The role of religion in shaping political views, especially on abortion

June 27, 2022

Professor Amy Adamczyk discusses how religious beliefs shape attitudes on abortion and other issues, on International Horizons.

Prof. Amy Adamczyk sends next to a stained glass depiction, eliciting religious themes

As was widely feared or hoped might happen, the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, reversing almost 50 years of a constitutional right to abortion. The major driver of attitudes on abortion turns out to be religion. How does religion shape the discussion about political issues worldwide?

In this episode of International Horizons, Professor Amy Adamczyk (GC/John Jay; Sociology, Criminal Justice) talks to Ralph Bunche Institute Director and Graduate Center Presidential Professor John Torpey (Sociology, History) about the role of religion in determining people’s attitudes on a range of issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

We discuss the peculiarities of religiosity in the United States, which is an outlier because of its relatively high levels of religiosity compared to other wealthy democracies. Adamczyk also discusses the intersection between religion, abortion, and LGTBQ issues, considering that the world has become widely accepting of sexual diversity in the past 20 years. The conversation revolves around Adamcyzk's most recent co-authored book, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation, which addresses the factors that make children religious.

International Horizons is part of New Books Network of academic podcasts. Please subscribe to the RSS feed or find it in  Spotify, and Apple Podcasts. A lightly edited selection of the transcript follows below.


John Torpey  00:04

The abortion debate has reached a critical point in the United States with leaked documents suggesting that the Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe vs. Wade, reversing 50 years of established abortion rights precedent. The majority of Americans think that women should have a right to an abortion. However, a large minority of residents feel otherwise and have been savvy about getting their voices heard. The major driver of abortion attitudes turns out to be religion. How does religion shape the discussion about abortion worldwide? Welcome to International Horizons, a podcast with the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies that brings scholarly and diplomatic expertise to bear on our understanding of a wide range of international issues. 

John Torpey  00:49

My name is John Torpey, and I'm director of the Ralph Bunche Institute at the Graduate Center of The City University of New York. We're fortunate to have with us today Amy Adamczyk, who is professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and in the Ph.D. programs in Sociology and in Criminal justice at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her work addresses the role of religion in societies around the world, especially with regard to issues of sexuality. Her recent book, Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation, which is co-authored with Christian Smith of Notre Dame, won the Book of the Year Award from Christianity Today in the marriage and family category. Thanks so much for being with us today, Amy Adamczyk.

Amy Adamczyk  01:37

Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here. 

John Torpey  01:39

Great to have you. So we decided to do this interview after I heard a recent talk of yours on religion and attitudes towards abortion, the issue with which I began the introduction, and how that varies across countries, especially in the United States, where it's particularly salient. Can you tell us more about what you found? And how do people in other parts of the world think about this controversial issue of abortion?

Amy Adamczyk  02:08

Yeah, absolutely. So the research that you heard about, included information from over 80 nations across the world and about 200,000 people. So it was really representative of how the world views this issue. And the data were taken from the World Values Surveys, which many researchers use all over the world. The research was initially published in the European Sociological Review, and I'm currently working on a book on the same topic that explores the findings more in depthly. That book is also going to include about 40 interviews, which were done in the United States in China, as well as a large newspaper analysis.  

Amy Adamczyk  02:46

So the findings were exciting for me. I was trained as a sociologist of religion, and I do a lot of this international work. And what I found was that, perhaps not surprising, personal religious beliefs, the extent to which people say that religion is important in their lives, had a very important role in shaping how they viewed this issue. 

Amy Adamczyk  03:05

Now, we know that to be the case in the United States. But what was really exciting about these findings is that I had information from individuals from a wide range of different religions, and from a wide range of different countries across the world. Now, what's somewhat surprising that I found in this work is that religious affiliation, for the most part, didn't seem to make much of a difference. So there were not large differences between, say, Muslims and Catholics or Catholics and Protestants or Protestants and Buddhists. And that's very interesting as well. 

