Skip to main content

Measuring Five Dimensions of Religiosity Across Adolescence

Abstract

This paper theorizes and tests a latent variable model of adolescent religiosity in which five dimensions of religiosity are interrelated: religious beliefs, religious exclusivity, external practice, private practice, and religious salience. Research often theorizes overlapping and independent influences of single items or dimensions of religiosity on outcomes such as adolescent sexual behavior, but rarely operationalizes the dimensions in a measurement model accounting for their associations with each other and across time. We use longitudinal structural equation modeling with latent variables to analyze data from two waves of the National Study of Youth and Religion. We test our hypothesized measurement model as compared to four alternate measurement models and find that our proposed model maintains superior fit. We then discuss the associations between the five dimensions of religiosity we measure and how these change over time. Our findings suggest how future research might better operationalize multiple dimensions of religiosity in studies of the influence of religion in adolescence.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We also acknowledge that religious institutions and communities encourage these activities, so there may be a sense of obligation or duty separate from or related to one’s own desire to enact these religious behaviors.

  2. 2.

    See “Appendix 1” for more information on attrition and its potential implications for our analyses.

  3. 3.

    We use the direct maximum likelihood method for dealing with missing data which allows us to include respondents who have missing values on one or more indicators of religiosity.

  4. 4.

    The question wordings and response options for each indicator are available in “Appendix 2.” Correlation matrices showing how the indicators are associated with each other at Wave 1 and Wave 2 are available in “Appendices 3 and 4,” respectively.

  5. 5.

    As mentioned earlier, we do allow the errors of each indicator’s Wave 1 and Wave 2 measurement to covary.

References

  1. Adamczyk, Amy, and Jacob Felson. 2006. Friends’ religiosity and first sex. Social Science Research 35 (4): 924–947.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Allport, Gordon W. 1950. The individual and his religion: A psychological interpretation. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Allport, Gordon W. 1958. The nature of prejudice. New York: Anchor Books.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Alwin, Duane F. 1988. Measurement and the interpretation of effects in structural equation models. In Common problems/proper solutions: Avoiding error in quantitative research, ed. J.S. Long, 15–45. Newbury Park, Calif: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bahr, Stephen J., Suzanne L. Maughan, Anastasios C. Marcos, and Bingdao Li. 1998. Family, religiosity, and the risk of adolescent drug use. Journal of Marriage and Family 60 (4): 979–992.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Benda, Brent B. 1995. The effect of religion on adolescent delinquency revisited. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 32 (4): 446–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Benda, Brent B., and Robert F. Corwyn. 2000. A theoretical model of religiosity and drug use with reciprocal relationships: A test using structural equation modeling. Journal of Social Service Research 26 (4): 43–67.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bentler, P.M. 1990. Comparative fit indexes in structural models. Psychological Bulletin 107 (2): 238–246.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bollen, Kenneth A. 1989. Structural equations with latent variables. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  10. Burdette, Amy M., and Terrence D. Hill. 2009. Religious involvement and transitions into adolescent sexual activities. Sociology of Religion 70 (1): 28–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Cornwall, Marie, Stan L. Albrecht, Perry H. Cunningham, and Brian L. Pitcher. 1986. The dimensions of religiosity: A conceptual model with an empirical test. Review of Religious Research 27 (3): 226–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Faulkner, Joseph E., and Gordon F. De Jong. 1966. Religiosity in 5-D: An empirical analysis. Social Forces 45 (2): 246–254.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. George, Linda K., Christopher G. Ellison, and David B. Larson. 2002. Explaining the relationships between religious involvement and health. Psychological Inquiry 13 (3): 190–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Glock, Charles Y. 1962. “On the study of religious commitment.” Religious Education 57 (4): 98–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Glock, Charles Y. 1972. Images of ‘god’, images of man, and the organization of social life. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 11 (1): 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Glock, Charles Y., and Rodney Stark. 1965. Religion and society in tension. Chicago: Rand McNally.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Harding, Stephen R., Kevin J. Flannelly, Andrew J. Weaver, and Karen G. Costa. 2005. The influence of religion on death anxiety and death acceptance. Mental Health, Religion & Culture 8 (4): 253–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Himmelfarb, Harold S. 1975. Measuring religious involvement. Social Forces 53 (4): 606–618.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. James, William. 1985 [1902]. The varieties of religious experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  20. Johnson-Hanks, Jennifer A., Christine A. Bachrach, S. Philip Morgan, and Hans-Peter Kohler. 2011. Understanding family change and variation: toward a theory of conjuctural action. New York: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  21. King, Morton. 1967. Measuring the religious variable: Nine proposed dimensions. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 6 (2): 173–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. King, Morton B., and Richard A. Hunt. 1969. Measuring the religious variable: Amended findings. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 (2): 321–323.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. King, Morton B., and Richard A. Hunt. 1972a. Measuring religious dimensions. Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University.

