Study ranks Mormon teens No. 1 in religiosity nationwide
By Todd Hollingshead
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
PROVO - To most teenagers, religion is like the wallpaper in the
dining room: it's always been there, so why talk about it now?
But Mormon youth are different. They are the most intensely
religious teens in the nation.
Those are the some of the observations Christian Smith, co-author
of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American
Teenagers, and two other prominent sociologists shared with faculty
and students at Brigham Young University Thursday.
"Many [teenagers] seemed as if ours was the first time any adult
had ever asked them what they believe," Smith said. "Many were not
familiar with the basics of their own religious beliefs. They were
After years of comprehensive research on youth and religion, Smith
joined sociologists John Bartkowski of Mississippi State University
and Steve Vaisey of BYU to present their findings.
Their research is part of the first wave of the National Study of
Youth and Religion.
Started in 2001, the study is the most extensive sociological
research project on the topic to date, involving 3,370 telephone
surveys and 267 personal interviews of teens.
The news so far: Religiously active teens fare better in life than
their nonreligious counterparts, and their faith is powerfully shaped
by their parents. Still, religion does not play a major role in the
lives of most teens.
"Most U.S. teens are not religious rebels alienated from, or
disgruntled with, the churches in which they are being raised," Smith
said. "But neither does religious faith and practice mean a heck of a
lot to most teens . . . or connect much to the rest of their lives."
But, Bartkowski added, LDS youth are not like most of their counterparts=
He followed Smith's presentation with his own about the peculiarity
of Mormon youth, saying their theology, history and lifestyle separate
them from other teens.
"Most of what Smith said doesn't apply to LDS kids," said
Bartkowski, who plans to publish his findings about LDS teen
religiosity. "Active LDS teens can explain what they believe and why
they believe it."
A convert to Mormonism, Bartkowski did raise at least one concern
with the LDS faith, calling it a rigorous religion that demands a lot
from its members and sometimes results in "unworthy" members feeling
Vaisey, a 2001 BYU graduate, followed Bartkowski with details of a
study about moral cultures and moral intuitions that found teens
sometimes have a hard time explaining their moral ideals.
A second wave of the national youth study is already under way and
will focus this summer on re-interviewing teens first approached in
2002 and 2003.