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Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults

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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 emergi 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.


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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 emergi 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.

30 review for Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    This book is the sequel to Soul Searching, a study of the spirituality of adolescents. Here, the authors follow up five years later with a study of these respondents (and others) as "emerging adults." The book is chock-full of insights and all the graphs and tables you could ask for. Some of the most significant to me were the commentary on emerging adult culture--which the authors saw as governed by an intuitional morality--one just knows what is right for oneself but is also characteristically This book is the sequel to Soul Searching, a study of the spirituality of adolescents. Here, the authors follow up five years later with a study of these respondents (and others) as "emerging adults." The book is chock-full of insights and all the graphs and tables you could ask for. Some of the most significant to me were the commentary on emerging adult culture--which the authors saw as governed by an intuitional morality--one just knows what is right for oneself but is also characteristically free-wheeling in terms of alcohol consumption, sexual hook-ups, risky behaviors and often a lack of clear purpose. Of course, not all are like this--there are those who continue to adhere to religious beliefs, who generally both abstain or limit such behaviors and are much more engaged in altruistic behaviors like giving, volunteering, etc. One of the most striking findings, and consistent with the earlier research was that parents and other adult figures along with one's own religious experience and practices of scripture reading and prayer were the greatest indicators of continuing to be highly religious as emerging adults. These influences far outweighed youth groups, peer influences and even experiences like mission trips. As a general rule, the researchers found that most people tended to continue to embrace the same level of commitment, with perhaps slight decline during emerging adult years. They noted that, contrary to studies of boomers, college for this cohort was not a place of losing faith. Rather decline is much greater among those who don't attend college. I was heartened as a college minister to find the researchers attributed this different to the influence of parachurch ministries on campuses. And it was fascinating that on the basis of the NYSR data, the authors propose that the interest of this generation in "spirituality", while present, is over-stated. The concluding chapter posed some of the most interesting ideas in the book. The authors suggested that for mainline protestants, the somewhat greater decline in their numbers is actually a sign of the success of their ideas of tolerance, openness and free inquiry. By the same token, they attribute the personal subjectivism and anti-institutionalism of many evangelicals to sola scriptura and the ability of every individual to be their own interpreter of scripture. This anticipates more recent work by Smith where he attacks evangelical biblicism. I personally think this is painting with a broad brush because many evangelicals (consider the Wesleyan quaadrilateral) have recognized the importance of tradition and there is a strong contemporary movement within evangelicalism to go back to the early fathers and to re-engage with both the theological and formative traditions of earlier believers as well as over-simplifying the evangelical view of scripture. Nevertheless, this last chapter, as well as the book as a whole are worthy of much reflection for those who are concerned about the emerging generation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Ring

    One of the recommended readings for my Evangelism and Missions course through Acadia Divinity College. Some challenges with the statistical data if you are not a sociology major or work with statistic, but on the whole the structure of the book and its mix of personal interviews and general statistics for different category confirmed some beliefs and showed up some misconceptions.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andy Gore

    A superb book and though at times really hard to plough through the conclusions of each, as well as the final conclusions are well worth pondering over.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Shelby Poinikiewski

    Very interesting and informative, a bit depressing. Had to read it for a class in college.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Reid Mccormick

