Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections, Companion Volume of Related Papers. IV. Measurement Development

08/01/2004

New measures must be concise enough for practical use in an array of instruments, and brief versions must be available (Moore, Halle, Vandivere, & Mariner, 2002). In addition, we must take into account that the placement of religiosity items in national surveys may be controversial and therefore, considerable work may need to be done before attention to religiosity and spirituality measures can receive full public support (e.g., active parental consent, and dealing with concerns about the separation of church and state).

In trying to create indicators that take into account the constraints above, it is important to keep in mind the body of literature that examines how and to what degree religiosity causes individuals to be engaged in the world. This research conceives of religious experiences as honoring/listening to/affirming/accepting the sacred in one's own experience, but also as the extent to which individuals are compelled by their belief towards a compassionate engagement in the world (Benson, et al., 2003). A number of research studies have shown that, among American adolescents, measures which tap both of these two dimensions are stronger predictors of risk and thriving than are measures of the importance of religion or religious service attendance alone (Benson, Donahue, & Erickson, 1993; Benson, Williams, & Johnson, 1987). Here the important distinction is discerning, for a given individual, whether one's spiritual/religious engagement is more of an individual exercise or a collective, community-focused one, or both? Measures that are able to assess the degree to which one focuses spirituality inward or outward could help illuminate this dichotomy.

In addition, it is important to include within a given study measures of multiple dimensions of family religiosity, in order to avoid the comparison of different dimensions from different studies. As Dollahite, Marks, & Goodman (2004) note, the interaction between affiliation, beliefs, practices, and community engagement add depth of understanding to complexity of how various dimensions of religiousness and spirituality interact. For example, they report that some dimensions of congregational involvement may moderate family stressors (by, for example, providing social support), whereas others might exacerbate family stress (by, for example, increasing demands on the family).

Measures must take into account that the influence of parent and family religiosity on child and adolescent outcomes is, at least in part, indirect (Erickson, 1992; Regenerus, Smith, & Smith, 2004). Thus, it is important to include measures that will take into account the broader ecological or social context, including relationships with extended family, peers, and other adults, and engagement in the places they spend time, their involvement in personal and communal spiritual practices and activities, and their use of media. Across all of these potential influences, the issue of alignment or consistency and mutual reinforcement of spiritual values would yield important insights into the interactions among the multiple systems that shape young people's spiritual lives.

Finally, it is important not only that the proper religiosity and spirituality inputs are measured, but also that outcomes for individuals and families be queried in national surveys. Additionally, when possible, items should be placed in longitudinal, rather than cross-sectional surveys to allow more detailed life course analyses of the data.

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