Amy Adamczyk  03:37

Now, in the United States, we have found that conservative Protestants tend to be particularly opposed to abortion as well as Latino Catholics. The research that I did, unfortunately, did not have information necessarily about conservative Protestants, nor could it break down differences across different Muslim groups, for example. But if you were to look just generally, across the five major religions in the world, I found very, very few differences. So at the individual level, what really matters, John, is personal religious beliefs, whatever those beliefs are. So all of the major religions have something to say about abortion, or their texts have been interpreted by their religious leaders as having something to say about abortion. So if everybody has something to say about abortion, have something to say about how abortion is problematic, then what really matters is strength of religious belief, not necessarily religious affiliation. So that's what I found at the individual level.  

Amy Adamczyk  03:38

But at the country level, I also found some really interesting things. So one of the things my analysis was able to do is to sort out how the surrounding religious context within a country shaped individuals' attitudes. So we know that personal religious beliefs matter. But what about if you're living in a country that has very high levels of religious belief? The United States has historically had relatively high levels of religious belief given its high level of economic development.  

Amy Adamczyk  05:02

So say you're living in the United States, and you're not religious at all, all right? Does religion have a role in how you view abortion? My research strongly suggests that it does. That even if you're not feeling that religion is important in your life or you affiliate with, you know, you say you're not religious at all. If you live in a more religious country, where the people around you say that religion is important, it appears that that trickles down to affect your personal attitudes about abortion.  

Amy Adamczyk  05:28

So then the question is, as well, where is this coming from? Well, there are a lot of places that your views might be shaped by religion within the country that you live. So for example, the laws within a country, when there's a lot of very religious people, they can shape the laws, and then the laws are going to influence how you see this issue. But also informal relationships: the person you meet at the gas station;  the friends of your parents; maybe the parents of your boyfriend. Even if you don't care about religion, if you start talking with these other people about how they view abortion, you might feel inclined to go along with what they're thinking and with what they're saying, because you care about them. That's a process called social control.

John Torpey  06:12

So this is very interesting. And, I mean, particularly on the abortion question, and but as you sort of raised this at least indirectly now, as you know, I have a long standing interest in this business about American exceptionalism. And, you know, what you've just described would seem to characterize in many ways the American story, but you noted that in comparison to relatively wealthy countries, the United States still stands out, even despite, I suppose one might say, the so-called "rise of the religious nones," that is, the increasing number of people who claim no religious affiliation. We still stand out as a kind of unusually religious country. Can you talk about where that came from? And where it stands now, as I say, particularly given the background about the decline or the rise of the religious nones? 

Amy Adamczyk  07:05

Yeah, absolutely. So you're absolutely right, John. Historically, the United States has been seen as particularly religious. We've often been called an exception, and even today with the declines in the proportion of people in the US who are saying that they are not religious, or excuse me, the increases in the proportion of the people in the US who say they're religious, we're still an exception.

Amy Adamczyk  07:29

So early sociologists thought that the reason for the religious decline across the world in wealthier nations was related to economic development. And so the basic idea here is that as countries become wealthier, as they get past sort of their social insecurities related to survival, and they start to focus on things like self expression and individualism, they give up religion. They don't need it anymore; it's not useful to them.  

Amy Adamczyk  07:54

And the early social scientists that I'm talking about include people like Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and they were working in Europe, and this is exactly what was happening in Europe. Europe was developing really quite rapidly, and what they were finding is that there were these big declines in religion. And so the assumption was, is that well, as countries get richer, just wait for them to get richer, as they get richer, and they no longer have these concerns, then they're all going to have lower levels of religious belief, it'll just happen naturally.  

Amy Adamczyk  08:21

Well, what happened in the United States is different from that. So the United States is often understood as an exception, because that's not what happened here. We held on to relatively high levels of religious belief, even as we became richer and more democratic and gave up our concerns about survival-related issues. 

