Religion and Youth (Theology and Religion in Interdisciplinary Perspective Series in Association with the BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group)
Collins-Mayo, Sylvia and Dandelion, Pink
Religion and Youth is a timely edited collection that emerges from the 2008 BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group conference of the same name. From the evocative front cover, adorned by a teenager in shadow, clothed in a hoodie – the symbol of moral panics around youth – with arms outstretched utilising a skateboard in a Christ-like sacrificial pose, the book promises to be a contemporary, relevant and much-needed analysis of how youth and religion can be understood in today's global and mediated world.
Indeed, the book lives up to this promise, offering a coherent collection and sourcing some of the most relevant youth and religion researchers, representing the Western world particularly well. Leading established academics are included alongside early career researchers. Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion have done a remarkable job in organising this edited collection, with six strong sections ranging from theoretical issues, empirical investigation and methodology – an often-missed section in such a text. Indeed, a diverse range of issues are explored, including sexuality, gender, racism, identity, popular culture, faith transmission, international perspectives, spirituality versus religion and belief.
The chapters are short, sharp and to the point. Clear and concise introductions are offered on key theories such as Christian Smith's compelling evaluation of what he terms Moral Therapeutic Deism, as well as developing well-established concepts, such as Matthew Guest's utilisation of spiritual capital. The influential theories in religion in the last few years are also harnessed, including Hervieu-Léger's (2000) prominent theory of religion as a chain of memory (Elisabeth Arweck and Eleanor Nesbitt's chapter on 'Growing Up in a Mixed-Faith Family: Intact or Fractured Chain of Memory?'), the importance of reflexive identity construction for young people (Denise Cush's chapter on 'Teenage Witchcraft in Britain', Pia Karlsson Minganti's chapter on 'Islamic Revival and Young Women's Negotiations on Gender and Racism' and Nicholas Shepherd's 'Religious Socialisation and a Reflexive Habitus: Christian Youth Groups as Sites for Identity Work' to name but a few), as well as the impact of Heelas and Woodhead's (2005) Spiritual Revolution on young people (Michael Mason's 'The Spirituality of Young Australians').
A range of qualitative and quantitative studies are represented, covering quantitative data from Australia, America and the UK and qualitative data on very under-researched areas, particularly Jasjit Singh's fascinating account on 'British Sikh Youth: Identity, Hair and the Turban'.
A salient issue that arose across a number of chapters was the diverse range of opinion offered for what young people's lack of faith will mean in the future, from Christian Smith's pessimism surrounding Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, where he asserts that 'It is not so much that Christianity in the USA is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith' (p46), that being the vacuous and individualistic Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Indeed, this view is supported by Michael Mason, who offers warnings about what increasing secularisation would mean – from a decline in community activism and social concern to the damaging consequences on young people themselves when religious institutions disappear as a support crutch. In the opposite camp, Abby Day in the chapter, ''Believing in Belonging': An Exploration of Young People's Social Contexts and Constructions of Belief' argues that moral authority has not disappeared; instead, it has re-emerged in new spaces such as the social, and indeed the lack of investment in formal institutions has its benefits as young people are now more tolerant and are less likely to be racist and nationalistic in their worldviews.
The book does have its weaknesses but the authors themselves offer their own critique in the conclusion, emphasising the overemphasis on Christianity, too little on the developments in Islam, and the absence of other religions, especially the experiences of young people in non-Western societies. However, this book is thoroughly engaging and useful for not only subject specialists but for those studying beyond the remits of youth or religion. Indeed, it has much to offer youth culture specialists – where religion is often ignored, despite there being much research linking together these two spheres (see Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Tom Beaudoin's chapter – 'Religion, Pop Culture and 'Virtual Faith'', Gordon Lynch's ''Generation X' Religion: A Critical Evaluation' and Karenza Moore's Chapter on 'Exploring Symbolic, Emotional and Spiritual Expression amongst 'Crasher Clubbers'') as well as religion scholars not specifically concerned with youth – as Pink Dandelion alerts us in the Conclusion, the contexts and experiences of young people can be very different compared with adult believers, meaning that it is illuminating for any religion researcher to consider this body of work. It is also good for those wanting to get a sense of the field – the book offers a comprehensive overview to many of the dominant theories in religion that have emerged in recent years.
References:Heelas, P. and L. Woodhead (2005) The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is giving way to Spirituality, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Hervieu-Léger, D. (2000) Religion as a Chain of Memory, Cambridge: Polity Press.
University of Nottingham