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Young People and Religion in a Global Perspective

Here at the RSP we are ever conscious of the perils of creating or reinforcing hard-and-fast distinctions between groups. However, it is arguably fair to see that, in contrast to previous generations, young people born after 1990 have always lived in social and cultural environments constituted by conspicuous consumerism, digital media and the proliferation of global social movements. Despite a number of detailed, contextual studies that have emerged in recent years concerning the complex interactions between young people and the religion-related field – indeed, we would strongly recommend listeners check out our podcast with Naomi Thompson on “Religion, Youth and Intergenerationality” – large-scale, international, and usefully comparable research has been lacking. Today, Chris is joined by Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjö to discuss the fascinating “Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective” project, which has been addressing this dearth on a massive scale. In this interview, we discuss the logistics and some of the emerging findings of a project which has involved utilizing a number of innovative research methods – including the Faith Q-Sort – conducted simultaneously in different locations across the globe, including China, Finland, India, Israel, Japan, Ghana, Peru, Poland, Russia, Sweden, USA and Turkey.

This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions’ 2018 conference on Multiple Religious Identities in Bern, Switzerland.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Young People and Religion in a Global Perspective

Podcast with Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjö. (14 January 2019)

Interviewed by Christopher Cotter

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Moberg_and_Sjo_-_Young_People_and_Religion_in_a_Global_Perspective_1.1

Christopher Cotter (CC): I am at the European Association for the Study of Religion’s Conference in Bern, and I’m joined today by Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjö of the Åbo Akademi University. And they are both senior researchers on a massive project called The Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective project: the YARG project. And I thought this would be an excellent time for us to sit down and talk about this multi-national, multi-researcher, poly-methodical project – which will sit nicely with our interview, a couple of years ago, with Naomi Thompson on Religion, Youth and Inter-generationality. So, first of all: Marcus and Sofia, welcome to the Religious Studies Project!

Sofia Sjö (SS): Thank you.

Marcus Moberg (MM): Thank you.

CC: Thanks for making the time, after your two intense panels this morning, and on this third day of the conference – after what was an excellent night out last night, I thought!

SS: We, of course, went to bed really early.

CC: Exactly. Of course. So just before we get into the broader topic, I’ve said you’re working on this massive project but you both are individuals in your own right, who do other things. So maybe you could take a moment just to say who you, are and your broader research interests, and that sort of thing.

MM: Well, I do most of my personal off-project research, really, in the area of the Sociology of Religion, and Religion in Media, and also Religion, Language and Discourse. I try to combine these and have different perspectives and approaches cross-fertilise one another, if you will. And some of these things I also bring to this project that we are now involved in. And this has been very much a team effort. And so none of us are that firmly, personally connected to this project, in terms of research profile. So we each bring our own research profiles to the project. And that makes it quite unique. And it makes the team dynamic – a bit different from what these types of projects usually are, or how they end up being.

CC: Wonderful. And Sofia?

SS: Well, I have a background in Religion and Media and Public Culture research, but I’ve also worked a lot with Religion and Gender. And, as Marcus was mentioning, that’s bringing a very different aspect into it. Because the last couple of years it’s the young adults that have been very much in focus for our research.

CC: So, before we get into the broad topic, then, of young adults and religion, let’s just . . . tell me about the project. How long has it been going on? I know it involves multiple researchers, multiple sites, and multiple methods. So, can you give the Listeners a flavour?

SS: The short version . . . this is the fourth year – of course it was planning before that as well, and applying for funding and all of that. There are thirteen contexts that we are studying, and I think we have forty to forty-five researchers and research assistants, worldwide.

CC: Wow!

SS: And we’re using the multi-method approach. And Marcus, go ahead and explain that!

MM: Well . . . we do call it the mixed method approach.

SS: That’s right.

MM: We are that ambitious, because not only do we use multiple methods, quantitative and qualitative – and in-between quantitative and qualitative types of instruments like the Faith Q -Sort that we have developed – but we also correlate the results of these methods and these instruments, directly to one another. And so the combination allows us to get a type of data that would not otherwise be possible. And, yes, so it’s a four-year project and we’re three-and-a-half years in, now. And it took about one, one-and-a-half years in the making before this. We started planning this already a year or so prior to applying for the funding that we eventually managed to land for this one. So it’s been a long ride.

SS: It’s been a part of our lives for quite some time.

CC: Yes. And you’re just getting to the point of, maybe, exorcising it – getting the publications out?

SS: That’s what’s on the table, yes. Writing, writing, writing!

CC: Excellent. So I note – I’m quite pleased – that there’s no UK case study in there. Again, Listeners, check out our previous podcasts for that. (5:00) So, there’re multiple nations: could you give us a hint of some of them, and what the selection process was? You know, you presumably tried to get quite a broad spread, and various demographics and things?

SS: We really started with trying to get beyond research that already exists. There is so much focussed on the Western contexts. So we started to try to use the networks of researchers in other parts of the world. If I’m going to list the countries, you’re going to have to help me!

MM: Well, it was also to some extent, I mean in the most general of terms, it was the selection of countries was also based on the Welsel-Ingelhart’s World Values Map. Because the project has this basis in value studies and worldview studies. So they have constructed, basically, a map of the whole world based on regions that are characterised by different types of main value profile. So, for example, people in some regions in the world tend to be more self-focussed, perhaps, and more interested in developing themselves, whereas others are more traditionally-oriented and more security-focussed. And so we got one country from each of these regions on this theoretical map.

SS: Which we were very happy about getting because, like I said, we started trying with the challenging cases. But we do have a lot of European countries, still. We have Finland and Sweden, Poland, Russia, Turkey. No good! I have to have a world map in my hand, when I do this.

CC: Brilliant, yes!

SS: Israel, Ghana, Peru, the US, Canada, China, Japan, India. Is that it?

CC: Well, it’s a pretty good stab at it. If you remember any more later in the interview you can just start shouting out the names of countries. But that’s an incredibly broad potential data set, I guess. So I imagine there were lots of issues in terms of managing to do a cross- national study, in that sense of translatability of terms. Or are you rooting studies very much in their own context? How generalising are you trying to be across these contexts?

MM: Well to connect to what Sofia was saying earlier, we also had to set up the project on the basis of the contacts that we either already had, or that we were able to get in each of these countries. And, of course, the main idea is not to be representative or to make any generalisations whatsoever but to see what kinds of data can be used to the different purposes we can generate, with this particular methodological approach that we have. So it’s about implementing a certain approach and to be able to compare different contexts, and also to develop the Faith Q –Sort, which is rather a new method in this context. And, yes.

SS: Definitely a big part of it has been to translate the methods and the different material that we use to get it to work in different contexts. And, I guess, some of the most challenging part was this Faith Q –Sort – which is this new method developed by Professor David Wulff and further developed by the project. Because there are 101 statements that relate to worldviews, and getting those translated into different languages, and the challenging . . . . Like Mika Lassander mentioned earlier in our session, with a concept like transcendence – that might make perfect sense in a Western contexts, but even finding a word for it in some of the languages is really difficult. So at the start of the project we did do a lot of work using this double translation process, which had a fancy name – what is it?

MM: Double . . .  Forward and Back translation. Which means that you translate and then you come up with another version and then you do it all over again, and see if it changes. But the idea was, basically, to replicate the study in more or less . . . or in as similar a way as possible, in every location. So we brought the research assistants over to Finland for ten days, or something like that. We went through all the methods and had them practise and then sent them back out in the world.

CC: Fantastic! (10:00) So, you presumably entered the research field here with a number of questions – maybe a number of assumptions? Maybe you can lay out some of the groundwork on what existing research would maybe tell us about young adults and religion, and then we can maybe get into some of the exciting findings coming from your comparative research.

SS: Well there’s a lot of previous research but, as I mentioned, it’s very Western. It’s the US, or the Nordic Countries, or the UK, for example. But there is of course a large interest now – not just in the field of religion but in other fields as well – to try to understand the current young generation. They’re coming into the workforce: how can we handle them? How can we deal with them? Those sorts of issues coming up. Generalising very much, the trends that have been highlighted in the Western research is, of course, that we see a decline in both religious self-identification and perhaps even more so in religious practice, in this group. And this has been related both to young adults as being a “phase” in life (in which they are) less connected to religious organisations; but also to (young adults as) a “cohort” : that this is a new generation because of their experiences of life, what is happening in society, connecting to media, values and so on. And they will be, perhaps, less interested in traditional forms of religion and traditional ways of being religious.

CC: And do you find that that sort of model of this phase, does it hold in different contexts or is that model perhaps quite Western?

