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A view of St Thomas Becket church during the morning sunshine in Fairfield near Ashford, England, Tuesday Nov. 2, 2021.
Gareth Fuller, PA via Associated Press

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Why you may want to factor faith into your home search

New research explores the role your neighbors can play in passing your faith onto your kids

This article was first published in the State of Faith newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Monday night.

You’ve probably heard of people choosing a new neighborhood based on its schools, but what about its dominant faith? A new study argues that a county’s religious makeup has a notable impact on resident teens.

The research, published earlier this year in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, shows that young people raised in counties where a large proportion of the population shares their family’s faith are more likely to embrace that religious tradition than teens raised under different demographic circumstances.

This so-called “religious context effect” is especially pronounced among teens whose parents aren’t particularly active in their faith group. The researchers — Charissa Mikoski and Daniel V.A. Olson from Purdue University — found that these parents can sort of outsource the work of raising religiously engaged kids to their many neighbors who share their beliefs.

Highly religious parents, on the other hand, don’t really need to worry about their county’s religious composition. The potential impact of the religious context effect — whether positive or negative — is “dampened or drowned out” in families where young people see their parents model a deep commitment to their faith, according to the study.

Parents “are well-positioned to counteract any negative effects of raising teens in less congenial religious contexts,” the researchers wrote.

The key question for people looking to raise religiously active kids is: How religious active are you? If the answer is “not very,” they may want to check out Public Religion Research Institute’s county-by-county look at religious membership and begin surfing Zillow listings.


Fresh off the press


Term of the week: Ornitheologist

Put away your dictionaries, because this term isn’t in one. Ornitheologist is a made-up label for a bird watcher with a faith-based appreciation for their subjects. I stumbled upon the term in a recent Religion News Service story and have been thinking about it since.

Ornitheologists, according to the article, approach birdwatching like they approach studying the Bible or listening to a sermon. They see the activity as an opportunity to reflect on God’s work in the world and think about what type of person they’re called to be.

“I think that everybody who takes seriously the fact that God is a creative God should pay attention to some creative aspects of what he’s made,” said the Rev. Kevin Burrell to Religion News Service, “And I choose birds.”


What I’m reading ...

I learned about the study on geography and religiosity from a Gallup post on religious transformation in the U.S. It includes several interesting tidbits from recent research, including that the so-called rise of religious “nones” seems to have stalled.

My friend Sam Kestenbaum, a freelance journalist whose byline often appears in The New York Times, recently spoke with The Revealer about why religion reporting matters. He made my profession sound much cooler than I usually do.

I just finished reading “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett, and I highly recommend it. (The audiobook version is read by Tom Hanks!) The book explores the powerful connection between a brother and sister and how each one’s love for the other sustains them through life’s many challenges, including some related to faith.


Odds and ends

Each winter, I devote hours of my life to holiday-themed baking shows on the Food Network. I am getting so much joy from “Christmas Cookie Challenge” and “Holiday Baking Championship” and urge you to tune in.

Russell Moore, a high-profile evangelical leader who recently joined Christianity Today, has debuted a new segment on his podcast, “The Russell Moore Show,” in which smart people tell him why he’s wrong about some important issue. First up is Shane Claiborne on the death penalty.

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