Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hope for young adults: a review of Soul Searching

I have now read several different books on the lives of what Smith and Snell call emergent adults; The First Year Out by Tim Clydesdales, Path to Purpose by William Damon and now Souls in Transition. Now I have just complete Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford University Press, 2009) by Christian Smith and Patricia Snell. This book focuses most directly on the spiritual health of this age group.

I find Souls in Transition to have a flavor of mixed of concern and hope. Spiritually, 18 to 25-year olds are dropping out of the church in large numbers. We have all suspected this fact and the authors prove it is true with an immense amount of data. As youth transition into adulthood they are finds spiritual question and a desire for a certain lifestyle to be a deterrent from attending the religion of their youth. As a group, there is an across the board shift from more religious commitment to less religious commitment.

On the other hand, the authors have some hope. Like every generation before, I have heard older people of faith proclaim that this younger generation is more lost than ever before. Smith and Snell find that perception is simply not true. At least as far as their study goes back (1972), the current emergent adults are not dropping out any faster than previous generations. In fact, there is a hint that current emergents are actually maintaining faith at a higher rate.

I particularly enjoyed the application of the study. In brief, maintain faith through the emergent adult years is not a matter so much of addressing emergent adults, but a healthier treatment of the teens. Smith and Snell describe that as a process of socializing that first starts in the home but is echoed in mentors within the church. Older adults of faith, both parents and church-folk, need to avoid the pitfall of encouraging youth to push away from them. The myth says that youth no longer want adults to participate in their lives. Instead, the authors’ data show that youth want adult contact, but they need it on new terms. Youth that receive a good amount of attention from adults of faith are more likely to maintain their faith into adulthood.