Today’s twentysomethings and religion

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Today’s twentysomethings and religion

The Twentysomething Soul: Understanding the Religious and Secular Lives of American… by Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley, Oxford University Press, US $29.95, Pp 240, August 2019, ISBN 978-0190931353

Many of us believe that today’s twentysomethings are a “lost generation” because they presumably do not live fulfilling lives and they refuse to “grow up” and accept adult responsibilities. It is commonly presumed that they have no interest in religion and spirituality. This is surely not very flattering for our youth. In The Twentysomething Soul, Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley argue that this is not wholly true. Based on interviews with more than 200 young adults, as well as national survey of 1,880 twentysomethings, Clydesdale and Garces-Foley introduce us to the full spectrum of the generation in their twenties or twentysomethings. They say that they generally live purposefully and responsibly. Some follow their parents’ religion; others reject religion and spirituality.

Clydesdale and Garces-Foley argue that despite important research by psychologists, sociologists, and religious studies scholars, there is little understanding of how much Americans’ journey through their 20s has changed during the past half-century or of how blatantly incorrect many assumptions are about young adults’ religious lives. They say that they do not make a judgment about twentysomethings who reject religion. Twentysomethings certainly have the right to reject religious beliefs and practices. In fact, they argue that today’s twentysomethings must navigate paths to adulthood that have become as complex and at time as congested as the Los Angeles freeways. Neither today’s twentysomethings nor their families and schools, and congregations seem to understand and accept. That is why they are maligned. But this is not the whole story of twentysomething religiosity.

Clydesdale and Garces-Foley’s research shows that seventy-one percent of twentysomethings do affiliate with a religion, and 62 percent are protestants or Catholics. One third of twentysomethings go to church regularly and volunteer time and money to support their religion’s activities — just as generations of American Christians have done before them. Clydesdale and Garces-Foley make seven main claims about today’s twentysomethings.

First, the beliefs and practices of today’s twentysomethings demonstrate continuity far more than decline.

Second, the ones who attend worship regularly do not distribute themselves evenly across religious institutions but cluster within young adult-friendly congregations. Birds of a religious feather very much flock together.

Third, the ranks of the religiously affiliated are permeable and include philosophical secularists, indifferent secularists, spiritual eclectics, and even those who believe in God. These ranks grow as twentysomething age, but we found that philosophical secularism could be difficult for twentysomethings to maintain outside of higher education and cosmopolitan centers.

Fourth, the 42.7 million Americans who fall between the ages of 20 and 29 settle into one of four strategies with respect to religious and spiritual life: (1) prioritizing religious and spiritual life, (2) rejecting organized religion and its traditional practices, (3) sidelining religious and spiritual life, or (4) practicing an eclectic spirituality. The latter is rarest, while the popular options are to sideline religion until feeling more “settled” or to demonstrate indifference to all things religious and spiritual.

Fifth, twentysomethings organize spirituality into two broad types: traditional and non-traditional. The former includes practices and view conventionally encouraged in religion, such as prayer and spiritual growth, while the latter includes thinking of God “as a spiritual force” and regarding “any art or music as a way to communicate one’s spirituality.” Both forms of spirituality are most common among those who prioritize religious and spiritual life, undermining the common view that religion and spiritual life, undermining the common view that religion and spirituality are opposites among today’s Twentysomethings.

Sixth, prioritizing religious and spiritual life correlates significantly with marriage, cohabitation, parenthood, college graduation, employment, voting community engagement, and social engagement. And this holds true even when the effects of gender, income, race, ethnicity, and age are held constant.

Seventh, today’s twentysomethings experience the world less as sets of institutions prescribing standard life scripts and more as nodes on a network from which they can freely choose cultural symbols, strategies, and interpretations. American twentysomethings, in other words, are practical and post-modern.

The Twentysomething Soul is a myth-busting book that provides new insights into the religious lives of American youth in the twenties or twentysomethings. With new and original data, Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley argue that American youth in their twenties is not a lost generation. They represent continuity and are a responsible generation. With the help of their original research they discuss seven main characteristics that define today’s twentysomethings. This scholarly book is filled with individual portraits of many twentysomethings which makes it an enjoyable read. This well-researched book will change the way we think about the young generation in their twenties. If you are interested in the religious and spiritual tendencies among America’s youth, this book is a must-read.

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