- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (April 13, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195384776
- ISBN-13: 978-0195384772
- Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.1 x 6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 46 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Reprint Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Encyclopedic in scope and exhaustive in detail, this study offers an impressive array of data, statistics and concluding hypotheses about American teenage religious identity, with appendixes explaining methodology and extensive endnotes. Sociologists of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Smith and Denton cover a range of topics: e.g., "mapping" religious affiliations, creating new categories to describe teenage spirituality, exploring why Catholic teens are largely apathetic. All the book's findings derive from interviews conducted with teenagers for the National Study of Youth and Religion. Interestingly and against popular belief, Smith and Denton conclude that the "spiritual but not religious" affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among Americans under 18, and that the greatest influence shaping teens' religious beliefs is their parents. Despite the personal tone adopted in the first chapter and the topic's wide appeal, readers should be prepared to wade through lengthy presentations of research findings. Most helpful are summaries appearing in bullet form within several chapters, providing accessible and succinct overviews of the raw information and statistics. Regardless of whether this research will be "a catalyst for many soul-searching conversations in various communities and organizations" among parents and pastors, scholars will surely agree that this study advances the conversation about contemporary adolescent spirituality. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"We strongly recommend this book to those interested in the religiousity of American teenagers. Social scientists, religious leaders, youth leaders, and parents will find this an enlightening read."--Brigham Young University Studies
"This book is, quite simply, the best book ever on the best study ever on the topic of adolescents and religion. It is exemplary social science, combining the best of qualitative and quantitative methods, not only empirically strong but theoretically rich."--Journal of Adolescent Research
"Let this book challenge you as parents and church leaders to evaluate what you are teaching the rising generation. More importantly, let it challenge you to examine your beliefs and practices and the teaching of the church." --Equip for Ministry
"For scholars as well as parents, teachers, relatives, mentors, and other persons interested in the well-being of teens, this is and will likely be the definitive book on teens and religion for years to come."--Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
"This survey is 'the largest and most comprehensive and detaile study of American teenage religion and spirituality conducted to date.' All major religions and two, what the authors refer to as 'minority religious traditions, Mormonism and Judaism,' are covered...In the meantime, this book does place Mormons and Jews in context to the majority US religions and that is a valuable beginning."--Community, the Jewish Community Federation (KY) newspaper
"This book is a landmark study of the religious attitudes and practices of American teenagers. While the study demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between religious commitment and positive social behavior, there are also disturbing trends related to this theologically illiterate generation of teens who primarily think of God as their private butler. The authors offer a number of concrete suggestions in a concluding postscript that will be of value to youth workers and religious communities. Drawing on a national survey of teens and their significant caregivers, as well as several hundred in-depth interviews, this book is the most comprehensive study of teenage religiosity that has ever been done."--Donald E. Miller, author of Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium
"Soul Searching is a bombshell, and one that is long overdue. It convincingly demonstrates that many of our assumptions about youth and religion in the U.S. are well off the mark. Instead of finding hostility toward religion, we meet young people from every corner of the culture who echo their parents religiosity to an astonishing degree-but this, as it turns out, is hardly a formula for vibrant faith. Soul Searching puts American religious communities on notice: if religion matters, then we had better stop exposing young people to faith and start teaching it to them. Anyone who lives or works with teenagers simply must read this book. You won't be able to sit still after you do."--Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church
"This is an extremely important book. In presenting the results from the most ambitious national study ever conducted among American teenagers about their religious and spiritual lives, it sheds new light from start to finish. I highly recommend it."--Robert Wuthnow, author of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity
"This book is a rich resource that Christian educators, church officers, and parents need to be aware of." --Ordained Servant, A Journal of Church Officers
"Fills an enormous gap in our knowledge about young people. If there is one book to read outside your discipline this year it is Soul Searching."--Worship
"The most comprehensive and reliable research ever done on youth and religion. For the next 50 years writers on the topic will be referring to their book."--The Christian Century
"Smith and Denton's findings beg for a response from those working in youth ministry."--The Christian Century
"Demolishes the conventional wisdom....a must-read"--Andrew Greeley, National Catholic Reporter
"With a mixture of good news and bad news that punctures many stereotypes about adoloscent religious beliefs and behavior, this extensive study deserves attention for what it reveals across the full range of American religious groups."--Peter Steinfels, The New York Times
"Pioneering....a highly informative and provocative book....[that] is also readable, full of illuminating anecdotes and summaries from which the lively, often-touching personalities of teenagers emerge."--Chicago Tribune
"Youth groups, role models, service activities and cultural rituals of religious institutions all seem to help youth lead more healthy, moral and happy lives. This book goes a long way toward explaining the extent of this phenomenon and which religions seem to be accomplishing these benefits most."--New York Post
""Of course, it's not the point whether or not Smith and Denton believe in God. They believe in religion. They believe in teenagers. And for good reason. The data suggests that America would be better off if we all believed as they do."--The Revealer
"No book in recent memory has as much potential to transform the practice of youth ministry...[T]he results overturn nearly every piece of conventional wisdom about teens and faith."--Christianity Today
"Soul Searching represents social science at its very best."--Spiritus
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I was also especially appreciative that the author dedicated an entire chapter of the book about the Catholic teen "situation" in America. The description of Catholic academic institutions really resonated with my experience with Catholic schools. I recently graduated from a Catholic high school, and there were definitely times while I was reading when I wanted to jump up and shout "Thats exactly right!"
