly attending, faith is very important to them,
they have what we would consider traditional religious beliefs and that would be what most
people would think of when they think of a highly religious youth. And then of course
on the other end of the spectrum we have the atheist, and these are the youth who are clearly
willing to say they don’t believe in God at all, and it’s a very small percentage
of youth, only about 5% of population would fit clearly into Atheist category. They tend
to be youth whose parents are also atheist and are more articulate about their belief
and willing to make a stand about being non-religious. In between those two extremes then we have
more variation. The Assenter category are those who are pretty marginally religious
in many ways, and we call them the assenters because they seem to be willing to go along
to get along. There are assenting to the general tenants of their faith, they are willing to
participate on somewhat of a regular basis, they go to church now and then, they believe
there is God, but they really don’t, when asked about the salience or importance of
their faith, faith doesn’t really play a major role in their lives. It is not fully
integrated into their daily experience. It is not particularly important to them. So
they seem to be sort of assenting to the faith that they have been raised in or the religious
tradition they have been raised in. It is not a problem per se, but it is not particularly
salient in their lives.
Another group that we identified was the Adapters. And this is really what we think is a unique
contribution to our book, identifying this group of kids who are often not caught in
traditional survey measures. And these are the youth for whom religion is very important
in their lives. They say that they are very close to God, they say that religion is very
important in their daily life, they pray fairly often, but they are not as involved in public
religious practice. So they are not likely to be attending church, they attend church
about the same amount as the assenters, on average. They are not as likely to be involved
in youth groups and that sort of thing. And what we found unique about this group is that
they tend demographically to be, on average, to have a lower socio-economic status, lower
levels of parental education, and income. And our sense is that here is a group of people
for whom religion is important, but there may be barriers to traditional religious practice.
And then the last category we found were the Avoiders. And these are the kids who tell
us they are not religious but they are not really willing to say that they don’t believe
in God. So they are sort of this, all of them have some sort of loose connection to religion,
but they seem to be avoiding thinking about it, really. They are avoiding calling themselves
religious. They are avoiding calling themselves atheist. They are not particularly interested
in religion at all.
And we found over and over at every point in this survey, from ages 13 to 23, that the
most important predictor of adolescent religiosity is their parents. While some parents, we’ve
gotten messages in the past that peers are a significant influence and parents stop mattering
after a certain age, and we just didn’t find that evidence. Parents continue to matter.
Now, as they get older, peers do have more of an influence, but they don’t outmatch
parents in terms of their ability to shape and predict the long-term religious trajectories
of adolescents.