The Youth and Religion Project (Y&RP), funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., intends to understand the ways in which religious institutions can and do serve the needs of younger Americans (aged 8 to 30) in our rapidly changing society through a focus on religious institutions in metropolitan Chicago. The project is directed by R. Stephen Warner of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Rhys Williams, formerly of Southern Illinois University, now at the University of Cincinnati, is co-director. Beginning with a planning grant in 1996, the project is scheduled to conclude in August 2003.
Housed in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), with additional research done at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIU-C), Y&RP began by exploring UIC and SIU students' experiences with religion. The project then moved on to study family- and youth-oriented programs of religious institutions in the metropolitan Chicago area. Y&RP's scope encompasses young people of all religious, national, racial, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and religious institutions of all faith communities. The cultural and religious backgrounds of staff members of the Y&RP are been correspondingly diverse.
The campus-based phase (1997-2000)
To discover what young people attribute to their religious upbringing, what they find lacking, and where, if at all, they currently practice their religion, Y&RP conducted probing one-to-one interviews and lively focus group discussions with students at UIC and SIU-C. At both campuses, Y&RP staff conducted interviews with religious leaders and university officials to determine how they conceive of and serve their constituents' religious needs and interests. We found high levels of religious interest and activity on both campuses, especially among religious and cultural minority groups.
Chicago religious institutions: the Summer 2000 Program
Fifteen student interns from UIC and SIU-C were hired to join the Y&RP team of professors and graduate students for a training and research program to identify Chicago-area religious institutions where young people participate and learn how those institutions address them--from elementary school children though post-college-age young adults--in public religious assemblies. Themselves stemming from a diversity of religious and racial backgrounds (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim; European American, African American, Latino, Korean, Arab, Indian), the interns brought different orientations to the understanding of the seventy-odd different institutions--Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu--that Y&RP visited. The interns extensive field notes are part of Y&RPs database.
In-depth research on religious institutions (2000-2001)
Stemming from the Summer 2000 Program, several Protestant and Muslim institutions were selected for extensive research through participant observation and interviews. Located in the city and the suburbs, these institutions spanned several spectra of diversity: Predominantly white, predominantly black, and racially integrated Protestant churches with white, African American, and Latino leadership; Predominantly Arab and Indo-Pakistani Islamic centers; specifically youth-oriented and youth-directed religious organizations of youth: Muslim and Asian American and European American Christian.
Family-based research (2001-present)
Beginning with the institutions surveyed in the Summer 2000 Program, members families were recruited for the most innovative phase of the research. Y&RP researchers visited volunteer families to see how religion is incorporated in their daily life, at home, at church (or other religious institutions) and elsewhere. By the summer of 2002, this intensive research had been carried out in eight families, six Christian (four from integrated churches, two from an African American church) and two Hindu.
Dissemination phase (since 2000)
Findings from Y&RP researches have been presented and discussed in forums addressed to youth ministry and family therapy practitioners as well as social science and religious studies researchers. The Modules and Research Papers included herein are part of our dissemination effort. Two books are projected, one addressed to religious leaders, the other to academics.
Copies of the Youth and Religion Project proposal (dated 1998) are available by request (contact us for information).
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