    Google Scholar 

  24. King, Morton B., and Richard A. Hunt. 1972b. Measuring the religious variable: Replication. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 11 (3): 240–251.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. King, Morton B., and Richard A. Hunt. 1975. Measuring the religious variable: National replication. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 14 (1): 13–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Leak, Gary K., and Laura L. Finken. 2011. The relationship between the constructs of religiousness and prejudice: A structural equation model analysis. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 21 (1): 43–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lenski, Gerhard E. 1961. The religious factor: A sociological study of religion’s impact on politics, economics, and family life. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Levin, Jeffrey S., Robert J. Taylor, and Linda M. Chatters. 1995. A multidimensional measure of religious involvement for African Americans. The Sociological Quarterly 36 (1): 157–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Muthen, L.K., and B.O. Muthen. 1998. Mplus: The comprehensive modeling program for applied researchers. Los Angeles, CA: Muthen & Muthen.

    Google Scholar 

  30. National Study of Youth and Religion. 2008. Methodological design and procedures for the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) longitudinal telephone survey (Waves 1, 2, and 3). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame. Retrieved December 29, 2016 (http://youthandreligion.nd.edu/assets/102496/master_just_methods_11_12_2008.pdf).

  31. Nooney, Jennifer G. 2005. Religion, stress, and mental health in adolescence: Findings from add health. Review of Religious Research 46 (4): 341–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Pargament, Kenneth I. 2002. The bitter and the sweet: An evaluation of the costs and benefits of religiousness. Psychological Inquiry 13 (3): 168–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Pearce, Lisa D., and Melinda L. Denton. 2009. Religiosity in the lives of youth. In Handbook of youth and young adulthood: New perspectives and agendas, Routledge international handbooks, ed. A. Furlong. London: Routledge Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Pearce, Lisa D., and Melinda L. Denton. 2011. A faith of their own: Stability and change in the religiosity of America’s adolescents. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  35. Raftery, Adrian E. 1995. “Bayesian model selection in social research.” Sociological Methodology 25: 111–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Roof, Wade C. 1976. Traditional religion in contemporary society: A theory of local-cosmopolitan plausibility. American Sociological Review 41 (2): 195–208.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Schoenberg, Ronald. 1989. Covariance structure models. Annual Review of Sociology 15 (1): 425–440.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Smith, Christian. 2003. Theorizing religious effects among American adolescents. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 42 (1): 17–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Smith, Christian, and Melinda L. Denton. 2005. Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  40. Steiger, James H. 2007. Understanding the limitations of global fit assessment in structural equation modeling. Personality and Individual Differences 42 (5): 893–898.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Stryker, Sheldon. 1968. Identity salience and role performance: The relevance of symbolic interaction theory for family research. Journal of Marriage and the Family 30 (4): 558–564.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Stryker, Sheldon, and Richard T. Serpe. 1994. Identity salience and psychological centrality: Equivalent, overlapping, or complementary concepts? Social Psychology Quarterly 57 (1): 16–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Trinitapoli, Jenny. 2007. ‘I know this isn’t PC but…’: Religious exclusivism among U.S. adolescents. The Sociological Quarterly 48 (3): 451–483.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Underwood, Lynn G. 2006. Ordinary spiritual experience: Qualitative research, interpretive guidelines, and population distribution for the daily spiritual experience scale. Archive for the Psychology of Religion 28 (1): 181–218.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Underwood, Lynn G. 2011. The daily spiritual experience scale: Overview and results. Religions 2 (1): 29–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Vasilenko, Sara A., Christina I. Duntzee, Yao Zheng, and Eva S. Lefkowitz. 2013. Testing two process models of religiosity and sexual behavior. Journal of Adolescence 36 (4): 667–673.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Verbit, Mervin F. 1970. The components and dimensions of religious behavior: Toward a reconceptualization of religiosity. In American mosaic: Social patterns of religion in the United States, ed. P.E. Hammond, and B. Johnson, 24–39. New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Wach, Joachim. 1944. Sociology of religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wimberley, Dale W. 1989. Religion and role-identity: A Structural symbolic interactionist conceptualization of religiosity. The Sociological Quarterly 30 (1): 125–142.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Wuthnow, Robert. 2015. Inventing American religion: Polls, surveys, and the tenuous quest for a nation’s faith. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This research received support from the Population Research Training grant (T32 HD007168) and the Population Research Infrastructure Program (P2C HD050924) awarded to the Carolina Population Center at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The National Study of Youth and Religion, http://youthandreligion.nd.edu/, whose data were used by permission here, was generously funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., under the direction of Christian Smith, of the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame and Lisa Pearce, of the Department of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lisa D. Pearce.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Descriptive Statistics of NSYR Wave 1 Indicator Variables by Attrition Status