    Souls in Transition by Christian Smith “According to emerging adults, the absolute authority for every person’s beliefs or actions is his or her own self.” “For an emerging adult to remain deeply involved in religious life, he or she probably have to feel greater sense of dependence and need…” “Normally, the best predictor of where people are going is where they have come from.” Young people - which includes adolescents and emerging adults - are essentially self-absorbed. We can argue if this qualit Souls in Transition by Christian Smith “According to emerging adults, the absolute authority for every person’s beliefs or actions is his or her own self.” “For an emerging adult to remain deeply involved in religious life, he or she probably have to feel greater sense of dependence and need…” “Normally, the best predictor of where people are going is where they have come from.” Young people - which includes adolescents and emerging adults - are essentially self-absorbed. We can argue if this quality is intrinsic or extrinsic, but the fact remains that young people are narrowly focused on themselves. I believe the environment creates this egocentric behavior, but I do not blame the environment. As Smith states in this book, “the emerging adult years often entail repeated life disruption, transitions, and distractions.” As a simple defense mechanism, emerging adults simply convert to self-preservation mode. When your emotional, spiritual, and physical energy is spent surviving there is very little opportunity to thrive. Souls in Transition is a great study on the spiritual lives of emerging adults. It challenges preconceived notions that young people are frankly disinterested in religion and that somehow our collective spirituality is at risk. Even though there is a dip in religious activity during one’s early twenties, there is very little change in the spiritual perspectives between one’s young life and one’s adult life. Anyone working with college students would enjoy this book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    An engaging combination of quantitative research, interview profiles, and interpretation of scads of data, but the authors do not quote a single gay, bisexual, or transgender emerging adult: at least not one they identify as LGBT or whose self-identification as LGBT they report. This omission is a real shame since paying more attention to sexual minorities might complicate the authors' evaluative thesis that religious adherence provides a stabilizing, pro-social force in the lives of young Ameri An engaging combination of quantitative research, interview profiles, and interpretation of scads of data, but the authors do not quote a single gay, bisexual, or transgender emerging adult: at least not one they identify as LGBT or whose self-identification as LGBT they report. This omission is a real shame since paying more attention to sexual minorities might complicate the authors' evaluative thesis that religious adherence provides a stabilizing, pro-social force in the lives of young Americans. As a writing instructor interested in college students' Romantic and post-Romantic experiences of the sacred as an alternative to the consumerist relativism without commitment that Smith and Snell have identified as the dominant spiritual stance of Millennials, I also find the authors' emphasis on belief not quite as useful as A Secular Age, Charles Taylor's history of the role of the sacred in the lived experience of Western people since the Middle Ages and Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly's response to it, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. Of course, Taylor's approach, rooted as it is in intellectual history and phenomenology rather than the sociological research central to Smith and Snell's project, seems impossible to quantify with surveys due to its holistic methodology. Taylor needs that methodology to narrate changes in people's common-sense, often pre-reflective experiences over centuries, but it doesn't lend itself well to categories with discrete boundaries and the statistical cartwheels characteristic of Souls in Transition and its thick descriptions of Millennials' religious and spiritual lives. Belief and self-reported religious affiliation, on the other hand, does. In this regard, the gap between the tepidly hedonistic lifestyles and etiolated traditional beliefs of many emerging adults profiled in this study astonishes. Then again, as Smith and Snell point out, inertia is the norm in social life, so expecting more than a tiny minority of American 18-23-year-olds to reconcile their cognitive dissonances by finding or inventing coherent systems of beliefs and practices is naive of me. 'You are not your students,' as a professor of mine pointed out to a roomful of other humanities grad students and me a few years ago. As Smith and Snell's research reveals, the dominant maxim by which most emerging adults live their lives is: Do no egregious harm, secure sources of pleasure, and don't judge anyone else except for violent criminals. Thus most emerging adults live their lives as atomistic consumerists unless they overcome adversities like addictions or unintended pregnancies that they carry to term. As an evidence-based summation of 18-23-year-old Americans' religious and spiritual lives, Souls in Transition excels, but with the major caveat that Smith and Snell do not discuss these issues in the lives of LGBT young adults. Since gay marriage debates lie right smack in the middle of religious communities and the lives of many young Americans, exploring LGBT issues would have taken this book to the next level, though the complexity it would add to an already complicated set of analytical categories would present a challenge even to sociologists as gifted as Christian Smith and Patricia Snell.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is a well-researched, well-written study of emerging adults (18-23 years old). I highly recommend it for anyone who works with college students or emerging adults in general. What I most appreciated about the book was that the authors do not allow their own personal biases to dictate how they analyze the information; what their personal opinions are about these findings we do not know. The findings are from the third wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). We are not li This book is a well-researched, well-written study of emerging adults (18-23 years old). I highly recommend it for anyone who works with college students or emerging adults in general. What I most appreciated about the book was that the authors do not allow their own personal biases to dictate how they analyze the information; what their personal opinions are about these findings we do not know. The findings are from the third wave of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). We are not limited to bombardment by statistics, instead the authors share a good number of stories of some of the people they interviewed. There is a long chapter on the cultural worlds of emerging adults as well as a chapter with some historical perspective, both of which help set the contexts. Then we learn what the NSYR found in regards to emerging adults' religious affiliation, practices, beliefs and experiences. From this the researchers are able to group emerging adults into six major religious types. This book is a follow up to Soul Searching, which was a study of teenagers. Here they revisit some of the teenagers they interviewed for the first book, to see how their personal stories fit in with the statistical data. The statistics and stories demonstrate what is perhaps the most important finding: rather than the religious lives of emerging adults being filled with desertion of churches and major religious changes, it is one of continuity. In other words, whatever path they were on as teenagers it the path they continue on as emerging adults. Yes, many become non-religious, but indications are that most of these were already only nominally religious as teens. Most who are committed as teens remain so as emerging adults. The final chapters show what affect religion has on practical life and draws conclusions on all the findings. Overall, a helpful book. I read it slowly and blogged on it as it related to my work as a campus minister, feel free to read that here: http://davehershey.wordpress.com/tag/...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    Smith's research is incredibly thorough and gives one working with teens good perspective as to how they see the world. Items from book that stood out to me: * These students readily admit mistakes and actions that they'd say are wrong, but they carry no keen sense regarding guilt about those actions. "It happened, and I am moving on." This carries both positive and negative ramifications. * Relative morality depends on the case. They view very little in the world as black and white, and religious Smith's research is incredibly thorough and gives one working with teens good perspective as to how they see the world. Items from book that stood out to me: * These students readily admit mistakes and actions that they'd say are wrong, but they carry no keen sense regarding guilt about those actions. "It happened, and I am moving on." This carries both positive and negative ramifications. * Relative morality depends on the case. They view very little in the world as black and white, and religious orientation alters that only slightly. * "Among all religious traditions in America, the one that would seem to best fit the values and interests of emerging adults, because of its emphasis on tolerance and inclusion, is theologically liberal mainline Protestantism--yet that is the tradition that is fairing worst in retaining and recruiting emerging adults." * My family's faith is associated with dependence. * Factors that are most statistically valid as to those who do not loose their religion: 1. personal prayer time, 2. regular Scripture reading. Factors that have no connection to continued religious commitment: 1. attending Christian schools, 2. going on mission trips/involvement with youth group. * Research years ago had shown that college students tend to lose their religion while attending. This study and other more recent studies seem to show that this is not overwhelmingly the case today. * The people view themselves as sovereign individuals and they lack conviction or direction.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Guy

