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Conferees to Explore How Faith Affects Families

by Staff
October 23, 2009
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WASHINGTON, ( -- "The family that prays together stays together." Is the old maxim true? And, if so, can we know more about the family's prayers and practices?

Such questions will be discussed more fully at an extraordinary one-day conference, "Religious Practice and the Family: What the Research Says," set for Thursday, Oct. 29, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Sociologists have observed a family revolution marked by dramatic increases in divorce, cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing. But a growing number of social scientists are researching how religious practice is influencing these trends and proving beneficial in the creation, health and longevity of the family.

Sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, the free conference will run from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and feature a roster of top academics who bring a wealth of experience and data to an important, little-understood issue.

"Anyone interested in the connection between religion and family stability will want to attend this event- journalists, policymakers, researchers, and counselors," says Jennifer Marshall, director of Heritages's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. "We hope to spark a more informed public discussion of religion and its contribution to family stability."

One contributor, Annette Mahoney, a researcher from BowlingGreen State University, notes that couples who identify with a specific faith and regularly attend religious services tend to be more satisfied with their marriages. Couples often show more satisfaction in the marriage when they pray for each other, view their union as sacred, and engage in spiritual activities that enhance communication.

"In particular," Mahoney says, "sensationalistic stories in the media about relatively rare instances of religious impulses fueling domestic violence or child physical abuse obscure clear evidence that greater religious involvement greatly lowers the risk of such behaviors."

The research is complex and nuanced across denominational affiliation. But according to Brad Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia, changes in the American family "pose a crisis of institutional survival to religion in the United States."

In fact, the research indicates that "the fortunes of American religion rise and fall, at least in part, with the fortunes of the intact, married family," Wilcox says.

Noted sociologist and University of Notre Dame professor Christian Smith will present the keynote luncheon address, offering the good and bad news on religious practice to fill out the common stereotype of American adolescents and teens.

Smith is co-author of the book "Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers," in which he encourages youth leaders to adjust their paradigm of ministry.

"Most religious communities' central problem is not teen rebellion but teenagers' benign 'whateverism.'" he writes. "Huge numbers of U.S. teenagers are currently in congregations, feel okay about them, mostly plan to continue to stay involved at some level, and generally feel fine about the adults in their congregations. But the congregation simply does not mean that much or make much sense to many of them."

Hosted by Heritage with research partners Child Trends and Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion, "Religious Practice and Health" is supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

For details on the event and to register at no charge, visit

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