Amy Adamczyk  08:39

Now, if you look across the world, there's a lot of other countries that look more like the United States. Not in Europe, but if you're to look in Africa, for example. If you look at the countries from the former Soviet Union, you're gonna find that in some cases, religious belief has actually increased. If you're talking about the Soviet Union, when communism ended, religious levels, religious belief went up. If you look in Africa, you can find that even in countries that are getting wealthier religious belief remains relatively high. So then the question is, what is going on here? Is the US really an exception? Or did some of the early social scientists get this wrong? 

Amy Adamczyk  09:12

So I'm a fan of economic theories about religion; I find some of those ideas fairly useful. So what are those ideas? Well, a lot of this work originated with someone named Roger Finke, Larry Iannaccone, Rodney Stark; they all proposed a market based approach to understanding why religion remains relatively strong in the US and in many other countries. And the basic idea here was that Europe subsidized many of its churches, and in doing that they made the churches a little bit lazy, and they made their leaders a little bit lazy. And their leaders were not out there hustling to attract church goers, and they weren't putting out an interesting product, right? This is very market based, very capitalistic perspective. 

Amy Adamczyk  09:53

In the US things were different. The government did not subsidize religion. So if you were a religious leader, you had to get out there and hustle, and you had to put forth an interesting product. And so you would; you would come up with really great music, you would come up with interesting spaces, you had to run the whole thing by yourself. So you would urge people to be, you know, dedicated and come in and do all of this volunteering, because there was no money, there was nothing else that was going to help you, you had to do it yourself. And as people became more committed to their churches, they tend to feel better. They liked what they saw, they tended to feel like, "Hey, man, I'm really dedicating a lot to this, I bet I am gonna go to heaven." And so some of these market based approaches made a lot of sense, and they were especially useful because they could be tested. 

Amy Adamczyk  10:40

That was the challenge with theories of secularization is that you just sort of needed to wait long enough, and then the country would be rich enough, and then, you know, there'd be no more religious belief. But you couldn't test it. There is no, like, "Well, how do you prove that that's wrong?" Well, the economic-based arguments you could test, and so we have found a lot of support for that. 

Amy Adamczyk  11:00

But kind of going back to the point that you made, John, things are changing in the United States. And so maybe some of these market based approaches aren't what we always thought they were. And there has, in fact, been an increase in "nones," especially with the last 20 years. All that said, America is still very, very religious, especially when you compare it to other, you know, economically developed nations, most of which are over, and if you talk about the Global North, you're talking about Europe, for example.

John Torpey  11:25

Right? I mean, this is all interesting, not least because we had a conversation a few weeks back with Ebenezer Obadare of the Council on Foreign Relations. And he's been focusing a lot on Pentecostalism in Nigeria, where he's from and in Africa more generally. And, you know, that seems certainly to be one of the forces that's keeping Africa religious, even as it gets wealthier and more, sort of modernized, and that sort of thing. 

John Torpey  11:53

But in any case, I want to get back to our conversations about people's views of certain social practices. And, you know, in addition to all the writing you've been doing about abortion, you've also written extensively about views about homosexuality, which is, of course obviously a kind of hot button issue, particularly on the right in the United States these days, but also in places like Hungary, and other places that are not so enthusiastic about accepting homosexuality as a practice in social life. And so I wonder what you can tell us about your research on religious views and how they shape attitudes towards homosexuality.

Amy Adamczyk  12:38

Yeah, absolutely. So some of those same forces that shape disapproval of abortion, also shaped disapproval of, you know, LGBTQ or same sex relationships. Obviously, that includes personal religious beliefs, and also overall levels of religiosity within the country. But the difference between views about abortion and views about homosexuality is that, with regards to views about homosexuality, what we find is that nations that are dominated by Islam tend to have much more opposition to homosexuality than those that are dominated by, say, mainline Protestant faiths or either Catholicism. We also find that countries, and this makes sense definitely in Africa, that have very strong histories of conservative Protestant or evangelical Protestant or Pentecostal religious faiths, they, too, tend to be more opposed to homosexuality. And so this is where you end up getting these cases where people can be killed for being found out to have a same sex relationship in Africa. There's a lot of that.