SS: Yes and no. The idea with the Faith Q -Sort is to get at the over-simplifications of talking about religious and spiritual or non-religious. I really see that there are variations. What this method captures is perspectives on religiosity that shows that, in a context, there might not just be one way of being religious, there are very different ways of doing it, or relating to it, or having a worldview. So we get the complexity. We do definitely see the decline to some extent as well. We have, in the survey, questions where you are supposed to identify how religious the family you grew up in was, and then identify how religious you consider yourself to be. And here we can see a decline. But then, going into the interviews and also the Faith Q –Sort, we see that there’s a complexity in it. There’s this idea that runs through the material – quite, I would say, independent of context – of a freedom of choice. But then again, what does this mean in different contexts and where does this come from? Is it actually the young generation, or does it come with their parents? Where does this come in? So we get some trends that we were expecting, but there’s also complexity. And we see that we need to understand the context of the cases. Because it does look different in different contexts.

MM: And I might add that more on meta-theoretical level the project is also based on the assumption that values play a much larger role in affecting how people think about their religious engagements, and engaging religiously, than was previously presumed. So perhaps the project . . . this is to simplify what you might say: that instead of regarding religion, or religious beliefs and ideas as something that would affect and direct the values of a person, the project is more based, or rather based, on a perspective that has it the other way around. So that it is actually values, people’s value profiles that affect their religious choices. And so there is that additional element to it as well.

CC: Excellent. Before I prod you for some juicy specifics, I should ask, who are these young adults that you’re speaking to? I gather there’s quite an age variance? Maybe just . . . . Who are they? Who’s been participating?

SS: We’re focussing on university students which, again, immediately this is a limitation – everyone else is doing it as well. But we’re doing it in so many contexts. We actually gave a paper on this just in the previous session. And what we see, we’ve aimed at 18-30 so quite a broad range. But of course as we’re focussing on university students and university life, it’s quite different in different contexts. The ages vary a bit. The variation means that the mean age is between twenty to twenty-four – so this is the main focus of the groups.

CC: So I guess that’s worth emphasising. (15:00)It is young adults, rather than young people, or youths, I guess, in that sense. So I don’t know which aspects you might want to pick out. I know Marcus, here, was speaking earlier about the use of the internet and social media and things like that. That might be something. But I’m happy just for you to throw some interesting contextual findings at me.

MM: We had three basic, broad research questions that we’ve been working with, since the very beginning, one of which was socialisation, so: What can our data tell us about . . . ? What new things do we learn about processes of religious socialisation across different national contexts and cultural, social and religious contexts? And for people in this age? And we also add a focus on media uses from the very beginning. There is a widely held assumption in many strands and fields of research that the media environment and the internet in particular, as digital technologies continue to develop, that this will have a particular impact on younger people. Because these are the people who never knew anything else. They have grown up in this environment. So there is this assumption that it will affect their religious lives and their worldviews as well. And so this allows us to see how that actually plays out among our limited sample . . . but in a wide range of different contexts. And then thirdly, we have this idea of . . . presumption really, about rising levels of individualism across social and cultural borders. And that we had assumed it was really a research question in the true sense, that we wanted to find out whether people would be more, or our sample would be more inclined towards making their own decisions when it comes to religion and religious commitments. And to get into finer detail, perhaps, to see how they actually would describe that kind of a way of looking at things, if they indeed did, and so on. So we had those three things that we had around from the very start.

SS: And then the findings . . .

CC: (Laughs) Nice and easy!

SS: Ease into the thing, yes! I could talk about the socialisation. We’re doing a special issue on that for Religion, which will be coming out early next year, hopefully. It’s still in the making. And we’re looking at socialisation very broadly from very different perspectives. We’re looking at minorities, we’re also looking at media how it comes into it, and relating to this individualisation. I think, also, because of the question of religious decline, we see the need to have a very broad understanding, I would say, of religious socialisation and an awareness of the many different types of agents that are a part of these young people’s lives. So looking at the university contexts – which has of course also been studied before – but the importance of peers for this age group, and media – how it comes in. And I think what most of the articles that will be coming highlight is when we talk to them about their own upbringing, what they consider have affected it. It is really a complexity and relating to previous generations, relating to . . . in some contexts we can definitely see grandparents can come in as very essential, and other aspects. And this is of course the richness of a comparative approach. There’ve been some similarities, but then also uniqueness in some cases.

MM: Then there’s also the data that comes out of the Faith Q -Sort in these different countries. And that data generates what is called prototypes of people. So certain main ways, you might say, of sorting the cards that we have in what we called the Q set. So it generates prototypes of religiousness or non-religiousness or anything in between. And what is interesting for me, for example, is to see some of the people, or the people in these different countries who would fit into a . . . let’s say, a non-religious – in whatever way we define that in the non-religious prototype – how similar they are to each other, or how dissimilar, they might be to each other. So it also allows us to focus on the fine detail of what it might mean to be non-religious – or religious, for that matter, so . . . (20:00)

CC: Yes. So it allows that sort of questioning of: is religion the same in different contexts? Or, should we be speaking of different forms of Christianity, different forms of Islam? Or, does it make sense to have this religion-non religion spectrum?

MM: Well, yes. At the very least the data we have allows us to ask those questions – it forces us to ask those questions. But then again, each context should be . . . or each national context should be understood primarily on its own terms. But on a higher level of abstraction and generalisation we can still make comparisons between different countries and different prototypes that the data generates.

CC: And are you finding . . . . Obviously you’re only studying in this case this young adult group, but are you finding some insights that you think are more universal than just in the group? Or . . .

SS: That’s a big question. I would say, not to simplify . . . I think the media aspect, that it . . . . If you want to find similarities, they all seem to be using media – surprise, surprise! But how they use it, how they experience it, even there we see variations. So I think there is definitely a need to not generalise too much, to realise that there is a uniqueness in context. But, of course, within the context we see the variations. That also comes out of our method. Because the idea with the Faith Q -Sort is really to capture the variations, rather than to see what can be generalised about those, to see more of the variations. But I think that is at least what my experience of working with the interviews . . . . Of course, we have certain stories that come again and again. This is related to being a young adult and related to being a university student. But, depending on context, some of the contexts that we are studying see political struggles going on; some of them – like Ghana, of course – compared to the other contexts is very, very religious. Religion is a part of daily life. That’s what one of our research colleagues pointed out. There’s not really a secular space – it’s all religious space. And this will shape your experience. And, as Marcus mentioned with the non-religiosity, we find non-religious people in all these contexts. But it’s different if it’s in Turkey – a very religious context, than in Sweden, where you almost have to explain if you’re religious. It’s sort of the other way round.

CC: Yes. That’s excellent, yes. And that’s . . . . You’ll both know that’s one of the many reasons that I’ll be particularly interested in the results of this study. So it seems that you’ve hopefully managed the impossible, in the sense that you’ve got a critically-engaged worry about generalising and about reifying categories and everything. And you’ve managed to take that sort-of critically plugged-in approach and then massive scale research. So . . .

MM: Yes, well it’s like Mika Lassander – who is one of the main promoters of this project – said in his presentation, earlier today: that we have a good enough result. It allows us to do a lot of things. It also has its limitations. But considering the operation that we had going in these different countries – with all that involves in terms of . . . we’re already into translation, but other types of logistics – we ended up with a pretty good result that we are happy with, I would say.

SS: Happy enough. Yes. It’s been good both on national teams – that’s been fantastic – and the head of our project, Professor Peter Nynäs, has also done a great job with keeping it all going. So I think we’re satisfied . . .

CC: Good. Because a lot of scholars might hesitate . . . just not go near quantitative, comparative . . . “No, let’s not do it. It’s too risky!” But it’s great that you’ve gone in with critical engagement, too. So we’re just about coming up to time. But obviously this will just skim the surface and make the Listeners think: (25:00) “Wow there’s a lot of data there! I’m really looking forward to all the in-depth publications and everything!” Can you tell us – you’ve mentioned a special issue of Religion – what are the other outputs, I suppose, from the project?

SS: We both have a main volume that will be coming out with Springer in 2019, which is the main findings. A lot of focus on the Faith Q -Sort, but also trying to cover the different material that we have. Then me, and Marcus, and Mia Lövheim, we’re editing a volume of Religion on young adults and social media. Do you want to say something more about that?

MM: Yes that’s just to pick up on the media use and social media use among our respondents. Because that is something that we can gather a lot of data on. And our examples . . . let’s say that there are not many similar samples around, so it allows us to compare and relate our results to previous research. And that’s the way that we aim to branch out, to see what . . . to try to make a contribution – sometimes a larger one, a more substantial one, sometimes a smaller one – but to other fields, also. We try to use the project data to get into conversation with ongoing research in other fields that relate to the fields that we have been focussing on.

CC: And will there be – I know there’s . . . currently things are sort-of hidden a little bit, online. So will there be a sort-of – when everything’s complete – a web presence for the project?

MM: Yes, I think that has been the plan, but our university recently decided to reorganise its webpages and so all of the info is hidden behind an intranet password wall. So hopefully. . .

SS: This Fall, they promise we will get this fixed!

CC: Well it is June when we’re recording, but it could be that the website will actually be there by the time this is broadcast. So hopefully we won’t have long to wait, Listeners! Well, we’ve talked very much around that project, there. I think we should call it a day, so we can all go and get some coffee. Thanks so much Marcus and Sofia.

