A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America's Adolescents

A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America's Adolescents

A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America's Adolescents

A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America's Adolescents


Adding to the contributions made by Soul Searching and Souls in Transition--two books which revolutionized our understanding of the religious lives of young Americans--Lisa Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton here offer a new portrait of teenage faith.

Drawing on the massive National Study of Youth and Religion's telephone surveys and in-depth interviews with more than 120 youth at two points in time, the authors chart the spiritual trajectory of American adolescents and young adults over a period of three years. Turning conventional wisdom on its head, the authors find that religion is an important force in the lives of most--though their involvement with religion changes over time, just as teenagers themselves do. Pearce and Denton weave in fascinating portraits of actual youth to give depth to mere numerical rankings of religiosity, which tend to prevail in large studies. One teenager might rarely attend a service, yet count herself profoundly religious; another might be deeply involved in a church's social world, yet claim to be "not, like, deep into the faith." They provide a new set of qualitative categories--Abiders, Assenters, Adapters, Avoiders, and Atheists--quoting from interviews to illuminate the shading between them. And, with their three-year study, they offer a rich understanding of the dynamic nature of faith in young people's lives during a period of rapid change in biology, personality, and social interaction. Not only do degrees of religiosity change, but so does its nature, whether expressed in institutional practices or personal belief.

By presenting a new model of religious development and change, illustrated with compelling personal accounts of real teenagers, Pearce and Denton offer parents, scholars, and religious leaders a new guide for understanding religious development in teens.


It is the summer of 2005 and we are each on our way to the first of many in-person interviews with adolescents all across the United States, in coffee shops and public library meeting rooms. Digital recorders in hand and thoughts of a book on religious change in ado- lescence looming, we begin to wonder: How will Rachel, now 17 years old, and Chelsea, now 16, have changed since we interviewed them two years earlier? I (Lisa) had taken an immediate liking to Rachel’s bubbly enthusiasm as she described her good friends, how they swap clothes and help each other choose boyfriends. I wonder, will her already waning attendance at the family’s Methodist church have fallen off further? Maybe her mother’s boyfriend will have moved in and suc- ceeded in convincing her mother that church attendance is pointless. Will Rachel still be proud of how well she communicates with God through prayer, or will the increasing busyness of adolescence have crowded that out of her life? When I (Melinda) first met Chelsea, she was a young 13-year-old with an outgoing personality, a quick wit, and an innocent view of the world. At the time she was confident that she could embrace both her mother’s Jewish heritage and her father’s Presbyterian roots and be “Christian with a hint of Jewish.” I wonder if she has been able to maintain the delicate balance through age 16, or if she has given up on religion altogether. Will her mother still be her best friend, the person in whom she confides about everything? Did the transition to high school dull her youthful optimism?

The journey through adolescence is typically equated with an asser- tion of independence and individuality. in the United States the teen . . .

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