Amy Adamczyk  13:41

Now, with regards to abortion, what we find and you'd be the first to say this, the Catholic Church has been relatively friendly with regards to homosexuality, but not abortion. So the Catholic Church has really taken on the abortion concern as a pivotal issue. And in my research on abortion, what I find is the proportion Catholic, not Catholic affiliation, but the proportion Catholic within the country does have a role to play in shaping how people view the abortion issue. Namely, people living in nations with a high proportion of Catholics tend to be more opposed to abortion. And I think that makes sense because the Catholic Church has really pulled on the abortion issue as key. It hasn't done that so much with regards to LGBTQs. In fact, there have been some comments that the Catholic Church might be getting more and more liberal on the LGBTQ issue. Certainly, Pope Francis has suggested that, and we see that coming up. So those are some of the similarities and differences with regards to those issues.

John Torpey  14:40

Yeah, so that's interesting. I mean, if we think of these both, as you know, as a friend of mine has once put it "pelvic issues," that is to say, issues revolving around human life and sexuality. You know, these two issues tend to fall in the same camp sort of as between liberals and conservatives in the US, but the Catholic Church seems to see this differently, as you've pointed out. I mean, there and you know, Francis, as you say, has been particularly hands off, shall we say about homosexuality. "Who am I to judge?", he says, "if they seek God", or I forgot exactly what he said, but something along those lines. But as for abortion, it's much more unambiguously hostile. Where do you think that comes from? What's that about?

Amy Adamczyk  15:34

Yeah, well, and let me just just to speak up even further to your point, at least within the United States, John, if we go back 20 years, the change in views about homosexuality are incredible. I mean, the proportion of people who were opposed to LGBTQs, even just 20 years ago, was massive. And today, it is a very small proportion of people. So things change very, very rapidly in 20 years. So then the question is, is what happened with abortion? Well, John, almost nothing has changed. People are where they were 20 years ago. Even if you go back to even the 1970s, Roe v. Wade, people were very similar, at least in the United States with regards to that issue. So in some cases, there's some similarities with these things. But in some cases, there's some real differences. 

Amy Adamczyk  16:21

I think with regards to LGBTQs, that coming out movement was pivotal, not just pivotal in the United States, but also in other countries. In my book on views about LGBTQs, I spent a lot of time in Taiwan. I was trying to understand at the time why the Taiwanese were so opposed when they had very high levels of economic development, high levels of democracy, and they weren't dominated by Christian or Muslim faiths. And one of the things that I found was that a lot of people still had, at the time that it was doing the research, who like a lot of people still had not come out. But over time, more and more people have come out in Taiwan. And lo and behold, we also see that it is the first Asian nation to allow for same sex relationships. So I think the coming out movement really had a big impact. It certainly had a huge impact here in the United States, as celebrities were coming out, as individuals were coming out suddenly, you know, you have a gay cousin, it's hard to hate gay people when you have a gay cousin, because that's in your family. This is something somebody that you care about. 

Amy Adamczyk  17:22

If we think about abortion, and I would absolutely not advocate this, I think that'd be hugely problematic. But a lot of people, a lot of women get abortions, let's be clear about that. Many, many, many women get abortions, it's a very high proportion of women in the United States. It's a minority, but it is there. But people don't talk about it. Women don't talk about it. This is a shameful topic. This is a topic you don't discuss. You don't bring up, you try to hide. In some ways, it's a little bit like being LGBTQ was many, many, many years ago. But in the US, I think a lot of people think they don't know anybody who got an abortion, and women don't come out and say that they have. And again, I'm not necessarily advocating that. But I think there is a disconnect between the behavior and how people view it in a way that there's less and less of a disconnect between LGBTQs and the public opinion on the topic. 

