A large and growing number of social scientific studies (including our own) have demonstrated that religious beliefs, practices, and communities typically are associated with significant personal, marital, and family wellbeing. Conversely, a smaller but growing number of studies (including our own) indicates that religious beliefs, practices, and communities may also be associated with significant challenges for individuals, couples, and families.
Contemporary American families of faith live in a time that has variously been called a “secular age” or an “age of doubt” or an “age of faith transition” and this brings a variety of challenges and opportunities for families (and for faith communities). When we use the term “faith” we mean it in a broad and inclusive way: families of faith rely on their deepest beliefs and values, on meaningful spiritual practices, and on some kind of faith community to support their marriage and family life.
Most families of faith have some degree of involvement in a faith community. Such families might be called a “religious” family (or a Christian family or Jewish family or Muslim family). Some families of faith might not describe themselves as religious but perhaps as “spiritual” or “seekers” or “spiritual but not religious” or some other term.
Along with the nearly 250 highly religious families of shared faith we have interviewed, we have also interviewed about 30 religiously unaffiliated (also variously called “nones” or the “unchurched”) as well as about 30 interfaith families (parents involved with different faith communities). Our goal is to learn from each of them how families of faith draw on their core beliefs, meaningful spiritual practices, and communities of care to strengthen marriage and family life.
THE MISSION OF THE AMERICAN FAMILIES OF FAITH PROJECT IS TO ENGAGE IN RIGOROUS SCHOLARSHIP THAT THOUGHTFULLY EXPLORES THE NEXUS OF FAITH AND FAMILY LIFE IN ORDER TO DISCOVER AND SHARE RESEARCH-BASED IDEAS ABOUT WAYS OF MAKING ONE’S FAITH COME ALIVE IN ONE’S MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LIFE THAT CAN BEST (A) FACILITATE HUMAN JOY AND RELATIONAL QUALITY AND STABILITY, AND (B) HELP INDIVIDUALS, COUPLES, AND FAMILIES THRIVE IN A CULTURE THAT IS INCREASINGLY CHALLENGING FOR FAMILIES OF FAITH.
Strengths approach. Much social and behavioral research employs a “deficit perspective” that identifies and emphasizes shortcomings, problems, and conflicts in couples and families. Although we do identify important challenges and struggles, our work is focused on couple and family strengths—strengths that are found in individual families as well as strengths found within different religious and non-religious traditions. We highlight the ways that religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, and communities strengthen marriages, families, and individuals in hopes this may help strengthen other persons and families of faith.
Qualitative approach. Most social and behavioral science research employs quantitative methods (detailed surveys and statistical analyses) and important information comes from such research. However, because we want to learn from the personal experiences of families of faith, we employ mainly qualitative methods (in-depth interviews and textual analyses). In our extended conversations with research participants (typically 2-3 hours), we seek to learn about personal meanings (why faith seems to make a difference), relational processes (how religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, and communities work to influence couples and families), and meaningful experiences (specific life events that have made a difference for those we interviewed). In our research reports, we include many direct quotes from those we have interviewed because we believe much can be learned from such personal accounts by scholars, practitioners, faith leaders, and other persons of faith (of course, we change names to protect privacy).