Religion and Youth

Just out from Ashgate is Religion and Youth, edited by Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion (ISBN 9780754667681, paperback, £17.99, but also available in hardback and as an e-book). It comprises 27 substantive chapters, mostly fairly short, many originally presented as papers at the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Study Group conference in 2008.

Like much contemporary writing in the sociology of religion, there are strong theoretical, methodological and qualitative components in this volume, but some space is also found for quantitative empiricism, albeit more so in overseas contexts than in Britain. Nevertheless, three chapters will be of especial interest to BRIN users, two of them written by Professor David Voas, Simon Professor of Population Studies at the University of Manchester and BRIN’s co-director.

Chapter 24 (pp. 201-7) by Voas is an encouragement to employ quantitative methods in the study of youth religion, including the secondary analysis of existing datasets. Statistics are seen as a necessary adjunct and corrective to reliance upon case studies. ‘Surveys of representative samples of individuals (or congregations or anything else) are important because they allow us to generalize … In trying to discover what is happening and (broadly) why, there is no substitute for investigating the population as a whole via sample surveys.’ Some of the issues involved in measuring religion and change and in analysing survey data are then elucidated.

Chapter 3 (pp. 25-32), also by Voas, is devoted to ‘Explaining change over time in religious involvement’. This identifies age as the single most important attribute in determining the strength of religious commitment, easily trumping gender, education, employment, place of residence, denomination and so forth. The relative significance of age, period and cohort effects is briefly assessed, with cohort differences shown to have greatest impact. Various explanations (some values-related, some not) are considered for a weakening in the intergenerational transmission of religion. This leads Voas to conclude that ‘Society is changing religiously not because individuals are changing, but rather because old people are gradually replaced by younger people with different characteristics.’

Chapter 6 (pp. 47-54), by Mandy Robbins and Leslie Francis, provides an overview of ‘The Teenage Religion and Values Survey in England and Wales’. This was conducted during the 1990s, by self-completion questionnaire among 33,982 young people aged 13-15 attending 163 secondary schools. A sample of such size has the advantage of permitting meaningful disaggregations by a wide variety of sub-groups, including individual Christian denominations. The survey has already given rise to a substantial number of books, essays and articles reporting results in detail. However, it is useful in this chapter to have an overview of the findings for religious affiliation, belief and practice, together with bibliographical signposts to in-depth published analyses. The authors are now engaged on a new study of the next generation of young people, with the emphasis switched from conventional religiosity to alternative spiritualities.

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