Religion and Race

Kara Powell | Jan 17, 2011

In Growing Up in America: The Power of Race in the Lives of Teens, the data from the National Study of Youth and Religion is explored from the perspective of race. This blog will point out some highlights from the chapter on religion and race and its comparisons of experiences of Asian-American, African-American, Latino, and white teenagers.

African-American teens show a personalistic absolutism regarding their religious beliefs and commitments. They show a strong belief in the absolute truth of Christianity and Scripture. They were the most likely to see God as someone demanding something from them and a strong authority figure.

White teens show a therapeutic individualism. More than any other group, white kids tend to view God as someone who exists to help them with their problems and make them happy. Religious organizations are not authorities per se, but are viewed by white teens as institutions geared to meet their needs.

Latino teen religiousness can be described as religious familism. Latino teens often report strong religious beliefs but more than any other racial group, this was tied to family relationships rather than a personal commitment.

Asian-American teens manifest a relativistic instrumentalism. Religious involvement and beliefs are expected by parents, and Asian-American teens balance their acquiescence to parental desires with their own beliefs, feelings, and desire (or lack thereof) to participate.

As you think about kids you know, how are these broad descriptions of racial tendencies true for them? In what ways are they not true?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.


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