Spiritual Seekers, the Disengaged,
and Religiously Devoted Teens
THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER used NSYR survey data to provide an overview of the religious and spiritual lives of American adolescents. Its approach was to examine answers to survey questions by U.S. teenagers age 13 to 17 and by the teens as grouped into six religious traditions and one nonreligious category. This chapter extends that investigation by focusing on three different populations of American teens, seeking to understand more clearly their composition and defining features. First, we explore the extent and characteristics of adolescent “religious seekers” and teens who claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” approaches to faith often said to be popular and widespread among American youth. Next, we examine American teenagers who identify themselves as nonreligious and who never attend religious services. Finally, we analyze American teens who are religiously highly active and devoted and attempt to identify the features that define them as a particular group of youth. All three are categories of teens that many religion observers are interested in better understanding. Furthermore, examining these types of teens in greater depth provides helpful windows into some of the key features defining and shaping the religious and spiritual lives of U.S. teenagers broadly. Finally, the findings of this chapter help to put some of the previous chapter's survey findings into clearer perspective.
Scholars and journalists have been writing prolifically about a purportedly widespread and growing contemporary phenomenon of “spiritual seeking”