Both: Thank you.


Citation Info: Moberg, Marcus, Sofia Sjö and Christopher Cotter. 2019. “Young People and Religion in a Global Perspective”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 14 January 2019. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 13 July 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/young-people-and-religion-in-a-global-perspective/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

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Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

When we think about ‘religion’ and ‘youth’ a number of images might come to mind. Young people rebelling against their parents. Young people as mere containers for the religiosity of their parents. Creative reinterpretation of stagnant traditions. Systemic abuse and lack of agency. And so on. In the context of the United Kingdom, where we are recording today, with its historically hegemonic Christianity, one scholar has written that

young_old

“It is no secret that Christian churches are struggling to attract and retain young people. The current generation of young people has largely abandoned the church or never known it as a significant part of their lives. The 2005 church census revealed that many churches have no young people at all in their congregations: around half have no 11- to 14-year-olds attending and well over half have no 15- to 19-year-olds (Brierley 2006).” (Stanton 2012, 385)

But of course, this misses much of what is going on. That scholar is Naomi Thompson (formerly Stanton) who joins us today on the Religious Studies Project to give us a more nuanced overview of the broad topic “Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality.”

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, the current state of play, common assumptions, how we might go about researching it, before focusing on some of Dr Thompson’s own research. Towards the end of the interview, we focus on the ‘transmission model’ and the relationship between generations, before thinking to the future of this growing area of research.

This episode is the fourth in a series co-produced with Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan, and ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Jaffa Cakes, Lion bars, and more.


References:

Stanton, Naomi. 2012. Christian youth work: teaching faith, filling churches or response to social need? Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 33, No. 3, December 2012, 385–403

Young People of ‘No Religion’ and Religious Education Beyond Religious Belief

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 30 October 2013, in response to Abby Day’s interview on Believing, Belonging, and Academic Careers  (28 October 2013).

Divided into two distinct halves, Christopher Cotter’s interview with Abby Day begins with a discussion of her research on the nature of belief and what ordinary people in a modern western society actually believe; and concludes with advice on publishing journal articles and acquiring funding for research projects. In my response, I’ll focus on some of the points raised concerning belief, suggest how Day’s work could benefit youth and education studies and, in particular, explain how I’ve found her approach to the study of belief helpful in my own exploration of the lives of young people who identify as having ‘no religion’.

For Day, the concept of belief has often been taken for granted in the study of religion. Rarely do we ask, what do we mean when we talk about belief? As David Morgan has observed, the academic study of religion in the West has been ‘shaped by the idea that a religion is what someone believes’, and that this amounts to a ‘discrete, subjective experience of assent to propositions concerning the origin of the cosmos, the nature of humanity, the existence of deities, or the purpose of life’ (2010, 1). Although there have been a number of scholars and researchers, particularly within anthropology, who have critiqued this view of religion (Needham 1972; Ruel 2002; Lindquist and Coleman 2008), such an understanding persists and remains prevalent within religious education (RE) in secondary schools. Day’s research not only raises questions about what we mean by belief; she also demonstrates how religious identity is often more complicated than assent to propositions. And both of these insights could be of great value to the study of religion and belief at school, as well as to researchers’, teachers’ and policy-makers’ understandings of the nature of belief within the lives of both religious and ‘non-religious’ young people.

The initial impetus for Day’s interest in what people actually believe came from the 2001 Census in England and Wales, in which 72% of the respondents identified as ‘Christian’. In what appeared to be an increasingly secular society, it seemed puzzling that such a large proportion of the population would self-identify in this way. Day decided to explore more deeply what some of these census respondents meant in their adoption of a Christian identity, by examining what they actually believed. Introducing herself to potential participants as a social sciences researcher rather than a researcher of religion, Day also began her interviews by asking people ‘what do you believe in?’ rather than ‘what is your religion?’ It was only at the very end of her interviews that she raised the topic of religious identity in connection with the 2001 Census. This approach enabled her to focus on belief without asking religious questions. And, by focusing instead on values and meaning, as well as what was important to her participants, Day was able to learn much more about how belief functioned in their lives.

Day’s study of belief beyond ‘religious belief’ encouraged me to adopt a similar methodological approach in my own research with 14- and 15-year-olds who report ‘no religion’, exploring how ticking the ‘no religion’ box related to their wider lives without asking questions about religion. I wanted to learn about the people, places, objects, activities and times – the material cultures – that were significant to these young people, as well as to understand their beliefs and values, their methods of constructing narratives of meaning and purpose, and the influence of family, friends and society on their lives and identities. My primary research method was photo-elicitation interviews, in which the photos taken act as ‘prompts and supports to participant narrative’ (Liebenberg, 2009, 448). But I also wanted to avoid any tendencies to take photos that specifically focused on participants’ ‘non-religiosity’ or illustrated their attitudes towards religion. So I embedded the religion question from the 2011 Census alongside questions that collected other seemingly unconnected data and left explicit discussion of participants’ reasons for self-identifying as having ‘no religion’, as well as of their understandings of ‘religion’, to the end of the interview.

Just as Day discovered, however, where it remains important, interview questions about ‘belief’ or ‘life’ more generally still enable participants to talk freely about religion. But, while Day found that religion and religious beliefs played a relatively unimportant part in the lives of some participants who nonetheless chose ‘Christian’ as their religious identity in the 2001 Census, my research with young people who ticked ‘no religion’ indicates that some who self-identify in this way nonetheless find religion and religious beliefs to be significant in their lives.

Day’s research offers valuable insights into some of the reasons people in a modern western society choose to adopt a ‘Christian’ identity when surveyed. For some, it acts as a ‘social marker’ that helps them to feel secure within their communities, creating a boundary between themselves and others; being Christian is something that they are born into, akin to an ethnic identity. This position is nicely illustrated in her interview with ‘Jordan’, a 14-year-old who she describes as an ‘unbelieving Christian’. Although he states ‘I don’t believe in any religions’, Jordan identifies as ‘Christian’ because ‘on my birth certificate it says I’m Christian’. Day explains that, for him, ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean much, he doesn’t do anything that is typically ‘Christian’, and his understanding of a Christian is ‘someone who believes in God and Jesus and Bible and stuff’. While he does not believe in these things, his grandparents do because they are ‘Irish and really strong Christians’. This understanding of what being a Christian entailed is perhaps not surprising, considering Jordan was ‘reflecting how the term “belief” has become associated with “Christian” over the centuries’ (Day, 2009, 266-7). Day’s research provides a welcome corrective to an understanding of belief as primarily propositional and Christian, illustrating the various ways belief functions in all our everyday lives, cutting across conventional boundaries between the religious and the secular.

Although Jordan differs from my participants in that he identifies as ‘Christian’ rather than as having ‘no religion’, understandings of the Christian religion and of what a Christian identity entails are similar. In many of my interviews, it became clear that participants reduce ‘religion’ to metaphysical, existential and/or ethical belief systems that are either true or false. Since participants do not hold these beliefs, they tick the ‘no religion’ box. For some, in order to identify as Christian it is not only necessary to believe everything within that religion, but to have a strong faith in those beliefs. As one 15-year-old girl told me, ‘I don’t think my belief in God is strong enough for me to tick “Christian”. … If there was a sort of “in between” box, I probably would have ticked that. But to categorise what I believe, I’d say I don’t really have a religion’.

My research interests in the lives of young people who report ‘no religion’ dovetails with the emerging field of Nonreligion and Secularity Studies. Lois Lee has provided a working definition of ‘non-religion’ as ‘anything that is primarily defined in a relationship of difference to religion’ (2012, 131), indicating the necessity of reflexivity not only about specific relationships of ‘difference’ but about understandings of ‘religion’ itself. Day is right to emphasise the importance of clarity in relation to the term ‘belief’, but perhaps she could have spoken more during the interview about what she means by ‘religion’. This would then assist further discussion of her proposal that ‘belief’ crosses conventional boundaries between ‘religion’ and ‘non-religion’, making religion, as she says, ‘a subset of belief’.

For the young people of ‘no religion’ that I interviewed, ‘religion’ is understood as consisting of impossible propositional beliefs that are displaced by scientific knowledge. Religion requires acceptance of all its beliefs and cannot incorporate participants’ diversity of beliefs; as another 15-year-old girl said, ‘there would never be a religion for everything I thought’. Religion demands restrictive ethical beliefs, behaviours and belongings that limit autonomy and authenticity. And even when religious ethics are admirable, participants separate ethics from religion because religion remains reduced to primarily metaphysical beliefs.

