American Adolescent Religion
in Social Context
EVERY HUMAN PERSON is a distinct individual with a unique story. But, as we have already suggested, all people also live within larger cultural and institutional contexts that profoundly shape their lives and stories. If we want to understand the experiences of individuals, it is necessary to understand these larger social contexts in which people's lives unfold and by which they are shaped. Only by appreciating the power of these social forces that define and influence people's lives can we adequately make sense of their individual hopes, problems, commitments, actions, and experiences. This chapter continues our analysis of the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers by stepping back and observing some important cultural and institutional features of the world in which they live that we believe influence the character of their religious and spiritual lives. The previous chapter described the what of teens' religious and spiritual lives. This chapter attempts to help explain why.
The cultural ocean in which American adolescents swim saturates them in the ethos of therapeutic individualism.1 Therapeutic individualism is not so much a consciously and intentionally held ideology, but rather a taken-forgranted set of assumptions and commitments about the human self, society, and life's purpose that powerfully defines everyday moral and relational codes and boundaries in the contemporary United States. The evidence of previous