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Book reviews >

Urban Hope and Spiritual Health: The adolescent voice

Epworth 17.99 (07162 0609 9); Church Times Bookshop 16.2A muted spiritual health-check: Nick Shepherd hoped to heaadolescents talking, but doesn'tTHIS BOOK, like previous works that have come from Francis and his team athe University of Wales, Bangor, examines adolescent faith and spirituality ithe context of contemporary society. This particular study has its origins iwork undertaken for the Commission on Urban Life and Faith. Perhaps because othis, the authors address their findings and recommendations to urban plannersThere is nothing specifically urban about the research, however. It assessethe impact on young people's spiritual health of a variety of more generasocial factors, such as gender (or "sex", as the authors prefer), the influencof schooling, religious affiliation, north-south geographical location, anothers. The book is well referenced from an academic point of view, and, for thgeneral reader, very readable.In the opening chapter, the authors define and defend their quantitativmethodology. Chapter Two, "Spiritual Health", defines and discusses the centratheoretical term of the book, building on the work of the Australian researcheJohn Fisher. Spiritual health is used, in part, to indicate that spirituality may have broader impact on a person's sense of well-being. It is also a definition thagrows out of Francis's earlier work in debating the part played by faith anspirituality in education, where commonality with other disciplines and a"operational model" for empirical investigation are required. In Chapter Threethe authors propose that Fisher's four domains of spiritual health unlock aunderstanding of young people's general well-being. The premise of the book stands or falls, then, on the viability and value othis analytical tool. I have some reservations about it; but in general it is helpful way of connecting data about young people's beliefs and religioupractices, and their sense of self-esteem and appreciation of community.The bulk of the book considers the way in which different social factorimpact on the spiritual health of young people, as is revealed in answers to survey undertaken in schools in the late 1990s. There is a wide range odetailed work here, but the study does not come to any startling conclusionsCertain factors show a statistical impact on spiritual health (as defined), ancertain don't.Affiliation to a religion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, anSikhism are examined in Chapters 14-18) is generally positive on all markersbut it shows interesting differentiation as well. The experience of a brokehome is generally negative to spiritual health. Some factors show competing effects: young people who have a habit of prayehave strong spiritual health in some aspects, but negative correlations iothers. For instance, a greater sense of purpose accompanies doubts and worrie(the personal domain), and greater support from parents goes with a highelikelihood of being bullied (the communal domain).All of this information is stimulating, but is too muted to be "thadolescent voice" I hoped to hear.My annoyance probably stems from my own methodological bias. Quantitativstudies can and do shed light on young people's practices, preferences, anplace in society. I think an opportunity has been missed here, however, talign the well-founded survey work with qualitative exploration. Both thsurvey instrument and Fisher's lens of spiritual health have been generatethrough interview-based enquiry with young people; and what I felt was missinwas actual voices. It would be very interesting to see how the assessments posited in this boosit alongside comments from young people on how spirituality affects theisense of well-being, and how different social influences shape this. Also irritating was the placing of theological reflection in a singlchapter at the end of the book. The discussion here of the theological notioof hope seemed to me quite disconnected from the rest of the study, and did nobegin to address adequately the complexity and contrast that the rest of thdata suggest, either directly or by pointing to wider literature.What the book does well is to provide a rigorous quantitative study that cabe drawn upon in future research into young people's spirituality. The findingprovide insight into how work that fosters young people's spiritual developmencan be part of a strategy to enhance their general well-being. As this is a central issue in youth work within, from, or outside thChurch, it is a useful book for youth workers, ministers, and religioueducators to read and evaluate.Nick Shepherd is a researcher, writer, and trainer in youth ministryand edits the Journal of Youth and Theology
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