Back-Pocket God

Religion and Spirituality in the Lives of Emerging Adults

By Melinda Lundquist DentonRichard FloryA report on the changing and varied ways young people relate to religion.

This brief Book Review is by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Sociologists Melinda Lundquist Denton, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Richard Flory, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, have spent ten years on the National Study of Youth and Religion in order to map the future of religion in America. This is the fourth and final book in the series which has compiled extensive surveys, statistics, and interviews with young men and women from their teenage years through the later stages of “emerging adulthood.”

Although readers will find it hard-going slogging through all the interviews about the faith of these young people, there are some bright spots in chapters on “Transitions to Adult Life” and “Making Sense of It All” where Denton and Flory conclude that these Emergent Adults have turned away from organized religion and traditional churches. A smaller contingent, the Religiously Committed, cling to their faith in hard times.

The book’s title derives from their conclusion that religion is like an app on a smartphone, accessible, easy to use, but for limited purposes. This study confirms what many of us already knew from looking at the statistics in the Pew surveys showing that more than 30% of this age group do not affiliate with any religion.

My addition to give you a sample of their research.

“The authors offer a comprehensive description of their findings. For instance: Despite the general decline and move away from religion among emerging adults, they do not seem so much opposed to religion or to religious organizations, at least in the abstract, as they are uninterested in religion, at least as they have experienced it. In general, they simply find it inconsequential in their lives. This is certainly true for those who identify as Not Religious, but we can also hear echoes of this among those who remain committed and active in their faith. Emerging adults who consider themselves Not Religious are the most obviously disengaged from religion. Yet, they are not all completely “secular.” For some, the religion of their youth still operates at a residual or background level, as evidenced by belief in God or an impulse to pray when they feel as though they need help or guidance at a particular moment. This is not to say, however, that religion has any sort of real presence in their lives. Rather, they are open to and acknowledge the possibility of religion, while maintaining a personal distance from any religious tradition or community. Thus, religion remains largely irrelevant; they are neither for it nor against it. For the Not Religious, to the degree that religion exists in their lives at all, it is as a more or less theoretical or abstract option, but one that they are unlikely to ever choose for themselves.”

The authors provide detailed descriptions of the identified seven core tenets of the young adult’s outlook: (1) Karma is real, (2) Everybody goes to heaven, (3) It’s all good, (4) Religion is easy, (5) Just do good, (6) Morals are self-evident, and (7) No regrets.

It’s a provocative book to give you an understanding of where young adults are with religion and where religion might be headed if the major denominations don’t make themselves more relevant to the 21st century.

Oxford University Press, 04/20

ISBN: 9780190064785

$29.95 Hardcover

You can purchase a Kindle edition for $9:99 at Amazon.

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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