Although there were a number of reasons that these young people viewed religion and belief in this way, one influence on their understanding clearly came from what they were taught in school. In state-maintained secondary schools in England, some form of RE is mandatory and one of the ways in which schools meet this requirement is through exam courses at GCSE. ‘Philosophy and Ethics’ is one of the most popular strands of exam RE, with pupils being tested on their knowledge of how religious adherents are supposed to live and act, and on their ability to critique religious truth claims and provide rationale for their own beliefs about what is true. For example, the following questions have been set on recent exam papers:

Explain why some people say that religious revelation is only an illusion (AQA GCSE Religious Studies Short Course Specification A, June 2010)

Explain why most Christians are against euthanasia (Edexcel GCSE Religious Studies Religion and Life, May 2010)

Do you think the universe is designed? Give two reasons for your point of view (Edexcel GCSE Religious Studies Religion and Life, May 2010)

Although this might help pupils develop their critical thinking skills, this approach to the study of religion seems to reinforce the notion that religion is concerned with private, individualized beliefs of an ontological, epistemological and/or moral nature. It does not provide room for pupils to consider how ‘religion’ might be broader than assent to propositional beliefs or to explore further the nature of belief and how it can function in all our everyday lives. As Day writes of Jordan, ‘[He] had many beliefs, although not in God, Jesus, the Bible and “stuff”. He believed in doing well at school, helping at home, being with his friends’ (2009, 267).

In recent years, there has been increased debate about the inclusion of secular philosophies within the RE classroom. As I have argued elsewhere , there seem to be a number of problems with some of the recommendations that have been made in this debate, specifically that it repeats the assumption that belief (whether religious or secular) is tantamount to assent to propositions. But exploring the nature of belief more broadly would seem to be one way in which young people could understand religion ‘beyond belief’ and start to recognise the role that beliefs play in all our lives, rather than viewing belief as solely propositional and peculiar to religion. Space within the curriculum should perhaps be found, therefore, to encourage pupils to explore the nature of belief as not only a marker of religious identity but also of social or relational identities, as Day suggests.

Towards the end of the interview, Day discusses some of the ways in which academics can disseminate project findings, as well as give back to the communities they have involved in their projects. Day’s research into what people actually believe has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of how belief functions in the everyday lives of ordinary people. My research with 14- and 15-year olds suggests that it would be helpful if more of these insights could reach not only researchers of religion but also educationalists and policy makers, in order to benefit young people studying religion and belief at school.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

References

  • Day, A. (2009) ‘Believing in Belonging: An Ethnography of Young People’s Constructions of Belief.’ Culture and Religion 10 (3) 263-278
  • – (2011) Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lee, L. (2012) ‘Research Note: Talking about a Revolution: Terminology for the New Field of Non-religion Studies’ Journal of Contemporary Religion 27(1):129-139.
  • Liebenberg, L. (2009) ‘The visual image as discussion point: increasing validity in boundary crossing research’. Qualitative Research 9:441-67.
  • Lindquist, G. and Coleman, S. (2008) ‘Introduction: Against Belief?’ Social Analysis 52 (1) 1-18
  • Morgan, D. (ed.) (2010) Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief. London: Routledge.
  • Needham, R. (1972) Belief, Language and Experience. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Ruel, M. (2002) ‘Christians as Believers’ in Lambek, M. (ed.) (2002) A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

By Jillian Scott.

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 24 February 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Sarah Jane-Page on Youth, Sexuality and Religion (27 February 2012).

In a recent podcast on Youth, Sexuality and Religion, Dr Sarah-Jane Page discusses  research that she conducted along with several colleagues, that concerned young people, sexuality and religion. This is an immediately controversial subject and one that generates many questions. As this research focused on “lived religion”, that is how people experience religion in their everyday lives, the intertwining of these two topics is very interesting. She refers to the two as “uncomfortable bedfellows” within the daily experience of many religious young people. As a result, the study focuses on how young people  consolidate daily the vying values and morals presented to them through society, media and their faith. Although her presentation of the research is incredibly complex and thorough, I believe that there are some questions that she leaves unanswered in this interview.

Trying to get at the heart of how these people, aged 18 to 25, lived their faith and sexuality the questionnaires sought answers concerning idealistic aspects of the two subjects. These included gender roles, views about homosexuality, abortion, et cetera. The lived experiences of the participants became apparent through the use of video blogs because these turned into a diary for most of them. Here they detailed what books they were reading, the films they saw and so on. I cannot find fault in any of these research methods. However, Page’s presentation of her research questions and what she ultimately wants to discover about the relationship between sexuality and religion are left a little vague throughout the course of the interview.

In my personal studies concerning violence and religion, I have found that the contention between the public and private sectors of life create a tumultuous force behind many of the choices made by religious people. William Cavanaugh demonstrates that such competition jeopardizes the pure nature of the secular state and that nothing can be free of religion as it manifests within the public realm (2005). On a smaller level, personal religion crosses the dichotomy between public and private within the actions that people do or don’t do, such as not drinking or dancing in the moonlight. These are manifestations of religion within the public realm that also generate implications in the perception of others about their faith. Personal sexuality also suffers this same burden. Ann Pellegrini discusses the reality that when you talk about what you did on the weekend you are giving people a sense of your own sexuality (2004). Both of these elements of the human experience pivot on the fact that both religiosity and sexuality should be very private matters. Yet, they tend to be expressed within the public realm.

Therefore, I believe that the “uncomfortable bedfellows” nature of sexuality and religion comes from their frequent meeting at the intersection of public and private realms. Page understands that young people often face challenges to their values and ideas about what is private and public; particularly with sexuality and religion. She believes that the scholarly divide of private and public needs to be unpacked and reexamined. Yet this contention does not appear to be the motivation behind her research. Especially since she is working with young people I would have appreciated her mentioning what they felt about public and private particularly in the age of Facebook, Twitter and text messages. How do they express their faith and sexuality there? What platforms are private and which are public? This is an area that I think is vital to this study that has been omitted within her responses to Christopher Cotter’s questions.

Quite interestingly, this research does break some of the stereotypes about young people and religious faith and sex. Page and her colleagues found that many of the participants did not object to the controlling aspects of faith concerning sex. Many of them thought that they serve as an “anchor or security point”. However, others did voice their struggle in their attempt to match their religious ideals to their day to day life. Page takes pains to point out that those who are rule bound only represent a few. Others are still teasing out their faith in order to create their own trajectory. Those who are struggling represent a huge battle between sexuality and religion that Page does not address in the podcast.  Does this occur because of the public versus private conflict? Are these people making their own rules because of the religious dimension? Or the sexual? Does it happen because they do not have a strong role model within the church? Or does it occur because of the age group of the participants and how in flux their lives already are as 18 to 25 year-olds?

The age group of the people involved make this study all the more interesting because it makes it more complex. At this stage in their lives, it may not be possible for them be truly conscious of their negotiation of their faith and sexuality. Many are shifting in times and spaces that challenge what was the established norm. In their attempts to deal with this they must negotiate their own values and come to terms with their own identity. Perhaps Page does not address this because the young people could not point out the reasoning themselves. I agree with Page that the next phase of the study would be to ask the same questions of people aged 30 to 50. However, Page misses another crucial dimension of the study and further studies by completely eliminating the non-religious aspect. Particularly within the UK, many young people do not self-identify as religious. It would increase the complexity of the research and it would allow us to see what values young people have regardless of faith. It would also be valuable to learn if the views of the religious people clashed with their non-religious friends.

Ultimately, Page’s research is very interesting and pertinent to the field of religious studies. As this field continues to grow, my questions will be answered and new topics of debate will arise. At this time I would like to commend Page and her colleagues for striding out into the unknown and setting some foundations for the study of sexuality and religion.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Jillian Scott recently finished her Master’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her dissertation was entitled “Ritualized Terrorism: Symbolic Religious Violence and the Secular State in a Globalized World”. Originally from San Francisco, California, Jillian lives in Edinburgh and continues to study the relationships between religion, violence and international relations.

 

 

 

References

Cavanaugh, W.T., 2005. The Liturgies of Church and State. Liturgy, 20(1), pp.25–30.

Jakobsen, J.R. & Pellegrini, A., 2004. Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance, Beacon Press.

Youth, Sexuality and Religion

The Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A Multi-faith Exploration project, based at the University of Nottingham, looked at 18 to 25 year-olds from a variety of faith backgrounds in order to understand attitudes and practices around sexuality and how this was negotiated in relation to religious traditions. Dr Sarah-Jane Page, one of the research fellows, talks to Chris about the project’s findings, which were sometimes surprising. Religion is found to be a significant influence, but one influence among a number of others. 

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Dr Page completed her doctorate in 2009, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham, investigating motherhood and priesthood as well as the non-ordained spouses of women priests in the Church of England. More recently, she was Research Consultant for the European Commission funded project, Citizens in Diversity: A Four-nation Study of Homophobia and Human Rights (www.citidive.eu). The British case study, with which she was involved, focused on ascertaining types of homonegativity encountered in the UK context, in order to understand the complexities and nuances relating to contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. She is now based at Aston University.

A .pdf of the full findings of the Religion Youth and Sexuality project can be downloaded here, and a podcast about the research is also available. Dr Page has also co-authored a book (with A. K. T. Yip) based on the research which will be published by Ashgate during 2012, entitled Religious and Sexual Journeys: A Multi-faith Exploration of Young Believers.

