Religious Life of American Teenagers

I’m reading “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.” The book is a sociology book written in 2009 and is based on a very large study on American teenagers. Its findings have important implications for churches (and youth groups). I’m reading it because I work with the youth at my church and because I am aware that this was the book that coined the phrase “Moralistic therapeutic deism”, a topic which I am researching for a broader project. I just made it through the first chapter in which the authors summarize some of their major findings.

  • There is a huge variety of religious practices and beliefs among teens, even within a single denomination.
  • For many teens, religion and spirituality play an important and defining role in their lives.
  • Religious practices (church attendance, reading the bible, prayer, Christian service, fellowship, etc.) are crucial to a vibrant religious faith.
  • There are very few teens who are “spiritual seekers.” “Contrary to popular perceptions, the vast majority … are instead mostly oriented toward and engaged in conventional religious traditions and communities.”
  • While some teens can articulate their faith well, many more are “remarkably inarticulate and befuddles about religion.” The “agents of religious socialization” (churches?) don’t appear to be doing a very good job about passing on basic beliefs to teens.
  • A strong “structure of relational networks and institutional ties” has an extremely positive correlation with strong religious faith among teens. In other words, when several aspects of a teen’s life (family, peers, church, school, etc.) are all reinforcing the same beliefs the teen tends to have more vibrant religious life.
  • Even though churches don’t appear to be very successful in passing along the faith, parents hold a great deal of influence in their teens religious lives, whether for good or for ill.
  • American teenagers who are more involved in religious activity are more successful in other areas of life as well.

Some of these seem fairly obvious to me (there is a broad variety of religious experience and expression, religiously involved teens do well in other areas). Others were a bit more surprising (there aren’t many teens who are “spiritual seekers.”)

What do you think? Do these findings match your experience? Which are surprising to you?


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