Latent variables and indicators Range In both waves Lost to attrition
Mean SD Mean SD
Religious beliefs
 Belief in afterlife 0–1 .494 .50 .436** .50
 Belief in angels 0–1 .625 .48 .619 .49
 Belief in demons 0–1 .412 .49 .413 .49
 Belief in miracles 0–1 .600 .49 .615 .49
 Belief in god 0–1 .837 .37 .845 .36
 Belief in judgement day 0–1 .700 .46 .738* .44
Religious exclusivity
 Convert others 0–1 .554 .50 .464*** .50
 Practice one religion 0–1 .447 .50 .465 .50
 View of truth 0–1 .289 .45 .250* .43
 Pick and choose 0–1 .518 .50 .490 .50
External practice
 Attendance 1–7 4.185 2.19 3.814** 2.18
 Prayed with parents 0–1 .411 .49 .410 .49
 Religious group 0–1 .550 .50 .505* .50
 Share faith 0–1 .447 .50 .388** .49
Personal Practice
 Prayer frequency 1–7 4.322 2.01 4.349 2.04
 Read scripture 1–7 2.591 1.73 2.490** 1.73
 Fasted 0–1 .251 .43 .202** .40
 Day of rest 0–1 .301 .46 .277 .45
Religious salience
 Importance of faith 1–5 3.437 1.14 3.428 1.11
 How decide 0–1 .200 .40 .170 .38
 Commitment to god 0–1 .556 .50 .521 .50
  1. Source National Study of Youth and Religion, Waves 1 and 2
  2. Sample sizes vary slightly for the difference in means tests of each variable (depending on missingness at Wave 1 for each respective item), but 2604 individuals were in both waves and 766 were lost to attrition. No more than 12 individuals who were in both waves, or 7 individuals who were lost to attrition, are missing for any of these comparisons
  3. p < .1; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001

Appendix 2: Wording and Coding for All of the Indicator Variables

Religious Beliefs

Do you believe definitely, maybe, or not at all: That there is life after death?

  • 0: Maybe or no

  • 1: Yes

Do you believe definitely, maybe, or not at all: In the existence of angels?

  • 0: Maybe or no

  • 1: Yes

Do you believe definitely, maybe, or not at all: In the existence of demons or evil spirits?

  • 0: Maybe or no

  • 1: Yes

Do you believe definitely, maybe, or not at all: In the possibility of divine miracles from God?

  • 0: Maybe or no

  • 1: Yes

Do you believe in God, or not, or are you unsure?

  • 0: Unsure or no

  • 1: Yes

Do you believe that there will come a judgment day when God will reward some and punish others, or not?

  • 0: No

  • 1: Yes

Religious Exclusivity

Is it okay for religious people to try to convert other people to their faith, or should everyone leave everyone else alone?

  • 0: Leave others alone

  • 1: Okay to convert

Do you think it is okay for someone of your religion to also practice other religions, or should people only practice one religion?

  • 0: Okay to practice other religions

  • 1 Should only practice one faith

Which of the following statements comes closest to your own views about religion?

  • 0: Truth is not in only one religion

  • 1: Only one religion is true

Some people think that it is okay to pick and choose their religious beliefs without having to accept the teachings of their religious faith as a whole. Do you agree or disagree?

