The Connection Between Religion and Families: A New Book

A recent publication from professors in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences provides answers to the questions of how religion affects marriage, ways parents should talk to their children about their religious beliefs, and whether practicing a faith — whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or yet another belief system — strengthen families. in their 2017 book, Religion & Families: An Introduction, BYU School of Family Life professors Loren D. Marks and David C. Dollahite write about how religion strengthens faithful familiesThe two researchers wrote the book for emerging adults, in the hopes that it could help them navigate important decisions as they transition into marriage and parenting.

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How Does Religion Strengthen Families?

Relying on existing research and their own American Families of Faith project, Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite teach relationship-building, faith-promoting lessons to their readers. The American Families of Faith project draws rich data from lengthy in-home interviews of 200 religious families living all across the United States. The diverse sample includes Christian, Jewish, and Muslim families, as well as immigrants and ethnic minorities, so Religion & Families provides a broad look at the connections between religion and family.

Perhaps the most useful way to study the nexus of religion and family is to explore three dimensions identified by the authors:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Religious practices
  • Religious community.

“Family members who consciously consider and discuss how their religious beliefs, practices, and community can work together for the good of their marriage and family relationships are likely to discover ways to increase harmony between these dimensions,” Marks and Dollahite write. Dollahite, when interviewed about the book, said: “We all ‘live into’ our answers to life’s biggest questions in patience and faith. As we face the realities and challenges of marriage and family life, the confident idealism of youth evolves into a mature and realistic optimism…. We hope that the kinds of information provided about the healthiest way to live one’s faith in marriage and family life in Religion and Families can help young adults be more likely to make that transition more smoothly.”

“There will always be one more unanswered question related to our faith that we do not currently have the answer to,” Marks added. “That question is not a reason to abandon the ship of faith. It is motivation to get to know the captain better. Part of my testimony is that God is a lot smarter than I am.” In other words, we can all build our lives, our marriages, and our families on faith, patience, and trust.

When Husbands and Wives Share Beliefs And Commitment

The American Families of Faith project, a national long-running research project led by Marks and Dollahite, allowed them to connect their three dimensions of religion (beliefs, practices, and community) to marriages, father-child relationships, and mother-child relationships. The findings suggest that husbands and wives enjoy greater marital satisfaction when they share beliefs and are similarly committed to those beliefs. What’s more, spouses can strengthen their marriages by participating together in meaningful rituals, including service attendance and holiday traditions.

As far as children are concerned, Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite’s research indicates that parents and children have more positive emotional experiences when they engage in “youth-centered conversations.” In these conversations, parents listen while kids do most of the talking and ask for understanding. The conversation is open, the parent helps the child connect religion to his or her life, and the parent-child relationship becomes richer and deeper.

Dr. Marks explained that visiting those families’ homes and observed those relationships, he learned how he could be a better partner and parent. Regarding their examples, he says: “We hope that we can convey enough of the exemplary power of these faithful families to young adults that a fire and hope will be kindled that they can do likewise. Gratefully, through their interviews, these families also tell us how they did it — and this may be the book’s most important contribution.”

Family-Centered Priorities Cut Across and Supersede

Elder L. Tom Perry, who attended a 2014 marriage and family colloquium at the Vatican, reported that all major religions value family life. He said: “It was remarkable for me to see how marriage and family-centered priorities cut across and superseded any political, economic, or religious differences. When it comes to love of spouse and hopes, worries, and dreams for children, we are all the same.” Dr. Marks and Dr. Dollahite share a similar message in their book. In each chapter, they remind their readers that practicing a religion can lead to healthier marriages and happier family life.

 

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Religion & Families: An Introduction is available for purchase on Amazon, Google Play, Target.com, and Walmart.com.

Family Best Practices Discussed at the World Congress

In the midst of changing cultural definitions of “family,” it is perhaps more important than ever to know what works in families and what doesn’t. BYU FHSS School of Family Life professor David Dollahite and his colleagues have been hard at work for years researching those “best practices,” particularly as they relate to the practice of religion. Their research has been gaining a lot of attention lately, at Virginia Cutler lecture given on campus in October to a standing-room-only crowd, and more recently, at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. The latter is a global gathering of parents, youth, lawmakers, scholars, religious leaders, and advocates united to affirm, celebrate, and encourage the natural family.

 


About his experience presenting at the World Congress, Dr. Dollahite said: “Across the earth, the two things that matter most to most people are their family and their faith. It was nice to be able to provide some information form our research project on how families of faith draw from their religious beliefs, practices, and communities to strengthen their marriage and family relationships.”

In both presentations, he described the American Families of Faith project. They surveyed 200 families:

  • All 200 families were parents in heterosexual marriages.
  • Married average of 20 years.
  • Parents were mostly middle-aged but ranged from late 20s to 60s.
  • Wide range of social-economic statuses.
  • Youth averaged 15.5 years.
  • Religiously diverse: 150 Christian families, 30 Jewish families; 20 Muslim families
  • Ethnically diverse: Over half of the families are from various ethnic, national, and cultural minorities including: African American, Asian American, East Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander
  • Geographically diverse: Families are from 17 states in all 8 major regions in the nation including: Mid Atlantic (DE, MD, PA), Midwest (OH, WI), Mountain West (ID, UT), New England (MA, CT), Northwest (OR, WA), Pacific (CA), Southern Crossroads region (KS, OK), South (FL, GA, LA)

They found that:

  • Belief that God is a transcendent moral authority helps married couples strengthen their relational bonds.
  • Religious belief and practice help married couples make significant changes in their marital processes.
  • Couples’ perceptions of the roll that God plays in their marriage influence their relationship.
  • For religious couples their marriage means many things and their faith causes them to believe that their marriage means more than it would otherwise.
  • Religious belief, practice, and community helps couples avoid, resolve, and reconcile after marital conflict.
  • Religious commitment helps couples increase marital fidelity by sanctifying marital relationships.

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About religious parents and youth, they found:

  • Religious youth describe how they explore their religious identity in various ways leading to varying degrees of commitment to their faith.
  • Religious youth describe how their religious commitments are anchored in God, their parents, youth leaders, and peers.
  • Religious youth choose to make a variety of personal sacrifices for their faith but most clearly see how this blesses their lives.
  • Families rated religious conversations as the most meaningful and the second most frequent (after grace at meals) religious activity when compared with 19 other religious activities (i.e., church attendance; prayer with the children).
  • When parent-adolescent religious conversations are youth-centered, the emotional experience is more positive for parents and adolescents than when they are parent-centered.

Dr. Dollahite commented that the future directions of the project will include creating ways to help inspire and empower the rising generation to create high-quality families of faith.

More information about the American Families of Faith project can be found at AmericanFamiliesofFaith.byu.edu.