October 22, 2009
WASHINGTON, OCT. 22-- "The family that prays together stays together." Is the old maxim true? And, if so, can we know more about how a family is strengthened by its faith?
Such age-old questions and some surprising new answers for counselors, clergy and anyone concerned about the future of the family are at the heart of a one-of-a-kind conference, "Religious Practice and the Family: What the Research Says," set for Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.
Sociologists have observed a revolution in the American family marked by dramatic increases in divorce, cohabitation and non-marital childbearing. But more and more social scientists research how religious practice influences these trends and proves beneficial in the creation, health and longevity of the family.
Sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, the free conference will run from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and feature a roster of top academics who bring a wealth of experience and data to an important, little-understood issue.
"We hope to spark a more informed public discussion of religion and its contribution to family stability," says Jennifer A. Marshall, director of Heritage's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. "Anyone interested in the connection between religion and family stability will want to attend this event -- journalists, policymakers, researchers, and counselors."
One participant, Annette Mahoney, Ph.D., a researcher and psychology professor at Bowling Green State University, notes that couples who identify with a specific faith and regularly attend religious services tend to be more satisfied with their marriages. She says couples often show more satisfaction in the marriage when they pray for each other, view their union as sacred and participate in spiritual activities that enhance communication.
Mahoney writes that "sensationalistic" stories in the news media unfairly focus on rare instances where religious fervor results in domestic violence or child abuse. But the evidence is clear, she says, that "greater religious involvement greatly lowers the risk of such behaviors."
Such research is complex and differs by denomination. But according to Brad Wilcox, Ph.D., a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, changes in the American family "pose a crisis of institutional survival to religion in the United States."
In fact, research indicates "the fortunes of American religion rise and fall, at least in part, with the fortunes of the intact, married family," says Wilcox, director of the university's National Marriage Project.
Noted sociologist and University of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith, Ph.D., will present the keynote luncheon address, offering the good and bad news on religious practice to flesh out the common stereotype of American adolescents and teens.
Smith is co-author of the book "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers," in which he encourages youth leaders to adjust their paradigm of ministry.
"Most religious communities' central problem is not teen rebellion but teenagers' benign 'whateverism,' " Smith writes. "Huge numbers of U.S. teenagers are currently in congregations, feel OK about them, mostly plan to continue to stay involved at some level, and generally feel fine about the adults in their congregations. But the congregation simply does not mean that much or make much sense to many of them."
Hosted by Heritage with research partners Child Trends and Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, "Religious Practice and the Family" is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
For details on the event and to register at no charge, visit heritage.org/ReligionResearchConference.