Title: Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults
Author: Christian Smith with Patricia Snell
Their research concluded that the main determining factor of how religiously-inclined a young adult is/will be is how religiously-inclined that person was as a teen-ager. (People are more likely than not to remain the same level of religiosity between their teens years and their emerging adult years, or at least to self-identify that way.) This is despite the changes that happen during the young adult years: “To an extent matched by no other time in the life course, emerging adults enjoy and endure multiple, layered, big, and often unanticipated life transitions.” (page 34) The book asserts that much of emerging adults’ ethical bearings are relative; what is right for one person may not be right for another, and we cannot judge the other. This influences how young adults see the church and how they evaluate the church. The church (and all religions) basically teach people to be good and once a person has learned this, there is little need to remain a regular church attendee. However, if they have a relationship with another person in the church community, they are inclined to stay: “Operating at the heart of both personal and religious stability and change are the crucial matter of significant personal relationships—both those that affirm and bind and those that break down and set loose.” (page 209) Smith & Snell’s research notes that emerging adults leave the church when there is cognitive dissonance, in order to live lives of integrity. For example, that if someone is reared to believe in a more literal reading of Genesis, but then begins to believe in evolution, they may leave the church rather than try and have both “truths” competing in their mind. They also were able to show through their research that while this generation of young adults attends church less often, they are just as religious as previous generations.
Martha Korienek is Associate Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Burlingame, CA.