21 February 2010
And you though age-based social groups went from childhood to adolescence to young adults to middle age to seniors! Now it turns out that at least in America there's a distinct social category of "Emerging Adults" comprising 18-29 year olds whose views on life, truth, and morality are sufficiently distinct to merit a separate status.
Following on his 2003 in-depth survey of American teens, Chris Smith and a team of researchers re-interviewed the older half of the same cohort five years later. Smith summarized the result on Saturday at WRPC’s Renew 2010 conference. (For those who want all the data and then some, buy Smith's Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults.) Much--for better or worse--about these “Emerging Adults” had not changed from five years earlier but the following randomly selected conclusions seem significant to me: Religion is not a threatening topic to EAs but neither is it a “life-driver;” EAs are largely indifferent to religion. Religious congregations are perceived as “elementary schools for morals.” You wouldn’t stay in 5th grade year after year, would you? So why continue to attend religious worship? Postmodern relativism is dominant (“What seems right to me” is the source of moral authority) except when it comes to science whose evidence trumps blind faith. (Someone else can comment on the epistemological incoherence of this.)
Smith’s research suggests that the religious “ideal types” of Emerging Adults fall into six categories: (i) committed traditionalists (15%), (ii) selective adherents (15%), (iii) spiritually open (these are not “seekers”) (15%), (iv) religiously indifferent (25%), (v) religiously disconnected (5%), and (vi) the irreligious (a category that didn’t exist when they were late teens five years earlier) (10%). According to Smith, these ideal types do not necessarily represent a continuum although the way they are listed might suggest EAs in, say, (iii) might eventually slip into (iv). Smith has funding to do these interviews again in 2013 so he might then draw some conclusions about inter-type movement.
FWIW, I didn’t get a chance to ask Smith but I wonder if (ii) comprises the “emergent church.”
Enough information for now. I’ll get to some data that suggests action next time.