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What can religious families do to foster a deep religious life in children, and help them mature into adults who live meaningfully religious lives? Some families join congregations and institutions that appreciate the power of modernity and the hold that modern ideas have on the young, and so make themselves into modern religious communities, adapting to the beliefs and practices of contemporary life. At the other extreme, other families will join communities that seek to isolate themselves from the impulses and ideas of modernity.
But when it comes to generational transmission, a young social scientist has recently published empirical findings that point in a different direction altogether. Jesse Smith of Pennsylvania State University contends that more important than these general communal environments are the particular family environments in which children are raised. Moreover, the specific kind of religious family environment correlates with the kind of religious person children grow into.
He finds that families that identified themselves as religiously conservative when the study’s subjects were adolescents were better able to transmit that religious devotion over the course of the next 10 years. But even they—who are transmitting more than other families—still are not transmitting very much. Fewer than 30% of young adults who were raised in conservative religious households feel that religion remains extremely important in their lives. In this podcast, Smith joins Mosaic’s editor, Jonathan Silver, to discuss his findings and what they might mean for religious parents and communities.
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