- A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents by Lisa D. Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton
In A Faith of Their Own, Linda D. Pearce and Melinda Lundquist Denton offer a compelling sociological account of American adolescents’ religious and spiritual lives. Trained sociologists, they set out to examine “what happens to the multiple dimensions of religion and spirituality in adolescence by conceptualizing religiosity and spirituality as tile mosaics that individuals create and continually modify” based on three main factors: individual adolescent’s definitions of the “important dimensions” of religiosity, the intensity or importance of each of those definitions, [End Page 145] and the religious patterns that have been modeled for adolescents up to now (4). Like their mentor and colleague, sociologist Christian Smith, and others involved with the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), Pearce and Denton take youths’ voices and their stories seriously. Their research uncovers that for the majority of American adolescents, religion is an important factor in their everyday lives. As with the youth interviewed for the NSYR generated Soul Searching (2005) and Souls in Transition (2009), the youth interviewed for A Faith of Their Own tell us, Pearce and Denton claim, that religion and spirituality matter to American adolescents, middle adolescents, and emerging adults.
For the third installment of the longitudinal and mixed methods NSYR, Pearce and Denton draw on 122 in-person and the 2,604 telephone interviews with adolescents, all of whom had been interviewed for the previous two studies. In what they refer to as the NSYR Wave 2 study, the authors convincingly draw on the qualitative and quantitative mixed methods approach that yielded a non-weighted response rate of 78.6 percent (188, 189). They learned from Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching that most American adolescents have what is called a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a belief in “a creator God who watches over human life, wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, but does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when needed to resolve a problem” (6). For their Wave 2 study, Pearce and Denton set out to understand what happens to the religious and spiritual lives of these same adolescents over time. They pose a series of research questions that hinge on the adolescent’s social contexts and life experiences that might impact, positively or negatively, their religious and/or spiritual development (7). The sample that informs their research includes religious as well as nonreligious adolescents, Christians from more mainline as well as more minority groups, and non-Christians from a variety of religious groups. The authors admit that their sample tilts towards mainline denominations, but I would have liked to see a more comprehensive examination of ethnic, racial, gendered, and class components of their interviewees’ lives. Readers would benefit from learning how these factors influence adolescents’ views on religiosity and spirituality.
In the first two chapters of the book, Pearce and Denton work from existing frameworks of theorizing religion and offer one of their own, what they refer to as the “three Cs” of religiosity: the content of religious belief, the conduct of religious activity, and the centrality of religion to life (13). These three Cs “allow us to capture the nuances that define the impact of religion on daily life” (13). This labeling provides an important baseline for continued discussions as well as research on youth and religion. For their part, Pearce and Denton are clear and consistent throughout the book as they define the categories and labels they assign to individuals. In Chapter One, for example, they examine the relationship between spirituality and religiosity and provide a clear and helpful working definition that they consistently hold to in the rest of the book. Religiosity in the book is used to refer to “the combination of the content of beliefs, religious conduct, and the centrality of religion in a person’s life...