    A follow-up to an earlier sociological study called "Soul Searching," which investigated the religious lives of teenagers, this book follows them into the "emerging adult" years of 10-23, and finds that on the whole they believe the same things later that they did earlier, but less intensely, and modified by new experiences. Go figure. I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed by the results of this quite impressively-done study, which confirmed what anyone who teaches in a college religion depart A follow-up to an earlier sociological study called "Soul Searching," which investigated the religious lives of teenagers, this book follows them into the "emerging adult" years of 10-23, and finds that on the whole they believe the same things later that they did earlier, but less intensely, and modified by new experiences. Go figure. I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed by the results of this quite impressively-done study, which confirmed what anyone who teaches in a college religion department or does youth ministry already knows: that apart from small minorities at either end of the spectrum from ardent to atheist, most young Americans' religious views are most strongly influenced by their families, but in the general maturing/differentiating process they have tended to pick and choose from among the belief options society offers. They tend also to be self-referential, believing they can tell right from wrong even when unable to describe any criteria they might use for judging the difference. They believe in a benign, helpful, personal God, even though they don't know anything about God or even how to go about knowing. As the authors point out, this is not a faith that makes sense of much in life, nor is it one that can take too much adversity before being abandoned altogether. It will be interesting to see what this cohort believes when they hit 30--which is about the only reason I would ever read something like this again.

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Kennedy

    This isn't a book to read in one setting, or even two. It's too information-heavy. It tends to get bogged down with pages and pages of statistics that only a statistician could love. Still, the book does draw insightful conclusions that haven't been reached elsewhere. The narratives are much more interesting and the portrait that is revealed is that emerging adults are able to segment their traditional beliefs and their actual behavior. Thus, they tend not to see anything immoral about cohabitati This isn't a book to read in one setting, or even two. It's too information-heavy. It tends to get bogged down with pages and pages of statistics that only a statistician could love. Still, the book does draw insightful conclusions that haven't been reached elsewhere. The narratives are much more interesting and the portrait that is revealed is that emerging adults are able to segment their traditional beliefs and their actual behavior. Thus, they tend not to see anything immoral about cohabitation, for example. Most emerging adults don't give much thought to religion beyond the belief that God exists. Even churchgoing kids tend not to see Christianity as unique, for fear of being judgmental about other religions. In the final analysis, those who stick with church and God have a better chance not to mess up their lives with drugs, alcohol, depression and sexual immorality.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Garland Vance

    Similar to Soul Searching, this book presented great data on the spiritual lives of emerging adults in America. At times hopeful while at other times depressing, the spiritual lives of emerging adults is incredibly complex. Unfortunately, the complexity of their lives was muddled by the repetitiveness of the authors. The book probably could have been 75-100 pages shorter by simply combining sections of repeated information. If you work with emerging adults, this is an important work but skim it Similar to Soul Searching, this book presented great data on the spiritual lives of emerging adults in America. At times hopeful while at other times depressing, the spiritual lives of emerging adults is incredibly complex. Unfortunately, the complexity of their lives was muddled by the repetitiveness of the authors. The book probably could have been 75-100 pages shorter by simply combining sections of repeated information. If you work with emerging adults, this is an important work but skim it first then go back to the interesting parts.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Based on a more recent research project, the author attempts to help the evangelical church understand the emerging population of young people. While definitly post modern, this study seems to place the number of young people who still respond to their parents religion as much higher than some earlier studies. There is an interesting case study in the front of the book, in which us adventists quickly recognize that the author is talking to an Adventist young person. The similarities, and the change Based on a more recent research project, the author attempts to help the evangelical church understand the emerging population of young people. While definitly post modern, this study seems to place the number of young people who still respond to their parents religion as much higher than some earlier studies. There is an interesting case study in the front of the book, in which us adventists quickly recognize that the author is talking to an Adventist young person. The similarities, and the changes from your grandfathers approach are certainly worth reading!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Danny Yang

