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UNC to conduct first comprehensive survey on American teens and religion

A team of sociologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $3.96 million grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to conduct the first comprehensive national survey of the influence of religion and spirituality on the lives of American teenagers.

"We have every reason to believe that religion is an important influence in the lives of youth in many ways," said Christian S. Smith, professor of sociology and principal investigator for the five-year study. "At the same time, many observers believe that our society neglects and misunderstands adolescents and that there is a need for solid information and analysis to help religious communities and other institutions reach out to them more effectively."

Researchers will conduct an extensive random-sample telephone survey of nearly 4,000 adolescents and parents across the nation, including in-depth personal interviews with 350 survey participants. Plans call for the survey and interviews to be conducted twice over a three-year period to identify specific practices, beliefs, and experiences of respondents, and to track changes in their lives over time.

"This is the first major national baseline study and descriptive mapping of the religious practices of American youth," said Smith. The survey is designed to reach representative samples of diverse cultural groups including African-Americans, Hispanic/Latinos and Jews, and will be available in English and Spanish, as needed.

Researchers will seek to answer a range of questions, including the following:

  • In what religious practices are different kinds of American youth regularly engaged?

  • What factors - familial, denominational and social - tend to keep youth involved in religious congregations and faith practices? Are there any particular experiences or processes that are crucial in solidifying the religious identities and communities of youth?

  • What programs and opportunities for youth involvement do different religious organizations offer to youth? How much do youth participate in them, and how do youth experience and evaluate these programs?

  • How do the religious interests, concerns and practices of American youth vary by race, age, gender, social class and geography (rural versus urban)?

  • In what ways does religion influence the extent and quality of family relationships, academic achievements and community involvements of American youth?

The project, which includes assistance from graduate and undergraduate students, will culminate in 2005 with two conferences: one for philanthropists, policymakers, social workers and journalists, and another for religious educators and youth ministries.

Smith, who has been on the UNC faculty since 1994, is the author or co-author of seven books, including "Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want" (University of California, Berkeley, 2000), "Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race" (Oxford University Press), and "American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving" (University of Chicago). He has a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University (1990) and has studied theology at Harvard University Divinity School (1984).

The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., founded in 1937, is the nation's largest single funder in the field of American religion.

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08-28-01

A team of sociologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a $3.96 million grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to conduct the first comprehensive national survey of the influence of religion and spirituality on the lives of American teenagers. "We have every reason to believe that religion is an important influence in the lives of youth in many ways," said Christian S. Smith, professor of sociology and principal investigator for the five-year study. "At the same time, many observers believe that our society neglects and misunderstands adolescents and that there is a need for solid information and analysis to help religious communities and other institutions reach out to them more effectively." Researchers will conduct an extensive random-sample telephone survey of nearly 4,000 adolescents and parents across the nation, including in-depth personal interviews with 350 survey participants. Plans call for the survey and interviews to be conducted twice over a three-year period to identify specific practices, beliefs, and experiences of respondents, and to track changes in their lives over time. "This is the first major national baseline study and descriptive mapping of the religious practices of American youth," said Smith. The survey is designed to reach representative samples of diverse cultural groups including African-Americans, Hispanic/Latinos and Jews, and will be available in English and Spanish, as needed. Researchers will seek to answer a range of questions, including the following:
  • In what religious practices are different kinds of American youth regularly engaged?

  • What factors - familial, denominational and social - tend to keep youth involved in religious congregations and faith practices? Are there any particular experiences or processes that are crucial in solidifying the religious identities and communities of youth?

  • What programs and opportunities for youth involvement do different religious organizations offer to youth? How much do youth participate in them, and how do youth experience and evaluate these programs?

  • How do the religious interests, concerns and practices of American youth vary by race, age, gender, social class and geography (rural versus urban)?

  • In what ways does religion influence the extent and quality of family relationships, academic achievements and community involvements of American youth?

  • The project, which includes assistance from graduate and undergraduate students, will culminate in 2005 with two conferences: one for philanthropists, policymakers, social workers and journalists, and another for religious educators and youth ministries. Smith, who has been on the UNC faculty since 1994, is the author or co-author of seven books, including "Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want" (University of California, Berkeley, 2000), "Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race" (Oxford University Press), and "American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving" (University of Chicago). He has a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University (1990) and has studied theology at Harvard University Divinity School (1984). The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., founded in 1937, is the nation's largest single funder in the field of American religion.
    National Study of Youth and Religion


    The National Study of Youth and Religion, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., is under the direction of Dr. Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and Dr. Lisa Pearce, Assistant Professor of Sociology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.