Podcasts

Young People and Religion in a Global Perspective

Here at the RSP we are ever conscious of the perils of creating or reinforcing hard-and-fast distinctions between groups. However, it is arguably fair to see that, in contrast to previous generations, young people born after 1990 have always lived in social and cultural environments constituted by conspicuous consumerism, digital media and the proliferation of global social movements. Despite a number of detailed, contextual studies that have emerged in recent years concerning the complex interactions between young people and the religion-related field – indeed, we would strongly recommend listeners check out our podcast with Naomi Thompson on “Religion, Youth and Intergenerationality” – large-scale, international, and usefully comparable research has been lacking. Today, Chris is joined by Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjö to discuss the fascinating “Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective” project, which has been addressing this dearth on a massive scale. In this interview, we discuss the logistics and some of the emerging findings of a project which has involved utilizing a number of innovative research methods – including the Faith Q-Sort – conducted simultaneously in different locations across the globe, including China, Finland, India, Israel, Japan, Ghana, Peru, Poland, Russia, Sweden, USA and Turkey.

This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions’ 2018 conference on Multiple Religious Identities in Bern, Switzerland.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, “get your flu shot here” buttons, Grateful Dead t-shirts, and more.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Young People and Religion in a Global Perspective

Podcast with Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjö. (14 January 2019)

Interviewed by Christopher Cotter

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Moberg_and_Sjo_-_Young_People_and_Religion_in_a_Global_Perspective_1.1

Christopher Cotter (CC): I am at the European Association for the Study of Religion’s Conference in Bern, and I’m joined today by Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjö of the Åbo Akademi University. And they are both senior researchers on a massive project called The Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective project: the YARG project. And I thought this would be an excellent time for us to sit down and talk about this multi-national, multi-researcher, poly-methodical project – which will sit nicely with our interview, a couple of years ago, with Naomi Thompson on Religion, Youth and Inter-generationality. So, first of all: Marcus and Sofia, welcome to the Religious Studies Project!

Sofia Sjö (SS): Thank you.

Marcus Moberg (MM): Thank you.

CC: Thanks for making the time, after your two intense panels this morning, and on this third day of the conference – after what was an excellent night out last night, I thought!

SS: We, of course, went to bed really early.

CC: Exactly. Of course. So just before we get into the broader topic, I’ve said you’re working on this massive project but you both are individuals in your own right, who do other things. So maybe you could take a moment just to say who you, are and your broader research interests, and that sort of thing.

MM: Well, I do most of my personal off-project research, really, in the area of the Sociology of Religion, and Religion in Media, and also Religion, Language and Discourse. I try to combine these and have different perspectives and approaches cross-fertilise one another, if you will. And some of these things I also bring to this project that we are now involved in. And this has been very much a team effort. And so none of us are that firmly, personally connected to this project, in terms of research profile. So we each bring our own research profiles to the project. And that makes it quite unique. And it makes the team dynamic – a bit different from what these types of projects usually are, or how they end up being.

CC: Wonderful. And Sofia?

SS: Well, I have a background in Religion and Media and Public Culture research, but I’ve also worked a lot with Religion and Gender. And, as Marcus was mentioning, that’s bringing a very different aspect into it. Because the last couple of years it’s the young adults that have been very much in focus for our research.

CC: So, before we get into the broad topic, then, of young adults and religion, let’s just . . . tell me about the project. How long has it been going on? I know it involves multiple researchers, multiple sites, and multiple methods. So, can you give the Listeners a flavour?

SS: The short version . . . this is the fourth year – of course it was planning before that as well, and applying for funding and all of that. There are thirteen contexts that we are studying, and I think we have forty to forty-five researchers and research assistants, worldwide.

CC: Wow!

SS: And we’re using the multi-method approach. And Marcus, go ahead and explain that!

MM: Well . . . we do call it the mixed method approach.

SS: That’s right.

MM: We are that ambitious, because not only do we use multiple methods, quantitative and qualitative – and in-between quantitative and qualitative types of instruments like the Faith Q -Sort that we have developed – but we also correlate the results of these methods and these instruments, directly to one another. And so the combination allows us to get a type of data that would not otherwise be possible. And, yes, so it’s a four-year project and we’re three-and-a-half years in, now. And it took about one, one-and-a-half years in the making before this. We started planning this already a year or so prior to applying for the funding that we eventually managed to land for this one. So it’s been a long ride.

SS: It’s been a part of our lives for quite some time.

CC: Yes. And you’re just getting to the point of, maybe, exorcising it – getting the publications out?

SS: That’s what’s on the table, yes. Writing, writing, writing!

CC: Excellent. So I note – I’m quite pleased – that there’s no UK case study in there. Again, Listeners, check out our previous podcasts for that. (5:00) So, there’re multiple nations: could you give us a hint of some of them, and what the selection process was? You know, you presumably tried to get quite a broad spread, and various demographics and things?

SS: We really started with trying to get beyond research that already exists. There is so much focussed on the Western contexts. So we started to try to use the networks of researchers in other parts of the world. If I’m going to list the countries, you’re going to have to help me!

MM: Well, it was also to some extent, I mean in the most general of terms, it was the selection of countries was also based on the Welsel-Ingelhart’s World Values Map. Because the project has this basis in value studies and worldview studies. So they have constructed, basically, a map of the whole world based on regions that are characterised by different types of main value profile. So, for example, people in some regions in the world tend to be more self-focussed, perhaps, and more interested in developing themselves, whereas others are more traditionally-oriented and more security-focussed. And so we got one country from each of these regions on this theoretical map.

SS: Which we were very happy about getting because, like I said, we started trying with the challenging cases. But we do have a lot of European countries, still. We have Finland and Sweden, Poland, Russia, Turkey. No good! I have to have a world map in my hand, when I do this.

CC: Brilliant, yes!

SS: Israel, Ghana, Peru, the US, Canada, China, Japan, India. Is that it?

CC: Well, it’s a pretty good stab at it. If you remember any more later in the interview you can just start shouting out the names of countries. But that’s an incredibly broad potential data set, I guess. So I imagine there were lots of issues in terms of managing to do a cross- national study, in that sense of translatability of terms. Or are you rooting studies very much in their own context? How generalising are you trying to be across these contexts?

MM: Well to connect to what Sofia was saying earlier, we also had to set up the project on the basis of the contacts that we either already had, or that we were able to get in each of these countries. And, of course, the main idea is not to be representative or to make any generalisations whatsoever but to see what kinds of data can be used to the different purposes we can generate, with this particular methodological approach that we have. So it’s about implementing a certain approach and to be able to compare different contexts, and also to develop the Faith Q –Sort, which is rather a new method in this context. And, yes.

SS: Definitely a big part of it has been to translate the methods and the different material that we use to get it to work in different contexts. And, I guess, some of the most challenging part was this Faith Q –Sort – which is this new method developed by Professor David Wulff and further developed by the project. Because there are 101 statements that relate to worldviews, and getting those translated into different languages, and the challenging . . . . Like Mika Lassander mentioned earlier in our session, with a concept like transcendence – that might make perfect sense in a Western contexts, but even finding a word for it in some of the languages is really difficult. So at the start of the project we did do a lot of work using this double translation process, which had a fancy name – what is it?

MM: Double . . .  Forward and Back translation. Which means that you translate and then you come up with another version and then you do it all over again, and see if it changes. But the idea was, basically, to replicate the study in more or less . . . or in as similar a way as possible, in every location. So we brought the research assistants over to Finland for ten days, or something like that. We went through all the methods and had them practise and then sent them back out in the world.

CC: Fantastic! (10:00) So, you presumably entered the research field here with a number of questions – maybe a number of assumptions? Maybe you can lay out some of the groundwork on what existing research would maybe tell us about young adults and religion, and then we can maybe get into some of the exciting findings coming from your comparative research.

SS: Well there’s a lot of previous research but, as I mentioned, it’s very Western. It’s the US, or the Nordic Countries, or the UK, for example. But there is of course a large interest now – not just in the field of religion but in other fields as well – to try to understand the current young generation. They’re coming into the workforce: how can we handle them? How can we deal with them? Those sorts of issues coming up. Generalising very much, the trends that have been highlighted in the Western research is, of course, that we see a decline in both religious self-identification and perhaps even more so in religious practice, in this group. And this has been related both to young adults as being a “phase” in life (in which they are) less connected to religious organisations; but also to (young adults as) a “cohort” : that this is a new generation because of their experiences of life, what is happening in society, connecting to media, values and so on. And they will be, perhaps, less interested in traditional forms of religion and traditional ways of being religious.

CC: And do you find that that sort of model of this phase, does it hold in different contexts or is that model perhaps quite Western?

