Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Meaning Making in Emerging Adults' Faith Narratives: Identity, Attachment, and Religious Orientation

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Meaning Making in Emerging Adults' Faith Narratives: Identity, Attachment, and Religious Orientation

Article excerpt

Using a mixed methods design, this study explored associations between identity, attachment, and religiosity, and emerging adults' turning point faith narratives since college graduation. The maturity of their faith journey narratives was analyzed utilizing a qualitative measure of the complexity of their reasoning (McLean & Pratt, 2006). Participants were 119 recent graduates from two Christian liberal arts colleges. In addition to ratings for levels of maturity, categorization of emerging themes found in faith narratives rated as mature revealed three prevailing themes: perspective changes, relational challenges, and experiences of grace. Participants also completed standard measures of ego identity, parental attachment, and intrinsic religiosity. Emerging adults who produced more mature and complex accounts of faith turning points were higher in identity exploration and intrinsic religiosity but not parental attachment. However, parental attachment was related to intrinsic religiosity. Our mixed methods design was valuable in capturing emerging adults' meaningful articulation of their faith journey.

(College transition) has given me quality time to figure out who I am and what I believe and you know how to go about living...and then deciding to go back to church after I figured it out. And now I don't always enjoy the church I go to ...but believe now that we're a part of the body of Christ and we have an obligation to the people and to keep it up just gives us a sense of purpose instead of a sense of enjoyment. So I'm starting to learn that faith isn't always about enjoying yourself but understanding all the time it's about commitment and sometimes it's a struggle but you're rewarded in certain ways for the struggle and for the commitment (Mary1, 2008 graduate).

One of the salient features of a mature life story is the integration of one's experiences, particularly the stress and challenges of transitional experiences, into a coherent and reasoned conception of the self. With our stories, we make sense of our experiences, bring clarity to our perceptions, and provide meaning to our life situations. Maturity, measured in the current study by high levels of complexity in meaning making, is readily apparent in Mary's narrative as she reflects on her faith journey in her transition from college life to her current working life. In contrast is a narrative from Anya, another 2008 graduate, where a more limited expression of meaning, lower in complexity, is evident:

Ultimately what made the big turning point, what made me question things was when I went abroad and all I had was churches of a different background and I met different people who taught me a lot and then... when I came back I also met more influential people. when I came back I was already into a new idea of faith I guess.

Anya notes the influences from others that helped her begin to ask faith questions, and while highlighting this change she speaks primarily of the lessons learned from others, without elaboration on what those lessons might be. The voices of Mary and Anya illustrate different ways in which these emerging adults have found meaning during distinct turning points in their faith story during their post-college years.

In the context of our paper, meaning is best conceptualized as a story's deeper significance that expresses personal value. King, Scollon, Ramsey, and Williams (2000) found that stories of life challenges during transition were useful as they provide "evidence of a hard-won battle to make meaning of life circumstances" (p. 510). Those who create a coherent story, expressing meaningful insights and integration of life's challenges, experience a sense of wellbeing and perceived growth from the challenges, as well as ego development (King et al., 2000). The purpose of this study was to examine how emerging adults represent meaning in their faith narratives in a way that connects and integrates their experiences of life with the transitions they are now facing. …

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