How important is religion for young people in America today? What are the major influences on their developing spiritual lives? How do their religious beliefs and practices change as young people enter into adulthood?
Christian Smith's Souls in Transition explores these questions and many others as it tells the definitive story of the religious and spiritual lives of emerging adults, ages 18 to 24, in the U.S. today. This is the much-anticipated follow-up study to the landmark book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Based on candid interviews with thousands of young people tracked over a five-year period, Souls in Transition reveals how the religious practices of the teenagers portrayed in Soul Searching have been strengthened, challenged, and often changed as they have moved into adulthood. The book vividly describes as well the broader cultural world of today's emerging adults, how that culture shapes their religious outlooks, and what the consequences are for religious faith and practice in America more generally. Some of Smith's findings are surprising. Parents turn out to be the single most important influence on the religious outcomes in the lives of young adults. On the other hand, teenage participation in evangelization missions and youth groups does not predict a high level of religiosity just a few years later. Moreover, the common wisdom that religiosity declines sharply during the young adult years is shown to be greatly exaggerated.
Painstakingly researched and filled with remarkable findings, Souls in Transition will be essential reading for youth ministers, pastors, parents, teachers and students at church-related schools, and anyone who wishes to know how religious practice is affected by the transition into adulthood in America today.
With the protraction of higher education, delays in marriage and childbearing, and extended financial support from parents, “emerging adults” (or “EAs,” ages 18–23) enjoy unprecedented freedoms. What does that mean for their spiritual formation? Smith, a veteran sociologist of religion, and Snell, of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, draw on statistical samples and more than 200 in-depth interviews to craft a compelling portrait of college-age Americans. This generation, steeped in religious pluralism, gets high marks for inclusivity and diversity awareness but has troubling consumerist tendencies, consistently prioritizing material wealth and devaluing altruism. Not surprisingly, EAs are less religious than older adults and than they themselves were as teenagers—which comes home especially poignantly in a chapter of follow-up profiles on some of the interview subjects from Smith's 2005 book on teen spirituality, Soul Searching. Surprisingly, however, EAs are not significantly less religious than emerging adults of prior generations. Although the book is heavy on survey data, tables and sociological typology, it's well-organized and seasoned with enough memorable interviews that lay readers will value it as much as specialists. (Sept.)