SS: Yes and no. The idea with the Faith Q -Sort is to get at the over-simplifications of talking about religious and spiritual or non-religious. I really see that there are variations. What this method captures is perspectives on religiosity that shows that, in a context, there might not just be one way of being religious, there are very different ways of doing it, or relating to it, or having a worldview. So we get the complexity. We do definitely see the decline to some extent as well. We have, in the survey, questions where you are supposed to identify how religious the family you grew up in was, and then identify how religious you consider yourself to be. And here we can see a decline. But then, going into the interviews and also the Faith Q –Sort, we see that there’s a complexity in it. There’s this idea that runs through the material – quite, I would say, independent of context – of a freedom of choice. But then again, what does this mean in different contexts and where does this come from? Is it actually the young generation, or does it come with their parents? Where does this come in? So we get some trends that we were expecting, but there’s also complexity. And we see that we need to understand the context of the cases. Because it does look different in different contexts.

MM: And I might add that more on meta-theoretical level the project is also based on the assumption that values play a much larger role in affecting how people think about their religious engagements, and engaging religiously, than was previously presumed. So perhaps the project . . . this is to simplify what you might say: that instead of regarding religion, or religious beliefs and ideas as something that would affect and direct the values of a person, the project is more based, or rather based, on a perspective that has it the other way around. So that it is actually values, people’s value profiles that affect their religious choices. And so there is that additional element to it as well.

CC: Excellent. Before I prod you for some juicy specifics, I should ask, who are these young adults that you’re speaking to? I gather there’s quite an age variance? Maybe just . . . . Who are they? Who’s been participating?

SS: We’re focussing on university students which, again, immediately this is a limitation – everyone else is doing it as well. But we’re doing it in so many contexts. We actually gave a paper on this just in the previous session. And what we see, we’ve aimed at 18-30 so quite a broad range. But of course as we’re focussing on university students and university life, it’s quite different in different contexts. The ages vary a bit. The variation means that the mean age is between twenty to twenty-four – so this is the main focus of the groups.

CC: So I guess that’s worth emphasising. (15:00)It is young adults, rather than young people, or youths, I guess, in that sense. So I don’t know which aspects you might want to pick out. I know Marcus, here, was speaking earlier about the use of the internet and social media and things like that. That might be something. But I’m happy just for you to throw some interesting contextual findings at me.

MM: We had three basic, broad research questions that we’ve been working with, since the very beginning, one of which was socialisation, so: What can our data tell us about . . . ? What new things do we learn about processes of religious socialisation across different national contexts and cultural, social and religious contexts? And for people in this age? And we also add a focus on media uses from the very beginning. There is a widely held assumption in many strands and fields of research that the media environment and the internet in particular, as digital technologies continue to develop, that this will have a particular impact on younger people. Because these are the people who never knew anything else. They have grown up in this environment. So there is this assumption that it will affect their religious lives and their worldviews as well. And so this allows us to see how that actually plays out among our limited sample . . . but in a wide range of different contexts. And then thirdly, we have this idea of . . . presumption really, about rising levels of individualism across social and cultural borders. And that we had assumed it was really a research question in the true sense, that we wanted to find out whether people would be more, or our sample would be more inclined towards making their own decisions when it comes to religion and religious commitments. And to get into finer detail, perhaps, to see how they actually would describe that kind of a way of looking at things, if they indeed did, and so on. So we had those three things that we had around from the very start.

SS: And then the findings . . .

CC: (Laughs) Nice and easy!

SS: Ease into the thing, yes! I could talk about the socialisation. We’re doing a special issue on that for Religion, which will be coming out early next year, hopefully. It’s still in the making. And we’re looking at socialisation very broadly from very different perspectives. We’re looking at minorities, we’re also looking at media how it comes into it, and relating to this individualisation. I think, also, because of the question of religious decline, we see the need to have a very broad understanding, I would say, of religious socialisation and an awareness of the many different types of agents that are a part of these young people’s lives. So looking at the university contexts – which has of course also been studied before – but the importance of peers for this age group, and media – how it comes in. And I think what most of the articles that will be coming highlight is when we talk to them about their own upbringing, what they consider have affected it. It is really a complexity and relating to previous generations, relating to . . . in some contexts we can definitely see grandparents can come in as very essential, and other aspects. And this is of course the richness of a comparative approach. There’ve been some similarities, but then also uniqueness in some cases.

MM: Then there’s also the data that comes out of the Faith Q -Sort in these different countries. And that data generates what is called prototypes of people. So certain main ways, you might say, of sorting the cards that we have in what we called the Q set. So it generates prototypes of religiousness or non-religiousness or anything in between. And what is interesting for me, for example, is to see some of the people, or the people in these different countries who would fit into a . . . let’s say, a non-religious – in whatever way we define that in the non-religious prototype – how similar they are to each other, or how dissimilar, they might be to each other. So it also allows us to focus on the fine detail of what it might mean to be non-religious – or religious, for that matter, so . . . (20:00)

CC: Yes. So it allows that sort of questioning of: is religion the same in different contexts? Or, should we be speaking of different forms of Christianity, different forms of Islam? Or, does it make sense to have this religion-non religion spectrum?

MM: Well, yes. At the very least the data we have allows us to ask those questions – it forces us to ask those questions. But then again, each context should be . . . or each national context should be understood primarily on its own terms. But on a higher level of abstraction and generalisation we can still make comparisons between different countries and different prototypes that the data generates.

CC: And are you finding . . . . Obviously you’re only studying in this case this young adult group, but are you finding some insights that you think are more universal than just in the group? Or . . .

SS: That’s a big question. I would say, not to simplify . . . I think the media aspect, that it . . . . If you want to find similarities, they all seem to be using media – surprise, surprise! But how they use it, how they experience it, even there we see variations. So I think there is definitely a need to not generalise too much, to realise that there is a uniqueness in context. But, of course, within the context we see the variations. That also comes out of our method. Because the idea with the Faith Q -Sort is really to capture the variations, rather than to see what can be generalised about those, to see more of the variations. But I think that is at least what my experience of working with the interviews . . . . Of course, we have certain stories that come again and again. This is related to being a young adult and related to being a university student. But, depending on context, some of the contexts that we are studying see political struggles going on; some of them – like Ghana, of course – compared to the other contexts is very, very religious. Religion is a part of daily life. That’s what one of our research colleagues pointed out. There’s not really a secular space – it’s all religious space. And this will shape your experience. And, as Marcus mentioned with the non-religiosity, we find non-religious people in all these contexts. But it’s different if it’s in Turkey – a very religious context, than in Sweden, where you almost have to explain if you’re religious. It’s sort of the other way round.

CC: Yes. That’s excellent, yes. And that’s . . . . You’ll both know that’s one of the many reasons that I’ll be particularly interested in the results of this study. So it seems that you’ve hopefully managed the impossible, in the sense that you’ve got a critically-engaged worry about generalising and about reifying categories and everything. And you’ve managed to take that sort-of critically plugged-in approach and then massive scale research. So . . .

MM: Yes, well it’s like Mika Lassander – who is one of the main promoters of this project – said in his presentation, earlier today: that we have a good enough result. It allows us to do a lot of things. It also has its limitations. But considering the operation that we had going in these different countries – with all that involves in terms of . . . we’re already into translation, but other types of logistics – we ended up with a pretty good result that we are happy with, I would say.

SS: Happy enough. Yes. It’s been good both on national teams – that’s been fantastic – and the head of our project, Professor Peter Nynäs, has also done a great job with keeping it all going. So I think we’re satisfied . . .

CC: Good. Because a lot of scholars might hesitate . . . just not go near quantitative, comparative . . . “No, let’s not do it. It’s too risky!” But it’s great that you’ve gone in with critical engagement, too. So we’re just about coming up to time. But obviously this will just skim the surface and make the Listeners think: (25:00) “Wow there’s a lot of data there! I’m really looking forward to all the in-depth publications and everything!” Can you tell us – you’ve mentioned a special issue of Religion – what are the other outputs, I suppose, from the project?

SS: We both have a main volume that will be coming out with Springer in 2019, which is the main findings. A lot of focus on the Faith Q -Sort, but also trying to cover the different material that we have. Then me, and Marcus, and Mia Lövheim, we’re editing a volume of Religion on young adults and social media. Do you want to say something more about that?

MM: Yes that’s just to pick up on the media use and social media use among our respondents. Because that is something that we can gather a lot of data on. And our examples . . . let’s say that there are not many similar samples around, so it allows us to compare and relate our results to previous research. And that’s the way that we aim to branch out, to see what . . . to try to make a contribution – sometimes a larger one, a more substantial one, sometimes a smaller one – but to other fields, also. We try to use the project data to get into conversation with ongoing research in other fields that relate to the fields that we have been focussing on.

CC: And will there be – I know there’s . . . currently things are sort-of hidden a little bit, online. So will there be a sort-of – when everything’s complete – a web presence for the project?

MM: Yes, I think that has been the plan, but our university recently decided to reorganise its webpages and so all of the info is hidden behind an intranet password wall. So hopefully. . .

SS: This Fall, they promise we will get this fixed!

CC: Well it is June when we’re recording, but it could be that the website will actually be there by the time this is broadcast. So hopefully we won’t have long to wait, Listeners! Well, we’ve talked very much around that project, there. I think we should call it a day, so we can all go and get some coffee. Thanks so much Marcus and Sofia.