  • 0: Okay to pick and choose

  • 1: Not okay to pick and choose

External Practice

About how often do you usually attend religious services [at first named church]?

  • 1: Never

  • 2: Few times a year

  • 3: Many times a year

  • 4: Once a month

  • 5: 2 to 3 times a month

  • 6: Once a week

  • 7: More than once a week

In the last year, have you prayed out loud or silently together with one or both of your parents, other than at mealtimes or at religious services?

  • 0: Did not pray with parents

  • 1: Prayed with parents

Religious group participation. Includes any participation, such as a music group, religious group at school, prayer group, or youth group. *Note: In Wave 2, there is no option for a prayer group.

  • 0: Not part of a religious group

  • 1: Part of a religious group

In the last year, have you shared your own religious faith with someone else not of your faith?

  • 0: Did not share faith with someone

  • 1: Shared faith with someone

Personal Practice

How often, if ever, do you pray by yourself alone?

  • 1: Never

  • 2: Less than once a month

  • 3: One to two times a month

  • 4: About once a week

  • 5: A few times a week

  • 6: About once a day

  • 7: Many times a day

In the last year, have you fasted or denied yourself something as a spiritual discipline?

  • 0: No

  • 1: Yes

In the last year, have you tried to practice a weekly day of rest to keep the Sabbath?

  • 0: Does not practice day of rest

  • 1: Practices day of rest

How often, if ever, do you read from [Scriptures] to yourself alone?

  • 1: Never

  • 2: Less than once a month

  • 3: One to two times a month

  • 4: About once a week

  • 5: A few times a week

  • 6: About once a day

  • 7: Many times a day

Religious Salience

If you were unsure of what was right or wrong in a particular situation, how would you decide what to do?

  • 0: Something other than God or Scripture

  • 1: Do what God or Scripture says is right

Have you ever made a personal commitment to live your life for God? *Note: Wave 2 asks if this happened in the past 2 years.

  • 0: Did not make commitment to live for God

  • 1: Made commitment to live for God

How important or unimportant is religious faith in shaping how you live your daily life?

  • 1: Not important at all

  • 2: Not very important

  • 3: Somewhat important

  • 4: Very important

  • 5: Extremely important

Appendix 3: Pairwise Correlations Between All Religious Indicator Variables at Wave 1

   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Religious beliefs (1) Belief in afterlife 1           
(2) Belief in angels .457 1          
(3) Belief in demons .394 .487 1         
(4) Belief in miracles .380 .512 .350 1        
(5) Belief in god .289 .433 .232 .447 1       
(6) Belief in judgement day .258 .382 .313 .399 .465 1      
Religious exclusivity (7) Covert others .178 .193 .214 .198 .170 .218 1     
(8) Practice one religion .139 .146 .168 .192 .188 .236 .144 1    
(9) View of truth .221 .249 .292 .249 .202 .278 .281 .408 1   
(10) Pick and choose .132 .154 .147 .150 .142 .191 .117 .233 .231 1  
External practice (11) Attendance .243 .311 .263 .332 .339 .345 .268 .277 .359 .214 1
(12) Prayed with parents .185 .230 .181 .271 .245 .254 .173 .141 .202 .118 .312
(13) Religious group .219 .270 .231 .311 .292 .282 .225 .184 .271 .143 .550
(14) Share faith .202 .225 .233 .236 .211 .197 .212 .099 .218 .089 .383
Personal practice (15) Prayer frequency .301 .428 .287 .451 .480 .414 .213 .201 .281 .171 .428
(16) Read scripture .240 .298 .254 .335 .289 .320 .220 .233 .287 .178 .393
(17) Fasted .168 .116 .159 .152 .108 .126 .127 .077 .126 .057 .234
(18) Day of rest .187 .222 .182 .266 .222 .221 .166 .144 .213 .124 .303
Religious salience (19) Importance of faith .335 .428 .322 .461 .485 .447 .247 .282 .329 .218 .496
(20) How decide .247 .268 .273 .270 .188 .229 .202 .200 .320 .148 .276
(21) Commitment to god .247 .354 .253 .391 .372 .381 .242 .234 .299 .171 .432
   12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Religious beliefs (1) Belief in afterlife           
(2) Belief in angels           
(3) Belief in demons           
(4) Belief in miracles           
(5) Belief in god           
(6) Belief in judgement day           
Religious exclusivity (7) Covert others           
(8) Practice one religion           
(9) View of truth           
(10) Pick and choose           
External practice (11) Attendance           
(12) Prayed with parents 1          
(13) Religious group .284 1         
(14) Share faith .253 .379 1        
Personal practice (15) Prayer frequency .388 .381 .305 1       
(16) Read scripture .350 .377 .262 .518 1      
(17) Fasted .143 .220 .252 .192 .193 1     
(18) Day of rest .249 .310 .223 .303 .320 .224 1    
Religious salience (19) Importance of faith .355 .426 .326 .571 .474 .237 .355 1   
(20) How decide .200 .254 .213 .321 .355 .161 .212 .381 1  
(21) Commitment to god .298 .383 .276 .422 .383 .147 .298 .513 .301 1
  1. All correlations are significant at the p < .001 level. Sample sizes for each pair of variables range from 3340 to 3369

