Religion Runs in the Family

Deuteronomy 4:9 admonishes parents to "teach what you've seen and heard to your children and grandchildren." But while many sons and daughters receive this teaching gladly, others respond with indifference or rebellion. So how do faithful parents raise children who become faithful adults?

For Vern Bengtson, a longtime scholar at the University of Southern California, this question has driven a career's worth of research. Thirty-five years ago, Bengtson began examining the religious beliefs and practices of more than 3,500 grandparents, parents, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. These efforts have culminated with his forthcoming study, Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations (Oxford University Press). The book, co-authored with research assistants Norella Putney and Susan Harris, looks at how parents seek to reproduce religious faith in their children amid an increasingly individualistic society.

Amy Ziettlow, a scholar with the Institute for American Values, spoke with Bengtson about the cross-generational resiliency of American family faith patterns, the importance of a flexible and loving approach, and the hope available to parents whose children have wandered astray.

Your research on faith and families began in 1970. Are parents today more or less influential in passing on their faith?

Surprisingly, about the same. Our study tracked the degree of religious similarity between parents and young adult children in 1970 with that of young adults and parents in 2005. We measured this degree of similarity in four dimensions of religiosity: intensity of faith, frequency of religious service attendance, agreement with a literal interpretation of the Bible, and agreement with the importance of religion ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueOn Immigration, Welcoming the Stranger Is Only One Piece of the Puzzle
On Immigration, Welcoming the Stranger Is Only One Piece of the Puzzle Subscriber Access Only
Why Christians should support reforms that recognize both the dignity of immigrants and the rule of law.
RecommendedThe Three Myths of Cohabitation
The Three Myths of Cohabitation
Sociologist Bradford Wilcox reports the surprising results of his new international study on cohabitation and its impact on kids.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickThe March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
The March for Science Is Willing to Get Political. But Will It Welcome Religion?
How evangelical scientists square their place in the global movement.
Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations
Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations
Oxford University Press
2013-11-06
288 pp., $26.40
Buy Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down across Generations from Amazon
Christianity Today
Religion Runs in the Family
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

August 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.