Both: Thank you.


Citation Info: Moberg, Marcus, Sofia Sjö and Christopher Cotter. 2019. “Young People and Religion in a Global Perspective”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 14 January 2019. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 13 July 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/young-people-and-religion-in-a-global-perspective/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

When we think about ‘religion’ and ‘youth’ a number of images might come to mind. Young people rebelling against their parents. Young people as mere containers for the religiosity of their parents. Creative reinterpretation of stagnant traditions. Systemic abuse and lack of agency. And so on. In the context of the United Kingdom, where we are recording today, with its historically hegemonic Christianity, one scholar has written that

young_old

“It is no secret that Christian churches are struggling to attract and retain young people. The current generation of young people has largely abandoned the church or never known it as a significant part of their lives. The 2005 church census revealed that many churches have no young people at all in their congregations: around half have no 11- to 14-year-olds attending and well over half have no 15- to 19-year-olds (Brierley 2006).” (Stanton 2012, 385)

But of course, this misses much of what is going on. That scholar is Naomi Thompson (formerly Stanton) who joins us today on the Religious Studies Project to give us a more nuanced overview of the broad topic “Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality.”

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, the current state of play, common assumptions, how we might go about researching it, before focusing on some of Dr Thompson’s own research. Towards the end of the interview, we focus on the ‘transmission model’ and the relationship between generations, before thinking to the future of this growing area of research.

This episode is the fourth in a series co-produced with Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan, and ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, Jaffa Cakes, Lion bars, and more.


References:

Stanton, Naomi. 2012. Christian youth work: teaching faith, filling churches or response to social need? Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 33, No. 3, December 2012, 385–403

Young People of ‘No Religion’ and Religious Education Beyond Religious Belief

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 30 October 2013, in response to Abby Day’s interview on Believing, Belonging, and Academic Careers  (28 October 2013).

Divided into two distinct halves, Christopher Cotter’s interview with Abby Day begins with a discussion of her research on the nature of belief and what ordinary people in a modern western society actually believe; and concludes with advice on publishing journal articles and acquiring funding for research projects. In my response, I’ll focus on some of the points raised concerning belief, suggest how Day’s work could benefit youth and education studies and, in particular, explain how I’ve found her approach to the study of belief helpful in my own exploration of the lives of young people who identify as having ‘no religion’.

For Day, the concept of belief has often been taken for granted in the study of religion. Rarely do we ask, what do we mean when we talk about belief? As David Morgan has observed, the academic study of religion in the West has been ‘shaped by the idea that a religion is what someone believes’, and that this amounts to a ‘discrete, subjective experience of assent to propositions concerning the origin of the cosmos, the nature of humanity, the existence of deities, or the purpose of life’ (2010, 1). Although there have been a number of scholars and researchers, particularly within anthropology, who have critiqued this view of religion (Needham 1972; Ruel 2002; Lindquist and Coleman 2008), such an understanding persists and remains prevalent within religious education (RE) in secondary schools. Day’s research not only raises questions about what we mean by belief; she also demonstrates how religious identity is often more complicated than assent to propositions. And both of these insights could be of great value to the study of religion and belief at school, as well as to researchers’, teachers’ and policy-makers’ understandings of the nature of belief within the lives of both religious and ‘non-religious’ young people.

The initial impetus for Day’s interest in what people actually believe came from the 2001 Census in England and Wales, in which 72% of the respondents identified as ‘Christian’. In what appeared to be an increasingly secular society, it seemed puzzling that such a large proportion of the population would self-identify in this way. Day decided to explore more deeply what some of these census respondents meant in their adoption of a Christian identity, by examining what they actually believed. Introducing herself to potential participants as a social sciences researcher rather than a researcher of religion, Day also began her interviews by asking people ‘what do you believe in?’ rather than ‘what is your religion?’ It was only at the very end of her interviews that she raised the topic of religious identity in connection with the 2001 Census. This approach enabled her to focus on belief without asking religious questions. And, by focusing instead on values and meaning, as well as what was important to her participants, Day was able to learn much more about how belief functioned in their lives.

Day’s study of belief beyond ‘religious belief’ encouraged me to adopt a similar methodological approach in my own research with 14- and 15-year-olds who report ‘no religion’, exploring how ticking the ‘no religion’ box related to their wider lives without asking questions about religion. I wanted to learn about the people, places, objects, activities and times – the material cultures – that were significant to these young people, as well as to understand their beliefs and values, their methods of constructing narratives of meaning and purpose, and the influence of family, friends and society on their lives and identities. My primary research method was photo-elicitation interviews, in which the photos taken act as ‘prompts and supports to participant narrative’ (Liebenberg, 2009, 448). But I also wanted to avoid any tendencies to take photos that specifically focused on participants’ ‘non-religiosity’ or illustrated their attitudes towards religion. So I embedded the religion question from the 2011 Census alongside questions that collected other seemingly unconnected data and left explicit discussion of participants’ reasons for self-identifying as having ‘no religion’, as well as of their understandings of ‘religion’, to the end of the interview.

Just as Day discovered, however, where it remains important, interview questions about ‘belief’ or ‘life’ more generally still enable participants to talk freely about religion. But, while Day found that religion and religious beliefs played a relatively unimportant part in the lives of some participants who nonetheless chose ‘Christian’ as their religious identity in the 2001 Census, my research with young people who ticked ‘no religion’ indicates that some who self-identify in this way nonetheless find religion and religious beliefs to be significant in their lives.

Day’s research offers valuable insights into some of the reasons people in a modern western society choose to adopt a ‘Christian’ identity when surveyed. For some, it acts as a ‘social marker’ that helps them to feel secure within their communities, creating a boundary between themselves and others; being Christian is something that they are born into, akin to an ethnic identity. This position is nicely illustrated in her interview with ‘Jordan’, a 14-year-old who she describes as an ‘unbelieving Christian’. Although he states ‘I don’t believe in any religions’, Jordan identifies as ‘Christian’ because ‘on my birth certificate it says I’m Christian’. Day explains that, for him, ‘Christian’ doesn’t mean much, he doesn’t do anything that is typically ‘Christian’, and his understanding of a Christian is ‘someone who believes in God and Jesus and Bible and stuff’. While he does not believe in these things, his grandparents do because they are ‘Irish and really strong Christians’. This understanding of what being a Christian entailed is perhaps not surprising, considering Jordan was ‘reflecting how the term “belief” has become associated with “Christian” over the centuries’ (Day, 2009, 266-7). Day’s research provides a welcome corrective to an understanding of belief as primarily propositional and Christian, illustrating the various ways belief functions in all our everyday lives, cutting across conventional boundaries between the religious and the secular.

Although Jordan differs from my participants in that he identifies as ‘Christian’ rather than as having ‘no religion’, understandings of the Christian religion and of what a Christian identity entails are similar. In many of my interviews, it became clear that participants reduce ‘religion’ to metaphysical, existential and/or ethical belief systems that are either true or false. Since participants do not hold these beliefs, they tick the ‘no religion’ box. For some, in order to identify as Christian it is not only necessary to believe everything within that religion, but to have a strong faith in those beliefs. As one 15-year-old girl told me, ‘I don’t think my belief in God is strong enough for me to tick “Christian”. … If there was a sort of “in between” box, I probably would have ticked that. But to categorise what I believe, I’d say I don’t really have a religion’.

My research interests in the lives of young people who report ‘no religion’ dovetails with the emerging field of Nonreligion and Secularity Studies. Lois Lee has provided a working definition of ‘non-religion’ as ‘anything that is primarily defined in a relationship of difference to religion’ (2012, 131), indicating the necessity of reflexivity not only about specific relationships of ‘difference’ but about understandings of ‘religion’ itself. Day is right to emphasise the importance of clarity in relation to the term ‘belief’, but perhaps she could have spoken more during the interview about what she means by ‘religion’. This would then assist further discussion of her proposal that ‘belief’ crosses conventional boundaries between ‘religion’ and ‘non-religion’, making religion, as she says, ‘a subset of belief’.

For the young people of ‘no religion’ that I interviewed, ‘religion’ is understood as consisting of impossible propositional beliefs that are displaced by scientific knowledge. Religion requires acceptance of all its beliefs and cannot incorporate participants’ diversity of beliefs; as another 15-year-old girl said, ‘there would never be a religion for everything I thought’. Religion demands restrictive ethical beliefs, behaviours and belongings that limit autonomy and authenticity. And even when religious ethics are admirable, participants separate ethics from religion because religion remains reduced to primarily metaphysical beliefs.

