I just finished Souls In Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. The book continues an earlier sociological study of teens, now emerging adults, young men and women between the ages of 18-23 years. It’s a continuation for the investigators of work they started with the same youth, a book published under a similar title, Soul-Searching, which I haven’t read. The book I did read is filled with statistics, which I’m naturally intimidated by; thankfully there’s more that stats. There is a well of information about the newly developed phase, emerging adulthood. The authors point out attributes, religious types, and contributing factors which enable or disable the religious and spiritual lives of these folks. It was an education in general and an internal conversation as I read with now five years experience of serving a church with at least a hundred emerging adults.
Here are three passages from the book. I’m interested to hear any thoughts you may have–whether or not you’re in the 18-23 yr. old range. These pieces seem to translate to other life phases. The first is a quote early on in the book. The authors are discussing transitions as possibly the most consistent theme in the lives of the young folks they’ve interviewed.
…for emerging adults not a lot in life is stable or enduring. Some of what seemed to be proves unreliable or unpredictable. Other things they know from the start are going to change. Changes are incessant. A lot is up in the air. There is sometimes too much to manage.
This quote goes to identity, whether it’s fixed or stable or subject to change. Most identity development material I’ve read (and I’m not pretending expertise at all) follows this finding below. But as I think about redemption and life transformation from a Christian viewpoint, I’m encouraged when I see great change or massive identity transformation. It seems to support the great work of faith and grace, when it happens.
People are not simply preoccupied with increasing their rewards and benefits but are perhaps more fundamentally concerned with knowing, confirming, and protecting their own and others’ sense of who they are, that is, their personal and social identities. The assumption here is that people have a strong interest in conserving their senses of self, of sustaining the continuity of their identities do change. But such change must be limited in extent if one is to maintain a healthy human existence. The transition from the teenage to the emerging adult years is certainly one of identity development, but, contrary to common misperceptions, it is not usually one of massive identity transformation. Most emerging adults…continue being essentially the same persons they have been in the past.
I think this last passage captures the book well, not only the particular chapter I pulled it from. It helps me, pushes me to think about how I deal with people’s pasts, how I regard a person’s past, how I respect it. I think an easy temptation is either to stick with the past, to explore and wander through it, on the one hand, or to ignore it and pummel ahead.
The past continues to shape the future. This is important to know, because it means that religious commitments, practices, and investments made during childhood and the teenage years, by parents and others in families and religious communities, matter–they make a difference. Appreciating the stabilities and continuities that usually override unpredictable changes also reinforces the basic sociological insight that people’s lives are profoundly formed by the social networks and institutions that socialize not easily changed or inexplicably made irrelevant. Again, who people are is very much a product of where they are socially located, of what social and relational forces have formed their lives. And who people are usually does not randomly and unaccountably change over time. What people have been in the past is generally the best indicator of why they are what they are in the present and what they will likely be in the future.
Any thoughts about these?