Book review: 'Families and Faith' shares multigenerational study of how religion is passed down

By Angela Carter

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, April 7 2014 11:47 a.m. MDT

"FAMILIES AND FAITH: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations," by Vern L. Bengtson with Norella M. Putney and Susan Harris, Oxford University Press, $29.95, 267 pages (nf)

For 3,000 years, many parents successfully passed on their religious traditions and beliefs to their children. During the past 100 years, though, that trend hasn't been as reliable; it seems that more children are leaving behind the religious practices of their parents and grandparents.

Are social and cultural influences the reason, or do parents have more influence than they think? What role, if any, do grandparents play? How do interfaith marriages affect children's religious beliefs? All of these questions and more are addressed in "Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations" by Vern L. Bengtson.

In this book, Bengtson, a professor of gerontology and sociology at the University of Southern California, and his colleagues share the results of their multigenerational, 35-year study on religion and the way it is passed on throughout generations. They followed more than 350 families — comprising more than 3,500 people — to gauge the effects of parenting styles, devoutness and a variety of other factors on young adult children's religious beliefs. Bengtson and his colleagues looked at data from many religions, including Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Judaism and Mormonism.

The result is one of the largest studies of its kind, with many insights into how religion is preserved across the generations regardless of outside influences. This book provides an in-depth look into understanding how faith is or isn't transmitted across generations, along with some conclusions that may challenge taken-for-granted assumptions of the impact of society and parents.

The findings are interesting, and the authors switch between stating the facts and using stories collected from the survey to illustrate the facts.

Angela Carter is the associate editor of Utah Technology Magazine. When she's not absorbed in words, she enjoys going on walks and playing the piano. She blogs at palydudeman.blogspot.com.

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