New book provides unprecedented look at role of religion over a lifetime

DURHAM, N.H. A new book by University of New Hampshire Professor Michele Dillon provides an unprecedented portrait of the dynamic role religion plays in the everyday experiences of Americans over the course of their lifetime.

"In the Course of a Lifetime" (University of California Press) relies on a unique 60-year study of close to 200 mostly Protestant and Catholic men and women born in the 1920s. The participants were interviewed first in adolescence and then again in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s and late 1990s. Drawing on these extensive first-person interviews, the researchers paint a picture of the place of religion in people's lives and how it intertwines with their everyday experiences over time as well as with broader cultural changes, aging, and transitions in the life course.

Most longitudinal studies compare the responses of different groups people interviewed at different times about the same topics. The two studies used by Dillon and co-author Paul Wink of Wellesley College -- the Berkeley Guidance and Oakland Growth studies established by the Institute of Human Development at UC Berkeley -- provide rare, detailed data from interviews with the same group of people over their lifetime.

"As our data from the 1930s through the 1990s show, there is much autonomy in how Americans construe religion, church, and the sacred. At the same time, though it is not heavy-handed, religion matters a great deal in many people's lives, adding texture and meaning to their everyday reality, anchoring their personal and social commitments, and buffering them in times of adversity," the authors said.

In looking at the ebb and flow of religiousness over a lifetime, Dillon and Wink found that adolescence is a high point of religiousness for most people. This discovery was exciting considering only a few studies worldwide have the necessary survey data to trace religious change from adolescence to late adulthood. Religiousness dips slightl

Contact: Lori Wright
University of New Hampshire

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