Sociology professor Melinda Denton’s research focuses on how religion and family shape the lives of adolescents in the United States. She calls face-to-face interviews with youth ‘eye opening.’

Sociology professor Melinda Denton’s research focuses on how religion and family shape the lives of adolescents in the United States. She calls face-to-face interviews with youth ‘eye opening.’

Melinda Denton’s mantra when it comes to her research and teaching is simple, yet profound — “We’re engaging the next generation of scholars.”

Denton teaches sociology at Clemson University and places great value in being able to not only focus on her research, but also to bring it into her classroom and to share her experience with her students.

“The more I can talk from firsthand experience in the classroom, the more enriching the experience becomes for the students and me,” Denton said.

Her decision to begin her teaching career at Clemson was not by chance. She already knew the value Clemson places on research and teaching, thus making it a good fit. Going on four years at Clemson, Denton has been able to engage students in her research project (she is a co-investigator on the National Study of Youth and Religion), as well as to bring her research to the classroom to help students understand data collecting and analyzing. She stands on the same ideals as the University, with goals to not only engage students more, but also to showcase high standards and dedication for research programs.

Denton’s research focuses on how religion and family shape the lives of adolescents in the United States. When she first started working on the study while in graduate school, there were no other studies that provided insight on the role religion and family play in the lives of youth. The research was collected through in-person and telephone interviews with adolescents from across the country and examined the religious and spiritual changes in the lives of adolescents across a three-year span.

“The face-to-face interviews with adolescents were eye opening,” Denton said. “Listening to them talk about religious and family relationships and what they appreciate and don’t was interesting.”

Since the first published portion of the study in 2005, a book with co-author Christian Smith (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers), Denton and the team have found that parents and those working with youth are interested in their research and findings. The book has received positive feedback, specifically as it helps those working with youth to better understand adolescents and how to work through challenges with them.

Now with the second book going to press, A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents, Denton and the research team are moving into their fourth phase of analyzing data. She spent the summer reviewing and understanding the data and will continue to bring her firsthand knowledge to her students in order to further enrich the classroom experience.

Denton teaches multiple classes each semester and alternates between offering summer courses, so she can also focus on data collected from the National Study of Youth and Religion. She has found balance between her teaching and her research and will continue to help her students understand human social behavior through her research projects.

As Denton explains, “Life informs my teaching and teaching informs my life.”

Written by Heather Miller | College of Business and Behavioral Science