CLEMSON — Religion plays an important role in the lives of teenagers, according to the findings published in the book “A Faith of their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents,” co-written by Melinda Lundquist Denton, an assistant professor of sociology at Clemson University.

Written with Lisa D. Pearce, associate professor of sociology and Fellow at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the book outlines the role of religion in the lives of adolescents. The first survey and interviews took place with a nationally representative sample of youth between the ages of 13 and 17 in 2002 and 2003. The second round of data was collected from the same youth in 2005 when they were 16 to 21 years old. 

Drawing on the massive National Study of Youth and Religion’s telephone surveys and more than 120 in-depth interviews, the authors chart the spiritual trajectory of American adolescents and young adults over a period of three years. Denton is a co-investigator on the research team for the National Study of Youth and Religion.

“Kids think about more than just school, friends and dating,” Denton said. “Adolescents and young adults are keenly aware of the motives of those around them, and when they perceive a lack of care or honesty, they are dismissive in return.

“Our research suggests there is no substitute for meeting youth exactly where they are: at a place of questioning, discovery and identity-building,” she said. “Religious institutions interested in engaging youth during the phase of life between childhood and child-rearing should wholeheartedly work to understand them.”

Denton said a better understanding of the characteristics of adolescent faith can help parents, scholars, practitioners and religious institutions understand when and how religion may have a positive influence in the lives of teens.

The study represents young Americans from a variety of religious, ethnic and social backgrounds. The results helped Denton and Pearce develop categories that identify the varying levels of religious belief and involvement, called the “Five As”:

  • Abiders: The most likely to have given the most religious response to each of the conventional measures of religion (belief in God, exclusivism, prayer, attendance, importance of faith, being close to God)
  • Adapters: Believe in a personal and involved God, high service to others, high personal religious practice
  • Assenters: Tend to believe in a personal God and feel somewhat close to God, however faith is not likely to be very important in life
  • Avoiders: Express some belief in God, but often a distant impersonal God, have low levels of religious conduct
  • Atheists: Do not believe in God

Denton came to Clemson in 2006. She began her research on how religion and family shape the lives of adolescents while in graduate school.

“A Faith of their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents,” published by Oxford University Press, is available in bookstores.


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