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The Sociology of Adolescent Religious and Spiritual Development

Abstract

This article presents an overview of how sociologists study the religious and spiritual development of adolescents, focusing on approaches to data collection, conceptualization of measures, and theoretical framing. With regard to data collection, producing context-rich information from a number of sources, including surveys, interviews, and ethnographies, is foundational for research that aims to present a holistic picture of adolescent spirituality. Having strong concepts and measures is also inherent to recognizing the multifaceted nature of religion and spirituality. With a number of concepts and measures available, sophisticated measurement approaches – such as multidimensional or configurational models – can be employed that capture the range of diversity in how adolescents engage with religion and spirituality. Finally, context-rich data and nuanced measurement tools allow for precise theorizing about the specific factors that influence religious and spiritual development. In this regard, the theoretical contributions of a life course perspective have offered strong support that (1) adolescence is a sensitive time period for development, (2) adolescents’ lives are shaped by links to influential others and social institutions, (3) social locations create diversity in religious and spiritual outcomes, (4) adolescents exercise agency in their spiritual lives, and (5) the context of adolescent spiritual development is bounded by historical time and place.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.

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GH and LP each contributed to the ideas, writing, and editing of this manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to George M. Hayward.

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Hayward, G.M., Pearce, L.D. The Sociology of Adolescent Religious and Spiritual Development. Adolescent Res Rev 6, 265–276 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-021-00157-2

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Keywords

  • Religion
  • Spirituality
  • Measurement
  • Life course
  • Sociology