One of the findings from the authors of Soul Searching: Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers is that the vast majority of American teenagers are extremely inarticulate about their faith. They simply couldn’t answer basic questions about their core religious beliefs.
Perhaps they lacked knowledge, or didn’t believe much at all. Perhaps a bigger reason was that they were never asked by anyone to articulate their faith. As someone who works with youth, this was eye opening. It made me realize the importance of giving teenagers (and adults for the matter) opportunities to verbalize what they believe and why.
Another interpretation for the data not posited by the authors is that some kids simply have a lot of scattered knowledge and religious information that they simply don’t know where to begin when asked the incredibly broad question, “What are your religious beliefs?” I mean, would you know how to answer that question?
In this regard, it might be worthwhile not just to have knowledge, but an overall framework to put that knowledge in, or at least have an organized way of expressing it.
Sometime next week I’ll propose one way of expressing your faith in a (relatively) brief and organized manner but I’m curious, how would you, dear reader, answer the question “what are your religious beliefs?” I don’t just mean the content of your faith but how you would organize it.
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?