John Torpey  18:18

Interesting. I mean, as you may know, we had a conversation last week with Adrian Coman, who works in LGBTQ rights, human rights activism. And, you know, he made this point as well. I mean, I was sort of saying, you know, the string of acronyms is getting increasingly long and confusing to the untrained eye, and so I wondered whether that's necessarily a great idea, and whether we shouldn't just emphasize right to privacy and let people do or kind of be. I mean, do whatever they want, and what they are is maybe a separate question, but you know, you sort of emphasize the centrality of the coming out phenomenon, as decisive in promoting acceptance of these kinds of relationships. So I'm just curious what you would say about that. 

Amy Adamczyk  19:17

Yeah, no, it's a really interesting point, especially the acronym. When I was writing my book in 2017 - so not that not that long ago, it was published in 2017 - so I was writing it right before then. The name of the book includes the term homosexuality. John, if I was going to publish this book today, I would not use that term. Now at the at the time, and even today, the reason I use the term is because in the main source of data, which was the World Values Survey, that's what they asked people: how do you view homosexuality? And if you leave the United States, this is the term people use. So if I were to go to Africa and ask, you know, individuals about what do you think of transgender individuals, they'd be like, "what the hell are you talking about?" So, you know, it has been such a challenge within the LGBTQ literature and the differences between countries, but also the differences over time

Amy Adamczyk  19:30

Right, indeed, I mean, it seems to me that is unavoidably in a way where things must be going that it's just going to be too complicated. And, you know, people just won't know what all these acronyms mean. So we need to figure out some way of talking about whatever non-standard or non-something sexualities, I don't know exactly, but the question of why this is all happening so quickly. I mean, gay marriage was unacceptable 20 years ago. Now, it's, I mean, it's not everywhere. And there, I suppose places that are trying to roll it back. But, you know, it's become, as you say, pretty widely accepted. I mean, to me, maybe the answer to that is that it's in a certain way, it's a straightforward rights question. You know, everybody gets to marry, why, you know, this sexual minority, if you like, why can't they do that, too? And but nonetheless, I mean, as you say about these other issues, this is all happening so fast. I mean, why do you think that's the case? 

Amy Adamczyk  20:46

So the survey data from the World Values Survey which asked about homosexuality, you know, you don't want to change the question now, because then you don't know if you find differences, you don't know what the differences are, because the question changed, or because people actually change their views. But, and in addition, if you're doing a cross national survey, you've got to use a term that everyone at least has some understanding of. But things have changed so quickly, that even academics, you know, we're struggling to keep up with what, how do we refer to this? Or how do we understand this, especially when you're doing it in the international context? So I actually think it's a really great point, and I'm doing my best to keep up with acronyms and so forth. But it will be really interesting in about 20 years, if we just start using terms like non binary or if there's, I don't know, other terms that kind of can capture that whole group.

Amy Adamczyk  21:00

Yeah, no. So one of the things I was able to do in the book, and I've also reported this and some other papers, to look at with regards to views about LGBTQs is that there's two ways that attitudes change. So on the one hand, you can have population turnover. So usually, the way this works is that older people die, and they're replaced by younger people. And younger people tend to be more liberal, because they're growing up in a different type of world. And so each new generation tends to be a little bit more liberal than the past. And so, you know, through population turnover, attitudes can very slowly change. The alternative process is when something happens, and everybody within the society changes their views. With regards to LGBTQs, attitudes changed so quickly, that it couldn't have been because of population turnover. Everybody, Grandma changed her views, the child changed their views, Mom, you changed her views, cousin Susie changed her views, everybody changed their views. 

