By Tim Clydesdale and Kathleen Garces-Foley
Forthcoming in 2019 with Oxford University Press (click here to pre-order)
From the first chapter: “Despite important research by psychologists, sociologists, and religious studies scholars, there is little popular understanding of how much Americans’ journey through their twenties has changed during the past half-century, or of how blatantly incorrect many assumptions are about young adults’ religious, spiritual, and secular lives. Today’s twentysomethings have been labeled the “lost generation” – for their presumed inability to identify and lead fulfilling lives, “kidults” – for their alleged refusal to “grow up” and accept adult responsibilities, and the “least religious generation” – for their purported disinterest in religion and spirituality. These characterizations are not only unflattering, they are deeply flawed. Yet it seems everywhere we encounter parents, educators, and counselors who ask, like the New York Times did, “What is it about twentysomethings?”
What is it, indeed? We’ve interviewed hundreds of twentysomethings and surveyed 1000s across the nation, and encountered scores of young adults who … have devoted years to obtaining the training essential to our Information Age. We’ve spoken with lots of twentysomethings who … have full-time careers, plenty of young adults … who juggle part-time jobs on top of full-time course loads, and have found the overwhelming majority to be quite thoughtful about their lives. There are, to be sure, twentysomethings who seem lost, avoid responsibilities, or indicate no concern about the religious, spiritual, or even ethical dimensions of their lives. But there is no shortage of Americans over 30 who act likewise; wanderers, shirkers, and thoughtless jerks can be found in every age cohort. The truth, though, is stranger than the fictions so many repeat about young adults: Americans of every age have far more in common than different, and understanding twentysomethings requires little more than an appreciation of the changed economic, cultural, and religious contexts that young adults navigate today.
We write, therefore, to tell a story that is more optimistic than most about American twentysomethings. We write to introduce readers to the full spectrum of American twentysomethings, many of whom … live purposefully, responsibly, and reflectively. Some twentysomethings … prioritize their commitment to [conventional religious] faith and spirituality. Other twentysomethings … reject the religion in which they were raised but explore alternative worldviews to create their own personal spirituality. Still others sideline conventional religion and spirituality until they settle the rest of their lives. There is change occurring among young adults, but little of it is among the 1 in 4 American twentysomethings who have consistently prioritized religious commitment during the past half-century. The change is rather found among those whose affiliation with religion has been for the sake of familial tradition and the approval of fellow Americans, neither which have remained strong during the last 50 years.”
See also The Changing Spirituality of Emerging Adults project archive at Catholic University of America. I was pleased to serve as editor for this collection of reader-friendly essays, summarizing of a mountain of scholarly research on contemporary young adulthood.