    "...if emerging adults want in fact to pursue lives that are genuinely free and self-directed in ways that are worthy of their commitment and devotion, they will have to come to terms with many of the larger social and cultural forces to which their lives are now subject that do not obviously serve that end. They will have to exercise understanding and agency in ways that do not simply reproduce but rather challenge some of the more problematic aspects of emerging adult culture and life." "...if emerging adults want in fact to pursue lives that are genuinely free and self-directed in ways that are worthy of their commitment and devotion, they will have to come to terms with many of the larger social and cultural forces to which their lives are now subject that do not obviously serve that end. They will have to exercise understanding and agency in ways that do not simply reproduce but rather challenge some of the more problematic aspects of emerging adult culture and life."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    A follow-up to the author's earlier survey of the religious and spiritual lives of teenagers, this book looks at the spiritual lives of young adults. The author finds an overall decline in religious practice, combined with a number of troubled teenagers who become interested in religion as young adults. The book is full of information, although none of it should be considered particularly surprising. A follow-up to the author's earlier survey of the religious and spiritual lives of teenagers, this book looks at the spiritual lives of young adults. The author finds an overall decline in religious practice, combined with a number of troubled teenagers who become interested in religion as young adults. The book is full of information, although none of it should be considered particularly surprising.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rod Buchanan

    I thought the book had real insight in to the population of emerging adults. The information was good and important. However, exceedingly repetitious. I also found it depressing and despaired of having this group ever break free from the absolutism of relativism. They are portrayed as absolutely self-focused and all good is based on how they feel at any particular moment -- which may change the next.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    This is a follow-up to the authors previous book entitled Soull-searching. Most of what is in the book is already known, what is added is the particulars in the lives of some of the adults they are following up on who had particiapted in the first study when they were teenagers. The last book "Lost in Transition" is much more enlightening in my opinion. This is a follow-up to the authors previous book entitled Soull-searching. Most of what is in the book is already known, what is added is the particulars in the lives of some of the adults they are following up on who had particiapted in the first study when they were teenagers. The last book "Lost in Transition" is much more enlightening in my opinion.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Great sociological study of twenty-somethings in America, focusing on their religious lives. Smith has been following many in his study since they were teenagers. There are some sociological charts and data that many will want to skim, but his analysis is excellent. But, the stories of several in this age group are where the book shines the most.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    This is a very thorough book, with current insights into the lives of emerging adults. The amount of research done is staggering. Honestly, the last chapter pulls it all together, and one could get the main idea from the book by reading the conclusions, but the material presented throughout the book is also well worth the effort. A must read for anyone working with emerging adults.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mar

    interesting statistical data of where some are at with religion. i enjoyed reading it even though some of the statistical analysis is over my head. I'm just not sure what to do with all the information now. interesting statistical data of where some are at with religion. i enjoyed reading it even though some of the statistical analysis is over my head. I'm just not sure what to do with all the information now.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Tatusko

    some of the analyses get a bit redundant. however, the findings related to the normativity of liberal christianity, influence of parents, the "spiritual but not religious" myth, and other trends are important and for the most part quite novel. some of the analyses get a bit redundant. however, the findings related to the normativity of liberal christianity, influence of parents, the "spiritual but not religious" myth, and other trends are important and for the most part quite novel.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Rankin

    Smith and his co-authors consistently deliver sobering insights into the lives of American young (emerging) adults. If you don't like following social science methodology and lots of statistics, each chapter has a conclusion that nicely captures the observations and concerns of the book. Smith and his co-authors consistently deliver sobering insights into the lives of American young (emerging) adults. If you don't like following social science methodology and lots of statistics, each chapter has a conclusion that nicely captures the observations and concerns of the book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hilary

    Some of the things we read about in here have proved helpful... but overall... blech.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Vojta

    This is a must read book if you are involved in ministry .

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nando

    Culture

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dave McNeely

    Good and important research, but research can't get you past a "3" rating. Good and important research, but research can't get you past a "3" rating.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Drier than its predecessor.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Larry

    Nice presentation of findings from the most comprehensive study of religiosity in emerging adulthood that exists!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Sines

    The statistics in this book are crucial for the church to know and understand if it wants to reach the upcoming generations.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ron Mackey

    More academic than I was looking for.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jess

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