Adolescents’ search for identity is frequently described as a search for meaning. G. Stanley Hall called adolescence a stage of conversion, or a shift from concern with only oneself to a concern for others and a search for the meaning of life (Ream & Savin-Williams, 2003). The findings of contemporary researchers have supported this notion, discovering positive relationships between adolescents’ religious identity, their concern for others, and their quest for personal meaning (e.g., Furrow, King, & White, 2004).
Faith, spirituality, and religion are related systems of meaning through which adolescents seek to understand their reason for being and their place in the universe. Developmental researchers, faith-based practitioners, and religious educators use different—but related—constructs to describe a person’s process of self-discovery.
Faith is defined as a way of finding shared meaning and purpose in life, an orientation of the person toward values and beliefs, and a capacity to acknowledge and commit to a higher power in a quest for the universal (Fowler, 1981, 1991).
Similarly, spirituality is usually characterized as a personal and subjective feeling or experience of connectedness/relationship/oneness with a higher power or transcendent reality (e.g., God or Nature). Spirituality has also been described in terms of integrating one’s values or beliefs with one’s behavior in daily life; attaining a desirable inner affective state such as comfort, anxiety reduction, or security; and obtaining personal growth, actualization, mastery, or self-control (Zinnbauer, Pargament, & Cole, 1997).
On the other hand, definitions of religiosity, or religiousness, typically include organized religious practices or activities, such as attendance at religious services, performance of rituals, and membership in a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque; commitment to organizational beliefs or adherence to specific institutionally based belief systems; and integrating one’s values or beliefs with behavior in daily life and personal worship or practices (e.g., prayer, scriptural reading, meditation) (Zinnbauer et al., 1997).
However, developmental theorists have cautioned against an artificial separation of constructs such as spirituality, faith, and religion, especially since worldwide data show that most people see themselves as both spiritual and religious (e.g., King & Boyatzis, 2004). In actual practice, and among both adolescents and adults, much overlap exists (Benson, 2004). For example, about 95% of American youth aged 13 to 17 believe in God; 75% agree “very much” or “somewhat” with the statement “I try to follow the teachings of my religion”; 42% of youth frequently pray; 36% regularly attend a church youth group; and 23% participate in faith-based service projects (King & Boyatzis, 2004). According to Monitoring the Future, a U.S. national survey collected annually since the 1970s, 47% of high-school seniors report that religion is important in their lives (Kerestes & Youniss, 2003). Nevertheless, faith, spirituality, and religion have all been relatively neglected areas in developmental research (Benson, 2004; King & Boyatzis, 2004).
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