The Sources of Spiritual Decline, an Excerpt from Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood, by David Setran and Chris Kiesling.

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The Sources of Spiritual Decline

The marginalization of spiritual formation among emerging adults is of course a function of many variables, but a few stand out as central to this age group.

Cover ArtFirst, there are a host of new distractions emerging at this time of life that can easily de-center faith commitments. Because emerging adults are often living independently for the first time, there are a number of new life skills required in their attempt to “stand on their own two feet.”  While tasks such as setting up bank accounts, paying bills, registering for classes, studying for exams, writing research papers, learning to get along with roommates, and preparing for job interviews may seem fairly commonplace to older adults, emerging adults can find them quite overwhelming.

Though the cultivation of the spiritual life may still remain important in a theoretical sense, these other tasks can appear more urgent on a daily basis. In addition, since completion of these tasks often generates immediate feedback and both financial and psychological (identity-related) rewards, it is easy to see why they might rise to higher levels on the emerging adult priority scale. As one study summarizes, “Emerging adulthood brings with it a host of responsibilities (e.g., work, school) and opportunities (e.g., increased autonomy) that simply and subtly crowd out religious participation.”

In his analysis of younger emerging adults in the year after high school graduation, Clydesdale largely confirms this perspective. Most of these individuals, he suggests, spend the bulk of their time and energy on “daily life management,” juggling personal relationships, personal gratifications, and personal economics. In such a context, he suggests, faith commitments are placed in a “lockbox,” stowed away for safekeeping until later in life. These emerging adults may maintain their religious beliefs, but they are unlikely to cultivate personal faith practices if these interfere with their other life concerns.

As he notes, “Teens view religious faith and practice as largely irrelevant to this stage in their life cycle. Religion is something they did as ‘kids’ and something they will probably do again as ‘adults.’ But, for now, teens tune out religion—at the very moment when they make decisions that can affect the rest of their lives and during the very time when they are individually establishing patterns of everyday living.”  Referring back to the Higher Education Research Institute study, he notes, “I do concur that most teens are on a quest during their first year out, but that quest is to successfully navigate interpersonal relationships and manage everyday life (like eating, working, attending class, doing laundry, and having a little fun). Religious and spiritual identities are peripheral to that quest and stowed in an identity lockbox for a later point in the life cycle.”

Because religion does not seem applicable to the all-consuming flow of daily life, faith is set to the side and rarely engaged, critically examined, or applied to the decisions and practices of life. According to Clydesdale, faith is neither “abandoned” nor “pursued,” but rather “safely stowed.”

©2013 by David Setran and Chris Kiesling. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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