Work and Dignity   /   Fall 2012   /    Book Reviews

Christian Smith’s

Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood

Daniel C. Johnson

The hopes that adults harbor for young people can readily tip over into anxiety and alarm. Hand  wringing  is  the  price we pay for vesting hope in the young. In Lost in Transition, Christian Smith and his collaborators uncover plenty of cause for hand wringing when it comes to the generation now moving toward adulthood.

This is the third major book that Smith has published based on  observations  from  the National Study of Youth and Religion, a study of a nationally representative sample of young people that Smith has overseen since its inception a decade ago. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, 2005) examined the religious and spiritual lives of study subjects when they were thirteen to seventeen years old, while Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford, 2009) did the same when they were five years older. The present book draws again on in-depth interviews conducted when subjects were eighteen to twenty-three years old, but its focus is at once broader and more slanted. Attention is paid not merely to the religious beliefs and practices of these young people, but to their “typical assumptions, beliefs, norms, values, hopes, worries, goals, relationships, patterns of speech and life experiences,” as well as to “the established categories, expectations, explanations, and concerns” that structure their presumably distinctive culture (17). Clearly, it is a lot to take in. Yet enough of what the authors find disturbs them that the book takes on a decidedly moral tone. Where others have been happy to document the positive qualities and promise of today’s emerging adults, Smith and his collaborators resolutely explore what they see as “the dark side of emerging adulthood.”

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