Amy Adamczyk  23:00

John, if I had to pick one thing, what I would say happened was, I think the coming out movement was incredibly successful. And it came, I don't want to say on the heels, because it came at the same time, but I think AIDS was devastating in the 1980s to this community. And at the same time, it gave them a platform, and it gave them power. It gave them a belief in themselves, a sense that they had to do something and then they did because they couldn't, you know, this population couldn't get the drugs, they couldn't get the resources, they couldn't get what they needed to survive. And so it really pushed them to organize, and then push people, you know, to come on out, which in some parts of the world, of course, would get you killed. But in the US, as many, many, many people continued to do it, it had a big change.

John Torpey  23:46

Right, fascinating. So I guess now I want to turn to your recent book with Christian Smith, the title is Handing Down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation. And as we were discussing before we came on the air, this is a fascinating question, as a lapsed Catholic who didn't give his kids really much by way of religious education, I feel in some ways I've fallen down on the job. I mean, how are they going to understand all these people who were talking about this book called the Bible and things like that. But in any case, I guess it would be interesting to have you just say what's kind of the thesis of the book and, how do families, what happens in this process? I mean, what happened to me? Interesting, not that you know specifically, but you probably have a sense of the trajectory that I went down, so, you know, I didn't really pass this on to my kids. So anyway, curious to hear what the book is really all about.

Amy Adamczyk  24:55

Yeah, absolutely. So this was a really fun project. So what we did is we had a team of researchers conduct about 200 interviews across the United States (actually, I think it was about 220). And John, you'll know 200-220 interviews is a lot of interviews. These aren't surveys. These are like, you know, 1, 2, 3, 4 hour long interviews. And we interviewed people all over the United States from all different kinds of religions. So we interviewed Muslims, we interviewed Buddhists, we interviewed Hindus, we interviewed Mormons, we can interview conservative Protestants. We also interviewed Latino Catholics. So we had researchers on the team, who could speak Spanish and spent a lot of time in the southern part of the United States doing these interviews. And we combined that information with a bunch of survey data that's already out there. So we could see kind of what is it that shapes the likelihood that young people will go on and, you know, have religious faith and maybe can add some insight into what happened to John's children and why are they not religious? 

Amy Adamczyk  25:43

So the book was very, very interesting. So it's out now. It has a lot of information in it. But I will say this, if you are a parent, and you're thinking about well, how do successful parents pass on religious faith to their children? What is going on there? One of the things that we found, I'll talk about two things, but one of the things that we found is that authoritative parenting was especially important for transmitting religious belief. 

Amy Adamczyk  26:23

So what is authoritative parenting? Well, first, it's the idea that you consistently hold children to clear and demanding expectations that there are standards that there are boundaries about what is and is not acceptable. And at the same time, you give your children this abundance of warmth and support and expressive care. And it's the combination of these two things: of clear expectations and boundaries filled with warmth, that then encourage parents who are religious - and John, you have to be religious - the parents themselves have to be religious in order to pass on religious belief, for the most part, it's this combination of factors that tend to lead the children to follow religion later in life. 

Amy Adamczyk  27:08

And so the idea here is that children need to know that their parents care very much for them, but at the same time, they hold a high standards for them, they need to know that even if they fail in obtaining these high standards, their parents are going to go on to love them and care about them. The idea here is that the children like their parents, that they understand what it is they need to do, and that they want to do things that are similar to what their parents are doing. So if you're a religious parent, and you want to pass on your religion, and hopefully a lot of parents try to engage in this type of parenting, but many parents don't. 

Amy Adamczyk  27:43

And we certainly saw that in the data. So we had, you know, the authoritarian parenting style, where there's just very demanding, but not as much warmth and love, maybe many of us were raised with that style. There's the permissive parent, these are the parents who are all about affection and empathy, but there's no boundaries, there's not a lot of standards, children aren't sure what to do; it's very, very permissive. We have disengaged parents, unfortunately, who really can't give their children much warmth and understanding at the same time, they don't know the names of their children's friends. And you know, that doesn't do much for successfully passing on religion. And so obviously, parents who are religious, who want to pass on their religion, when you have this parenting style, that helps. 

