Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers

Soul Searching is a very significant contribution to the sociology of religion. The book is of particular interest to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as it is the first national study that highlights LDS youth. Christian Smith and his colleagues at the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) have produced a benchmark study valuable to not only social scientists, but clergy, civic leaders, and family advocates as well. The project, which was funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a six-year longitudinal study of the religiosity of American youth. Wave I, a telephone survey of 3,290 randomly selected youth across the nation, was collected in the summer of 2002. In addition, in-depth interviews with 267 youth from the original sample were completed during the summer of 2003. Wave II, which will be conducted during the next three years, will reinterview the youth from the original sample by way of telephone as well as conduct in-depth interviews of 150 of them. Soul Searching is the published results of Wave I and relieves the dearth of sociological research on the religious beliefs and behaviors of American youth.

Although Smith’s idiosyncratic prose is sometimes difficult to follow, Soul Searching is packed, and we mean packed, with valuable information about the religious lives of American youth. From the introduction to the postscript, Smith does a remarkable job of “unpacking” a massive amount of data and theorizing about its meaning. He combines both quantitative and qualitative research methods to guide the reader through the breadth of generalizable facts as well as through personal expressions of youth about their religious lives.

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