Appendix 4: Pairwise Correlations Between All Religious Indicator Variables at Wave 2

   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Religious beliefs (1) Belief in afterlife 1           
(2) Belief in angels .524 1          
(3) Belief in demons .484 .616 1         
(4) Belief in miracles .473 .577 .455 1        
(5) Belief in god .389 .469 .318 .556 1       
(6) Belief in judgement day .392 .471 .410 .522 .516 1      
Religious exclusivity (7) Covert others .289 .331 .312 .329 .277 .332 1     
(8) Practice one religion .236 .285 .264 .283 .270 .319 .284 1    
(9) View of truth .333 .360 .369 .344 .294 .352 .349 .497 1   
(10) Pick and choose .153 .184 .165 .206 .165 .225 .194 .276 .286 1  
External practice (11) Attendance .352 .366 .331 .409 .390 .418 .366 .367 .433 .272 1
(12) Prayed with parents .263 .284 .279 .332 .309 .311 .249 .224 .302 .179 .381
(13) Religious group .270 .319 .279 .370 .345 .393 .327 .288 .357 .235 .598
(14) Share faith .326 .322 .280 .340 .299 .295 .275 .170 .247 .146 .439
Personal practice (15) Prayer frequency .426 .478 .393 .535 .542 .483 .311 .313 .388 .233 .526
(16) Read scripture .318 .344 .341 .360 .315 .381 .320 .328 .429 .262 .541
(17) Fasted .187 .139 .186 .175 .144 .159 .158 .109 .154 .106 .319
(18) Day of rest .234 .240 .255 .248 .228 .265 .264 .241 .335 .173 .373
Religious salience (19) Importance of faith .422 .479 .408 .547 .569 .528 .372 .371 .462 .276 .596
(20) How decide .293 .285 .305 .287 .227 .279 .242 .249 .354 .192 .347
(21) Commitment to god .316 .363 .282 .420 .368 .400 .291 .253 .331 .196 .454
   12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Religious beliefs (1) Belief in afterlife           
(2) Belief in angels           
(3) Belief in demons           
(4) Belief in miracles           
(5) Belief in god           
(6) Belief in judgement day           
Religious exclusivity (7) Covert others           
(8) Practice one religion           
(9) View of truth           
(10) Pick and choose           
External practice (11) Attendance           
(12) Prayed with parents 1          
(13) Religious group .368 1         
(14) Share faith .303 .381 1        
Personal practice (15) Prayer frequency .413 .461 .412 1       
(16) Read scripture .404 .481 .379 .566 1      
(17) Fasted .211 .264 .289 .250 .254 1     
(18) Day of rest .301 .357 .232 .338 .360 .253 1    
Religious salience (19) Importance of faith .413 .515 .421 .673 .552 .255 .359 1   
(20) How decide .258 .289 .261 .374 .417 .186 .278 .413 1  
(21) Commitment to god .305 .416 .331 .506 .452 .195 .320 .550 .317 1
  1. All correlations are significant at the p < .001 level. Sample sizes for each pair of variables range from 2570 to 2595

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pearce, L.D., Hayward, G.M. & Pearlman, J.A. Measuring Five Dimensions of Religiosity Across Adolescence. Rev Relig Res 59, 367–393 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-017-0291-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Religiosity
  • Adolescence
  • Measurement
  • Latent variables