Paperback Publication of Soul Searching

The NSYR is proud to announce the PAPERBACK publication of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist-Denton.

The National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) published its first major findings in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Oxford University Press. Since it was originally released in 2005, Soul Searching has been used as a resource by countless educators, youth program organizers, and religious leaders to foster informed discussion about the influence of religion in the lives of youth. Now Soul Searching is available in paperback for just $12.92.

Soul Searching vividly portrays complexity and paradox in the story of contemporary teenage religion. Though widely practiced and positively valued by teens, faith is also de-prioritized and very poorly understood by them. Nonetheless, religion remains a significant force in shaping their lives. More broadly, Soul Searching describes what appears to be a major transformation of faith in the U.S., away from the substance of historical religious traditions and toward a new and quite different faith the book describes as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

Christian Smith is the Principal Investigator and Director of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a William R. Kennan, Jr. Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame. Melinda Lundquist Denton is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Clemson University.

Following is a detailed description of Soul Searching along with book reviews from the Oxford University Press website.


In most discussions and analyses of American teenage life, one major topic is curiously overlooked--religion. Yet most American teens say that religious faith is important in their lives. What is going on in the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers? What do they actually believe? What religious practices do they engage in? Do they expect to remain loyal to the faith of their parents? Or are they abandoning traditional religious institutions in search of a new, more "authentic" spirituality?

Answering these and many other questions, Soul Searchingtells the definitive story of the religious and spiritual lives of contemporary American teenagers. It reports the findings of The National Study of Youth and Religion, the largest and most detailed such study ever undertaken. Based on a nationwide telephone survey of teens and their parents, as well as in-depth face-to-face interviews with more than 250 of the survey respondents, Soul Searching shows that religion is indeed a significant factor in the lives of many American teenagers. Chock full of carefully interpreted interview data and solid survey statistics, Soul Searching reveals many surprising findings. For example, the authors find that teenagers are far more influenced by the religious beliefs and practices of their parents and other adults than is commonly thought. They challenge the conventional wisdom that many teens today are "spiritual seekers." And they show that greater teenage religious involvement is significantly associated with more positive adolescent life outcomes.

Soul Searching reveals the complexity of contemporary teenage religious life, showing that religion is widely practiced and positively valued by teens, but also de-prioritized and very poorly understood by them, yet significant nonetheless in shaping their lives. More broadly, Soul Searching describes what appears to be a major transformation of faith in the U.S., away from the substance of historical religious traditions and toward a new and quite different faith the authors call "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."


"This book is a landmark study of the religious attitudes and practices of American teenagers. While the study demonstrates that there is a strong correlation between religious commitment and positive social behavior, there are also disturbing trends related to this theologically illiterate generation of teens who primarily think of God as their private butler. The authors offer a number of concrete suggestions in a concluding postscript that will be of value to youth workers and religious communities. Drawing on a national survey of teens and their significant caregivers, as well as several hundred in-depth interviews, this book is the most comprehensive study of teenage religiosity that has ever been done." --Donald E. Miller, author of Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium

"Soul Searching is a bombshell, and one that is long overdue. It convincingly demonstrates that many of our assumptions about youth and religion in the U.S. are well off the mark. Instead of finding hostility toward religion, we meet young people from every corner of the culture who echo their parents' religiosity to an astonishing degree--but this, as it turns out, is hardly a formula for vibrant faith. Soul Searchingputs American religious communities on notice: if religion matters, then we had better stop 'exposing' young people to faith and start teaching it to them. Anyone who lives or works with teenagers simply must read this book. You won't be able to sit still after you do." --Kenda Creasy Dean, Princeton Theological Seminary and author of Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church

"This is an extremely important book. In presenting the results from the most ambitious national study ever conducted among American teenagers about their religious and spiritual lives, it sheds new light from start to finish. I highly recommend it." --Robert Wuthnow, author of America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

"For scholars as well as parents, teachers, relatives, mentors, and other persons interested in the well-being of teens, this is and will likely be the definitive book on teens and religion for years to come."--Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion

"This book is, quite simply, the best book ever on the best study ever on the topic of adolescents and religion. It is exemplary social science, combining the best of qualitative and quantitative methods, not only empirically strong but theoretically rich."--Journal of Adolescent Research

"No book in recent memory has as much potential to transform the practice of youth ministry...[T]he results overturn nearly every piece of conventional wisdom about teens and faith."--Christianity Today

"Youth groups, role models, service activities and cultural rituals of religious institutions all seem to help youth lead more healthy, moral and happy lives. This book goes a long way toward explaining the extent of this phenomenon and which religions seem to be accomplishing these benefits most."--New York Post

"Pioneering....a highly informative and provocative book....[that] is also readable, full of illuminating anecdotes and summaries from which the lively, often-touching personalities of teenagers emerge."--Chicago Tribune

"With a mixture of good news and bad news that puntures many stereotypes about adoloscent religious beliefs and behavior, this extensive study deserves attention for what it reveals across the full range of American religious groups."--Peter Steinfels, The New York Times

"Fills an enormous gap in our knowledge about young people. If there is one book to read outside your discipline this year it is Soul Searching ."--Worship

Product Details
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (April 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0195384776
ISBN-13: 978-0195384772

June 15, 2009