Investigating the Role of Religiosity in Adolescents' Civic Engagement

Indrawati Liauw
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Research has demonstrated that religion serves as a factor in promoting positive behavioral and health outcomes in American youth (e.g Smith, 2003; NSYR, 2003). However, there is less evidence about how religiosity relates to civic engagement. Researchers have advanced the notion that religious participation promote community service because places of worship provide service opportunities and religious youth adopt a religious rationale for engaging in community service (Youniss et al., 1999). Less is known about how religiosity relates to political engagement. Using quantitative analyses, this study investigates the place of religion in the lives of high school seniors and the relationship between their religiosity and civic engagement.

This study is part of a larger study on youth’s civic engagement. The sample consisted of 1,579 high school seniors from seven public schools located in different geographical regions of California. Participants were 17.4 years old on average, 51.8% female, and 15.7% were born outside of the USA. By ethnicity, 46.1% identified as Latino, 25.6 % Asian, 5.4 % Black, 6.3 % white, 9.8 % mixed ethnicity, and 6.8 % as other ethnicity. The average parent education attainment was college attendance or higher for 39.2% of participants, below high school graduation for 26.2% and high school graduation for 21.1%. Approximately 13.5% did not know the education level of their parents. These students completed a survey on civic engagement in school. Three dimensions of religiosity were measured – religious life as a meaningful goal (Youth Purpose Scale, Bundick et al., 2006), religious participation (Youth Inventory of Involvement, Pancer et al., 2007), and religious identity (Civic Identity Scale, Colby et al, 2007). Three dimensions of civic engagement – political activity, community service and intentions for future civic engagement – were measured using the Youth Inventory of Involvement scale (Pancer et al., 2007). Descriptive statistics and multivariate regressions analyses were used to examine the relationships between religiosity and civic engagement.

Descriptive statistics revealed that devoting attention to their religious life was not a primary life goal for most youth. This finding concurs with recent research on a decline in religious attendance among adolescents (Hardie et al., 2013). In fact, religious participation was relatively low. More than half of the participants (58.2%) had never participated in religious group activities since starting high school. Only a small percentage (12.9%) participated regularly. Multivariate regressions suggest that different dimensions of religiosity have differing influences on youth’s civic engagement.

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