To put it simply, Smith illustrates how Catholic schools are not what they used to be, and how religious education has taken a backseat to rigorous academic preparation. As a result, many or most Catholic teens pass through a system without proper Catholic socialization and religious education.
In fact, just a couple a months before buying this book, I had sent a carefully crafted 5-page letter to my Catholic high school informing them of the incredible weakness of religious education at the school and encouraged them to improve.
Aside from Catholicism, Smith also reports that the growing trend of being "spiritual but not religious" is a myth. That may have been true when the book was published, but I'm afraid that information is simply outdated. With the advent of YouTube videos such as "Why I Love Jesus but Hate Religion" and with the hundreds of comments by teens on Christian music videos that say "Its not a Religion, its a Relationship," I'm afraid that most teens by now should at least know what the phrase "I'm spiritual but not religious" means.
In conclusion, buy the book. I found it intensely interesting and stimulating. It is most certainly not anti-Catholic, in fact, the author found World Youth Day (A massive Catholic gathering) "Inspiring."
First off, it is amazingly thorough. Unlike other books that offer statistical analyses, Smith and Denton never offer big, blind, sweeping statements that make you ask questions like, "Really?" Before making bold statements such as "More or less involvement in religion has a direct correlation with more or less positive life outcomes," the authors go into painstaking detail about how they arrived at this conclusion and what other factors may play into this. Broad, unqualified statements make the reader question reliability. Soul Searching does a better job at avoiding this problem then any book or report I have ever read.
As for content, the NSYR survey results published in Soul Searching are intensely interesting. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a statistical nerd; nonetheless, the stats and analyses offered throughout these chapters often had my mind swirling with excitement. The kind of excitement where you read the book before bed and then cannot get to sleep for the next 2 hours. Some of the more interesting conclusions include:
- Contrary to popular belief, teens are quite religious. Furthermore, their religious outlooks are generally quite traditional and follow a very similar pattern as what has handed to them by their parents.
- The idea that large numbers of teens think of themselves as "spiritual but not Religious" is highly unsupported by the data.
- Although a majority of teens are religious, at the level of subjective consciousness, religion most often operates in the background of their lives.
- The single most important influence on the the religious and spiritual lives of teens is the religious and spiritual lives of their parents.
This is but a small sample of some of the stunning, often counter-intuitive, conclusions that the NSYR data has shown to be true.
One of the best chapters in the book, although it is a departure from the scientific reporting of statistics, is the chapter on "Social Context." In this chapter, Smith analyzes six key components of the current social context of teenagers and offers insight into how these societal influences impact the religious and spiritual lives of teens. His dissection of things like Therapeutic Individualism and Mass-Market Capitalism are outstanding. I have reread the chapter over and over and am still reeling over it.
There are only two things about the book that are a downer.
- It is a book about a statistical survey. As such, the chapters are very long, thick, and can be tedious at times. Although this is to be expected, it is therefore not an easy book to get through. I took my time reading the book over a 2 month period. It would be difficult to read it much quicker than that if you are actually hoping to engage your mind in all of what is said.
- There is one chapter devoted entirely to Catholic teens. As a youth pastor at a Mainline Protestant church, I would have loved for the chapter to be about Protestantism. If you are Catholic or interested in the religious and spiritual lives of Catholic teens, you will love this chapter. Otherwise, you may just briefly skim this chapter like I did.
In all, Soul Searching has become my new measuring stick. Whenever I read another book that has anything to say about the current state of Youth and Religion, I will instantly question their conclusions if they do not comport with the findings of NSYR.
(Side Note - NSYR is planning on releasing 2 more books which will summarize their findings from Wave 2 and Wave 3 of the NSYR survey in 2009. Waves 2 and 3 are surveys of the same teens in Wave 1 at 3 and 6 years later, respectively. Keep your eyes peeled.)