Amy Adamczyk  28:24

The other piece of it is that we found that the most successful parents really encouraged two way conversations. And so what does this mean? Well, a lot of us were sort of raised with parents who may have preached to us, or given us kind of a one sided conversation about religion, or when we asked about various things, they would try to shut you down and say, "oh, you know, what, why would you challenge what God says, what do you mean?" or if you say, "Well, you know, I don't understand, you know, what is the Trinity? Or what is the Holy Spirit?" Parents would just give them a lecture and then leave it at that, but maybe the kids had more questions. 

Amy Adamczyk  28:24

And so one of the successful things that we found that parents who wanted to transmit religious belief to their children did is it would have these two way conversations. And so that they would allow the children to ask questions, they would allow the children to kind of bring in their own ideas and to raise issues. But again, this only works, I mean, parents, for the most part, parents wanted to pass on the level of religious belief that they had. So often, it was kind of like, they didn't want their children to be more religious than them. They didn't want their children to be less religious than them. They sort of wanted their children to be like them. And so one way they did that is through this, you know, various parenting styles. So they tend to do, like if we call success, what the parents were, then that's what we found. But then also these two way conversations were really important so that children could feel comfortable kind of challenging their mom and dad, or seeking out answers in a way that you know, that would make them comfortable. There's a lot more in the book, John, but I'll give you just that for now.

John Torpey  29:58

So that's really fascinating. And it's interesting because my understanding had been that religion was successfully transmitted by parents who kind of shoved it down their kids throats. And maybe I misunderstood that literature, but what you're saying, or you seem to be me to be saying, is that it happens when there's a more mutual kind of process of understanding about why the parents would want the children to be religious. I mean, it's interesting in the sense that the whole world is getting more educated. And typically more educated people, I think, demand a give and take about how they should think about things, not, you know, being told to think this or that. So maybe I misunderstood the older work and the older arguments about this, but it sounds like what you're saying is really. it's always been a kind of communicative process, so to speak. It's not something that you just shove down your kid's throat and successfully transmit the, you know, the parents' religiosity.

Amy Adamczyk  31:04

Yeah, no, absolutely, John, you're, you're totally nailing it. And I'll just add to it, one of the interesting things I wrote -we divided up the chapter, so each wrote half -but one of the chapters I spent a lot of time on was the role of congregations in shaping how parents transmit religious belief. And there was a very interesting finding, which is, throughout our interviews, we always ask parents, what is the role of the congregation? What is the role of the church? Like, what do they give you? What do they help you with? Do you see them as primarily passing on religion to your children, and not one parent said that they saw the church or their congregation as primarily responsible for passing on religion. And again, I think that's a difference from what you might have guessed even 40 years ago, where you kind of drop your kid off at Sunday school and say, "Okay, go get what you need and then I'll come pick you up in an hour or two." We didn't see any of that. I mean, these parents are involved. And if you think about it, today's parents spend more time with their children than they did 40 years ago. 

Amy Adamczyk  32:05

So these parents want to do everything they want to, they don't leave anything to anyone else. And they're spending gobs of time with them. They're taking them to all these activities, all these events, I mean, you better damn well be sure they are involved in how religion gets passed on. And so then the question for congregations was sort of like, well, what can they do to help parents? And that's what that chapter ended up being about, is like, well, what do congregations provide if parents are seeing themselves as primarily responsible? How do congregations act as helpmates?

Amy Adamczyk  32:37

And there were a lot of things that congregations could do. I mean, one of the things that congregations could do is that they could provide activities that their kid wanted to engage in, and a longer a lot of congregations don't do that, but you had to make it fun for the kids, because otherwise, the kids didn't want to go, and congregations could do things like have some interesting Sunday school so that the parents had like something to ask the kids about as they are picking them up, you know, from those activities, so that they would give them some sort of conversation starters. Or the parents could tell the kids like, "hey, we're going to talk about this when you get back. So make sure you think about what's happening and what's being said". Instead congregations could provide older individuals who could look out for their kids, that was really useful. Congregations could help parents funnel children into religious groups. So again, that was really important, because you could kind of then set your kid up with other friends, you know, from parents who have similar religious beliefs. And so yeah, a lot has changed in how we think about these issues and how parents are thinking about these issues.

