“Religious Parenting: Transmitting Faith and Values in Contemporary America” by Christian Smith, Bridget Ritz and Michael Rotolo— Passing Belief On

Smith, Christian, Bridget Ritz and Michael Rotollo. “Religious Parenting: Transmitting Faith and Values in Contemporary America”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

Passing Belief On

Amos Lassen

“Religious Parenting” looks at how parents approach the task of passing on religious faith and practice to their children. We live at a time of overall decline of traditional religion and an increased interest in personal “spirituality” making it difficult for parents to transmit religious beliefs, values, and practices to their kids. We know that parents are the most important influence on their children’s religious lives, yet they have been almost totally ignored in previous studies of religious socialization. Christian Smith is a renowned religion scholar who, with his collaborators Bridget Ritz and Michael Rotolo, explores  American parents’ strategies, experiences, beliefs, and anxieties regarding religious transmission via hundreds of in-depth interviews about religious traditions, social classes, and family types all over this country.

We hear the voices of evangelical, Catholic, Mormon, mainline and black Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist parents and we learn  that, despite tremendous diversity, American parents share a nearly identical approach to socializing their children religiously. For almost all those interviewed,  religion is important for the foundation it provides for becoming one’s best self on life’s difficult journey. Religion is basically a resource for navigating the challenges of this life and not preparing for an afterlife. Parents see it as their job, not religious professionals’, to give their children the life-enhancing religious values that, in turn, provide resilience, morality, and a sense of purpose. Challenging longstanding sociological and anthropological assumptions about culture, the authors show that parents of highly dissimilar backgrounds share the same “cultural models” when passing on religion to their children. We read of parents’ real-life challenges while breaking innovative theoretical ground.

We are challenged here to reconsider the importance of beliefs and values in their understandings of culture.  The book “reveals American religious parents as valuing their children’s freedom and self-determination in relation to religion, while at the same time wanting their children to come to the same beliefs, values, and religious perspectives that they themselves hold. Religious Parenting is an important work in the study of family life and religion.

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