Most teenagers in the United States believe in God and attend conventional congregations but at the same time have difficulty expressing what impact faith has on their lives, according to a new survey funded by the Lilly Endowment.
The National Study of Youth and Religion, produced by researchers at the University of North Carolina, concluded that “religion really does matter” to teenagers even though their religious knowledge is “meagre, nebulous and often fallacious.”
Those surveyed – who were between 13 and 17 years of age – described an undemanding God who exists to solve problems and make people feel good.
Sociologist Christian Smith of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill headed the four-year effort. The survey “speaks more broadly about the direction of American religion,” Mr. Smith wrote. “God is something like a combination of Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist.”
The report also states the trend reflects the same tendencies as American baby boomers, the generation born after the Second World War in the 1950s and ’60s.
“What I find most interesting about the trend is the wide gap between religious knowledge on the part of most teens and their strong sense of religious identification and affiliation, as indicated by this survey,” said Mary Kupiec Cayton, a history professor at Miami University and a specialist in spirituality.
“I agree that this trend isn’t unique to teens: it increasingly characterizes how many American adults feel about religion as well,” Ms. Cayton said. “Contemporary Americans are often looking to religion to meet their personal needs for community and emotional comfort. ‘Belief’ seems to depend a great deal on the degree to which these needs get met.”
The research also found that religiously devout teenagers are better off than their non-devout peers in emotional health, academic success, community involvement, concern for others, trust of adults and avoidance of risky behaviour.