John Torpey  33:40

Interesting. I mean, so in an earlier part of one of your answers, you know, you talked about what basically we call the secularization thesis, right? The idea that societies become more modern, they've become wealthier, people are more secure, they don't feel the need for religion anymore. And as you well know, that thesis has been challenged rather dramatically, I would say in recent years. And so I guess I'd be interested, just kind of to wrap things up, your take on how successful are parents around the world going to be and transmitting their religiosity to their offspring to their kids? And what is this kind of portend for the possible, I mean, there's lots of debate about the secularization thesis, but you know, what does this portend for the secularization of the world or otherwise?

Amy Adamczyk  34:33

Yeah, no, absolutely. Great questions. I mean, I think if parents really want to pass on their religion, they're going to be able to do it. We, you know, in our research, we found that parents were the number one force in children's lives. You might think it's peers, or you might think it's the school, but it was the parents. They have just an incredibly powerful role. Maybe not every single parent has incredibly powerful role for every single child, but in general, if you look across all of them, parents, you know, have a lot of power to determine what they're going to expose their kids to. And often the kids wanted the exposure. Like, for the kids who were religious they wanted to know about religion, they wanted to be a part of it and all that. 

Amy Adamczyk  35:16

So I mean, I think for the parents who wants to pass this on, I think that that is there. You know, I think parents today want to at least in the United States, they want to be liked, they want to, we didn't have any parents who, who said, "Oh, if my kid doesn't belong to the same religion as me, I'm gonna disown them," when there was none of that, like, it's a kind of a different era. And for parents who are in religious faiths, like Islam in the United States, they were especially concerned about their kids, you know, being too extreme, they just wanted them to have a good life. I mean, that's often what you know, kind of parents were looking for. 

Amy Adamczyk  35:46

So I think what all of this sort of means for  the secularization thesis is that I don't think this is just obviously I agree with you, John, like this, this economic development. I mean, it's not that I mean, those things do sometimes work together. But I think there's a lot more going on there. I think for parents who want to pass on religion, they're going to be able to do it. At the same time, you know, I was a little I grew up religious, my parents were very religious, I was a little surprised at how many parents really just wanted to pass on lukewarm religious beliefs. There wasn't this sense of like, oh, that, you know, militantly you know, trying to ingrain religion into their children, even if they were going to do it in a delicate manner with two-way conversations and all that there wasn't that much of it. 

Amy Adamczyk  36:31

So parents, at least in the United States today, are just passing on as much as they want to: not too much, not too little. They want their kids to have a good life. And having a good life means having some religion toolkit that can help them cope and help them be happier people. But it means not too much religion, because then maybe that's going to be a problem. So, hopefully, I've answered at least pieces of your question, John. These are things I'm gonna have to think more about too as things go forward.

John Torpey  37:01

Well, thanks very much. I mean, it's been a fascinating conversation. You're doing lots of really interesting work that we're out of time for today. I want to thank Amy Adamczyk of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for sharing her insights about the role of religion in shaping attitudes towards abortion and all kinds of other things. As I do think, and I suspect you agree that this is a topic that maybe doesn't get enough attention in contemporary social science.

John Torpey  37:28

In any case, remember to subscribe and rate International Horizons on SoundCloud, Spotify, and Apple podcasts. I want to thank Oswaldo Mena Aguilar for his technical assistance as well as to acknowledge Duncan Mackay for sharing his song "International Horizons" as the theme music for the show. This is John Torpey, saying, thanks for joining us and we look forward to having you with us for the next episode of International Horizons.