Family engagement with religion can be conceptualized as a special case of connection to community, when characterized by family participation in religious services or membership in a religious organization. However, the observance of a religious or spiritual practice transcends any one community, and ties family members to a sense of higher purpose, meaning, and values. This sense of connection to something larger than oneself or one’s community has been found to benefit individual efficacy and positive development among adults as well as youth (Bridges & Moore, 2002; Damon, 2002), and is no doubt related to positive family functioning as well.
Research shows that parental religiosity is related to positive outcomes among children, including cognitive and social competence, higher levels of adolescent social responsibility, and avoidance of early sexual activity, delinquency, and depression (Benson & Scales, 2003; Moore, Chalk, Scarpa, & Vandivere, 2002). Adolescent religiosity can positively influence their sense of autonomy and their involvement with community service (ibid).
Most commonly, religiosity is measured by the frequency of attendance at religious services, both for individuals and for families. But many religious observances and spiritual practices take place in the home, and these are not captured by such measures, yet they are particularly germane to the study of family context. For example, Jewish families observe the Sabbath and religious holidays such as Passover in the home, and Hindus and Buddhists often have shrines at which they pray in the home. Muslims answer the call to prayer several times a day, regardless of their location. For families, it would also be important to measure the frequency with which they pray together informally, for example, saying grace before dinner in a Christian home, or saying the blessings after meals in a Jewish home. It is also important to capture other forms of spirituality besides prayer, such as meditation, yoga, or chanting, which families can do together, or parents can model for their children.
Attitudes toward religion and its salience and importance (Benson & Scales, 2003) are important to capture as well, and measures currently exist on whether adults and young adults consider themselves to be religious persons (Moore et al., 2002).