Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

By Christian Smith; Melinda Lundquist Denton | Go to book overview

4
God, Religion, Whatever

On Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE for talking with someone for a long time if you hope to understand him or her. Surveys are very useful for providing big-picture descriptions of and sorting out associations between different variables in human life and society. But surveys alone rarely provide enough insight to really understand people's lives. To get beyond the surface descriptions that surveys provide, to get to the important experiences, feelings, contradictions, processes, and complex layers of meaning in most people's lives requires using other methods, such as directly observing and talking with people at length. To better understand the lives of U.S. teenagers, therefore, we traveled around the country to the rural areas, towns, and cities where many of the teens we surveyed live—to 267 teens in 45 states, to be exact, as shown by the map in figure 1—and sat down and talked with these teens at length about many subjects. We also took notes on observations we made about many of the teens we interviewed: about their neighborhoods, interactions with parents, clothing, attitudes, whatever seemed worth noting.

In this chapter we report on what we found, exploring a variety of key themes around adolescent religion and spirituality that emerged from our indepth interviews. Here we provide an important clarifying follow-up to the survey data presented in the two previous chapters, broadening, deepening, and sharpening our understanding. Much of what follows significantly qualifies the survey numbers we examined earlier; some of it helps us better interpret or put into context the numbers above; and some of it pushes well past what the survey questions addressed. In all cases, the survey findings

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