Although there were a number of reasons that these young people viewed religion and belief in this way, one influence on their understanding clearly came from what they were taught in school. In state-maintained secondary schools in England, some form of RE is mandatory and one of the ways in which schools meet this requirement is through exam courses at GCSE. ‘Philosophy and Ethics’ is one of the most popular strands of exam RE, with pupils being tested on their knowledge of how religious adherents are supposed to live and act, and on their ability to critique religious truth claims and provide rationale for their own beliefs about what is true. For example, the following questions have been set on recent exam papers:

Explain why some people say that religious revelation is only an illusion (AQA GCSE Religious Studies Short Course Specification A, June 2010)

Explain why most Christians are against euthanasia (Edexcel GCSE Religious Studies Religion and Life, May 2010)

Do you think the universe is designed? Give two reasons for your point of view (Edexcel GCSE Religious Studies Religion and Life, May 2010)

Although this might help pupils develop their critical thinking skills, this approach to the study of religion seems to reinforce the notion that religion is concerned with private, individualized beliefs of an ontological, epistemological and/or moral nature. It does not provide room for pupils to consider how ‘religion’ might be broader than assent to propositional beliefs or to explore further the nature of belief and how it can function in all our everyday lives. As Day writes of Jordan, ‘[He] had many beliefs, although not in God, Jesus, the Bible and “stuff”. He believed in doing well at school, helping at home, being with his friends’ (2009, 267).

In recent years, there has been increased debate about the inclusion of secular philosophies within the RE classroom. As I have argued elsewhere , there seem to be a number of problems with some of the recommendations that have been made in this debate, specifically that it repeats the assumption that belief (whether religious or secular) is tantamount to assent to propositions. But exploring the nature of belief more broadly would seem to be one way in which young people could understand religion ‘beyond belief’ and start to recognise the role that beliefs play in all our lives, rather than viewing belief as solely propositional and peculiar to religion. Space within the curriculum should perhaps be found, therefore, to encourage pupils to explore the nature of belief as not only a marker of religious identity but also of social or relational identities, as Day suggests.

Towards the end of the interview, Day discusses some of the ways in which academics can disseminate project findings, as well as give back to the communities they have involved in their projects. Day’s research into what people actually believe has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of how belief functions in the everyday lives of ordinary people. My research with 14- and 15-year olds suggests that it would be helpful if more of these insights could reach not only researchers of religion but also educationalists and policy makers, in order to benefit young people studying religion and belief at school.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

References

  • Day, A. (2009) ‘Believing in Belonging: An Ethnography of Young People’s Constructions of Belief.’ Culture and Religion 10 (3) 263-278
  • – (2011) Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lee, L. (2012) ‘Research Note: Talking about a Revolution: Terminology for the New Field of Non-religion Studies’ Journal of Contemporary Religion 27(1):129-139.
  • Liebenberg, L. (2009) ‘The visual image as discussion point: increasing validity in boundary crossing research’. Qualitative Research 9:441-67.
  • Lindquist, G. and Coleman, S. (2008) ‘Introduction: Against Belief?’ Social Analysis 52 (1) 1-18
  • Morgan, D. (ed.) (2010) Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief. London: Routledge.
  • Needham, R. (1972) Belief, Language and Experience. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Ruel, M. (2002) ‘Christians as Believers’ in Lambek, M. (ed.) (2002) A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

By Jillian Scott.

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 24 February 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Sarah Jane-Page on Youth, Sexuality and Religion (27 February 2012).

In a recent podcast on Youth, Sexuality and Religion, Dr Sarah-Jane Page discusses  research that she conducted along with several colleagues, that concerned young people, sexuality and religion. This is an immediately controversial subject and one that generates many questions. As this research focused on “lived religion”, that is how people experience religion in their everyday lives, the intertwining of these two topics is very interesting. She refers to the two as “uncomfortable bedfellows” within the daily experience of many religious young people. As a result, the study focuses on how young people  consolidate daily the vying values and morals presented to them through society, media and their faith. Although her presentation of the research is incredibly complex and thorough, I believe that there are some questions that she leaves unanswered in this interview.

Trying to get at the heart of how these people, aged 18 to 25, lived their faith and sexuality the questionnaires sought answers concerning idealistic aspects of the two subjects. These included gender roles, views about homosexuality, abortion, et cetera. The lived experiences of the participants became apparent through the use of video blogs because these turned into a diary for most of them. Here they detailed what books they were reading, the films they saw and so on. I cannot find fault in any of these research methods. However, Page’s presentation of her research questions and what she ultimately wants to discover about the relationship between sexuality and religion are left a little vague throughout the course of the interview.

In my personal studies concerning violence and religion, I have found that the contention between the public and private sectors of life create a tumultuous force behind many of the choices made by religious people. William Cavanaugh demonstrates that such competition jeopardizes the pure nature of the secular state and that nothing can be free of religion as it manifests within the public realm (2005). On a smaller level, personal religion crosses the dichotomy between public and private within the actions that people do or don’t do, such as not drinking or dancing in the moonlight. These are manifestations of religion within the public realm that also generate implications in the perception of others about their faith. Personal sexuality also suffers this same burden. Ann Pellegrini discusses the reality that when you talk about what you did on the weekend you are giving people a sense of your own sexuality (2004). Both of these elements of the human experience pivot on the fact that both religiosity and sexuality should be very private matters. Yet, they tend to be expressed within the public realm.

Therefore, I believe that the “uncomfortable bedfellows” nature of sexuality and religion comes from their frequent meeting at the intersection of public and private realms. Page understands that young people often face challenges to their values and ideas about what is private and public; particularly with sexuality and religion. She believes that the scholarly divide of private and public needs to be unpacked and reexamined. Yet this contention does not appear to be the motivation behind her research. Especially since she is working with young people I would have appreciated her mentioning what they felt about public and private particularly in the age of Facebook, Twitter and text messages. How do they express their faith and sexuality there? What platforms are private and which are public? This is an area that I think is vital to this study that has been omitted within her responses to Christopher Cotter’s questions.

Quite interestingly, this research does break some of the stereotypes about young people and religious faith and sex. Page and her colleagues found that many of the participants did not object to the controlling aspects of faith concerning sex. Many of them thought that they serve as an “anchor or security point”. However, others did voice their struggle in their attempt to match their religious ideals to their day to day life. Page takes pains to point out that those who are rule bound only represent a few. Others are still teasing out their faith in order to create their own trajectory. Those who are struggling represent a huge battle between sexuality and religion that Page does not address in the podcast.  Does this occur because of the public versus private conflict? Are these people making their own rules because of the religious dimension? Or the sexual? Does it happen because they do not have a strong role model within the church? Or does it occur because of the age group of the participants and how in flux their lives already are as 18 to 25 year-olds?

The age group of the people involved make this study all the more interesting because it makes it more complex. At this stage in their lives, it may not be possible for them be truly conscious of their negotiation of their faith and sexuality. Many are shifting in times and spaces that challenge what was the established norm. In their attempts to deal with this they must negotiate their own values and come to terms with their own identity. Perhaps Page does not address this because the young people could not point out the reasoning themselves. I agree with Page that the next phase of the study would be to ask the same questions of people aged 30 to 50. However, Page misses another crucial dimension of the study and further studies by completely eliminating the non-religious aspect. Particularly within the UK, many young people do not self-identify as religious. It would increase the complexity of the research and it would allow us to see what values young people have regardless of faith. It would also be valuable to learn if the views of the religious people clashed with their non-religious friends.

Ultimately, Page’s research is very interesting and pertinent to the field of religious studies. As this field continues to grow, my questions will be answered and new topics of debate will arise. At this time I would like to commend Page and her colleagues for striding out into the unknown and setting some foundations for the study of sexuality and religion.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Jillian Scott recently finished her Master’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her dissertation was entitled “Ritualized Terrorism: Symbolic Religious Violence and the Secular State in a Globalized World”. Originally from San Francisco, California, Jillian lives in Edinburgh and continues to study the relationships between religion, violence and international relations.

 

 

 

References

Cavanaugh, W.T., 2005. The Liturgies of Church and State. Liturgy, 20(1), pp.25–30.

Jakobsen, J.R. & Pellegrini, A., 2004. Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance, Beacon Press.

Youth, Sexuality and Religion

The Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A Multi-faith Exploration project, based at the University of Nottingham, looked at 18 to 25 year-olds from a variety of faith backgrounds in order to understand attitudes and practices around sexuality and how this was negotiated in relation to religious traditions. Dr Sarah-Jane Page, one of the research fellows, talks to Chris about the project’s findings, which were sometimes surprising. Religion is found to be a significant influence, but one influence among a number of others. 

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Dr Page completed her doctorate in 2009, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham, investigating motherhood and priesthood as well as the non-ordained spouses of women priests in the Church of England. More recently, she was Research Consultant for the European Commission funded project, Citizens in Diversity: A Four-nation Study of Homophobia and Human Rights (www.citidive.eu). The British case study, with which she was involved, focused on ascertaining types of homonegativity encountered in the UK context, in order to understand the complexities and nuances relating to contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. She is now based at Aston University.

A .pdf of the full findings of the Religion Youth and Sexuality project can be downloaded here, and a podcast about the research is also available. Dr Page has also co-authored a book (with A. K. T. Yip) based on the research which will be published by Ashgate during 2012, entitled Religious and Sexual Journeys: A Multi-faith Exploration of Young Believers.