The range of survey items with which to measure religiosity has grown substantially in recent years. In addition, it would be possible to develop survey items in each of the areas under gaps and limitations above. While it would benefit the field to include as many items as possible with which tap the dimensions listed above, the space limitations of national surveys make that unlikely. Therefore, a selected set of measures is recommended below which highlight the aspects of religiosity that are particularly germane to the study of the social context of families.
Proven existing measures. Research cited above demonstrates that measures of religious attendance, religious activities as a family (such as the question in the NLSY) and questions on the importance of religion predict important positive outcomes for parents as well as youth, controlling for demographic variables, and therefore, these measures should be retained in national surveys.
Promising new key measures. There are several promising new measures of family religiosity and spirituality that may be adaptable to national surveys, with the caveat that these recommended measures are from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), which has not yet released its data. Therefore the psychometric reliability and the concurrent validity of these items will not be known until the data can be analyzed. Predictive validity cannot be addressed until the longitudinal data are collected and analyzed.
"Family Functioning" is one of the six domains of the Indicators of Child, Family and Community Connections Project. Family communication is a key part of how a family functions, and as cited in the research review above, it is important in the transmission of religiosity and values from parents to children. It also would add contextual information on one way in which religiosity is expressed in the family, which is lacking from most existing surveys. A question measuring family communication about religion is therefore recommended. Below is one example from the NSYR:
"How often, if ever, does your family talk about God, the scriptures, prayer, or other religious or spiritual things together?"
In the above example, we would recommend changing the word "scripture", which also appears in the NLSY97, to a term that is less laden with explicitly Jewish or Christian meaning (e.g., "religious texts"). In addition, it would be preferable to ask about each individual activity separately, (talking, studying texts, praying, or other) rather than just ascertaining the frequency of doing any of the above activities. This item would directly address specific groups of religious activities within the family context in which religious engagement is or is not occurring. Where space is available, asking follow-up questions to identify specific spiritual or religious practices that are not mentioned in the question and about personal involvement in those specific practices, whether they are from traditional religious practice or non-traditional practices, would enrich our current knowledge of individual and family practices. In addition, in order to understand religion in the family context, it is crucial to know the extent to which activities and behaviors involve some or all family members together.
Families typically comprise the environment in which children develop, and a component of that development is the development of religiosity. It seems critical to assess the extent to which children have the same religious affiliation, identity, and beliefs as their parents in order to address the importance of the family in religious development. This area of inquiry holds promise for expanding our understanding of family religiosity as well as individual religious development. Items from the NSYR could be adapted to capture these measures. For example,
"Would you say that your religious beliefs are very similar to your (mother, father); somewhat similar; somewhat different; or very different from your (mother, father)."
The direct measurement of spirituality, or a belief in a transcendent being or spirit, in contrast to religiosity, is often lacking in surveys, and this is an important distinction increasingly recognized by researchers that is often missed. When both types of items are asked, spirituality is typically more prevalent than participation in religious practices. To assess spirituality, it would be valuable to include an item such as one or two of the following questions from the National Study of Youth and Religion:
"Do you believe in God or not, or are you unsure?", or
"Have you ever, or not:
- had an experience of spiritual worship that was very moving and powerful
- experienced a definite answer to prayer or specific guidance from God
- witnessed or experienced what you believe was a miracle from God
- made a personal commitment to live your life for God?"
These items capture belief in a transcendent being as well as the salience of spirituality in one's life. Additionally, the existence of a personal relationship with God and attitudes about the influence of that relationship on events in one's life are important to capture, and again NSYR items could be adapted for this purpose. If questions similar to these were included along with measures of other independent variables which act as influences on outcomes, such as those typically found in surveys at the individual, family, school, and community levels, researchers might be able to isolate how spiritual and religious beliefs stack up against, or work in combination with other influences in predicting outcomes.
"Youth connections" is another of the key domains of interest in this exploration of the social context of families. To assess the role of religious institutions in youth development, as the literature cited above suggests, it would also be valuable to include items such as this one from the NYSR,
"Are there adults in your [house of worship], other than family members, who you enjoy talking with who give you lots of encouragement, or not?"
This question can provide additional insight into the direct mechanisms through which religious involvement provides social connections and community assets to youth. By extension, a similar item could be developed for parents to capture the extent to which parents receive help and support from other adults at their house of worship. In addition, we would recommend including items on participation in religious youth groups, camps, organizations, and activities, since these activities provide important socialization into religious groups and beliefs, particularly in adolescence, when religious service attendance tends to decline. Items on participation in these activities are available from several surveys.
Together, these recommended items, if added to existing surveys, would substantially expand our ability to measure family processes around religiosity, diversity in family religious practices and spiritual beliefs, youth and adult connections to religious communities, and how families reach beyond their communities to connect to God or other spiritual forces in their own family context.
Further measure development research needed. Although promising measures are on the horizon, it is clear that further measurement work is needed. Much of this work can be grounded in the analyses of the recently fielded National Study on Youth and Religion, which contains both a wide range of religiosity questions, as well as questions about youth outcomes, and a longitudinal design. Once the data and preliminary analyses from the NSYR become publicly available in fall of 2004, the research community will have a much broader matrix of religiosity inputs and well-being outcomes to analyze, providing a unique opportunity to examine many of these relationships for the first time. Psychometric analyses on the new items can be conducted as well. The NYSR also includes items about parents, but there is still a significant need to collect more detailed information on the religiosity of parents generally and their outcomes as well. In addition, there is a need to develop items on religiosity and spirituality that are suitable for young children, who are not included in the NYSR.
This paper has reviewed a rich research literature that suggests that measures of religiosity have important linkages to family well-being, and provides a basis for their inclusion in a portrait of the social context of families. Existing sources for indicators have been suggested which potentially could be included in any future work on family-related indicators that aims to portray the vast religious and spiritual diversity that exists in the contemporary United States. If placed in longitudinal research databases, these measures could provide opportunities to further understand the linkages between religiosity and individual and family outcomes.