While many teens say they believe religion is an important aspect of their lives, and are in some way involved in religious practice, their understanding of religion is relatively shallow, according to a recent survey.
The National Study of Youth and Religion consisted of random telephone and face-to-face interviews with over 3,350 U.S. teenagers between 13 and 17 years old.
The study found that 82 percent of those surveyed were affiliated with a local congregation, and 80 percent said they felt “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” close to God.
However, the 133 researchers came to the conclusion that many of those interviewed, even though they said they attended a place of worship regularly, had limited knowledge about the details of their particular religion.
“Religion is very demanding,” said Elaine Goodfriend, CSUN religious studies professor. “Some people are willing to accept the emotional part, but not willing to accept what the religion asks of you.”
There are four main ways children and teenagers are educated about religion, said Jody Myers, CSUN religious studies professor. These include their families, formal religious studies classes, informal education, such as religious summer camps, and going to the place of religious worship itself, she said.
Myers said there is not one definitive method to educating young people about religion that is guaranteed to work, because every person is unique and responds differently to each way of learning.
“There’s no one best way, because there’s not just one type of teenager,” Myers said.
For Myers, learning about Judaism informally was more effective than going to synagogue when she was younger, she said.
“I think that the ability of synagogues, mosques and churches to teach varies widely,” Myers said. “There’s a lot of variation.”
However, not everyone who goes to a synagogue, mosque or church attends to seek an education, Myers said.
“You might want to go to pray, but not necessarily to be taught,” Myers said.
The study found Mormon youth to be the most knowledgeable about their religion. The reason, according to Goodfriend, is likely because the Mormon religion is stressed to be as important a part of their education as reading and arithmetic.
Many Mormon children are required to rise at 6:30 a.m. and to go to Mormon school before they go to their regular school, Goodfreind said.
But Jewish youth, for example, who are supposed to attend Jewish studies classes after school, often have to be forced to go, because the classes may interfere with other activities, Goodfriend said. Activities like sports, homework and spending time with their friends may be more important to them than learning about religion, Goodfriend said.
Goodfriend also said some places of worship tend to try to appeal more to the emotional side of religion than to the educational aspect of it, which is why many teens’ knowledge may be limited.