A New Perspective on Youth and Religion: A Qualitative Understanding
Strauss, Jessica S.
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Studies of religion in America focus largely on statistics and archival data of institutional religion. In some cases they fail to explore individual experiences of religion, which are widely believed to be 'spiritual' rather than religious forms of faith. Statistics tend to center on youth participation in religion to create their limited conceptions of what constitutes youth religiosity, and do not address more individuated religious practices or spiritual endeavors. Noted sociologist Ralph H. Turner provides a framework that I will utilize to deconstruct dominant sociological discourse about religion, in an effort to expand the limited scope of academic understanding on the topic. Rather than focusing on the statistical and quantitative frameworks behind religiosity, I propose that because of the changing manifestations of religion amongst the young American population, academic perspectives should be accordingly redefined and analyzed in more qualitative terms. The current dialogue about religion is best understood through the study of the younger population in the United States and their personal preferences towards expressing religious inclinations or faith. To fully grasp the study of religion, one must understand the ongoing cultural factors that influence religious practices and ideologies such as individualism and secularization, and explore their effects among American youth more specifically. There is little consensus in religious academic circles over a definition that truly encompasses the idea of religion. Scholars tend to form their own individual definitions and as such, a multitude of varying . classifications exist. There is a perceived division between spirituality and religion, widely by those who associate religion with institutions and official doctrine. Spirituality may be viewed as lacking the structure to constitute a form of religion. Others, however, argue that religion is more of an all-encompassing phenomenon of faith and values in which spirituality is included. I propose that forms of spirituality not be excluded from religious study, as the very change prevalent among American Youth today is an integration of the two, to the extent that the line between them can no longer be distinctly circumscribed. Therefore, for the purposes of this paper, the concept of 'religion' when referred to, does not exclude un-institutionalized forms of faith, but rather views them as a different manifestation of religious belief.