Date of Award

2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Interdisciplinary Program

Advisor

Sydney Carroll Thomas

Second Committee Member

Dorothy Breen

Third Committee Member

Susan Davies

Abstract

Building on an interactionist model and on research on salubrious factors, this study gave voice to adolescents' perspectives on their intrinsic faith development as it occurs within the faith community social support network. Specifically, it used asset and faith assessments and a series of audio-taped interviews to engage 18 youth actively involved in youth group activities within faith communities to address the global question "How do the (a) individual intrinsic development of faith and the (b) faith-related social experiences serve as assets for mental health development and thriving in youth, from the youths' perspectives?" Secondary questions included (a) How do youth define and describe the essence of their developing intrinsic faith?; (b) How do youth define and give meaning to their faith-related social experiences?; and (c) How do youth experience and give meaning to the complex interaction between intrinsic faith and social interactions of the faith community? This study modeled principles of youth asset development by engaging four youth as co-researchers in this interpretivist phenomenological study. The youth in this study shared themes about their faith development experience. They consistently called their faith activities "fun" and critical to their identity. Their faith community was a safe place where (a) they could be themselves and question belief systems; (b) they had intergenerational meaningful connections with unconditional love and support across time; (c) they felt equal; and (d) they had leadership roles and opportunities for meaningful participation. The youths' faith development experiences supported some and challenged other prior findings of risk reduction, asset development, and faith development research. The study (a) assimilated concepts from positive psychology, faith/health connection research, and risk reduction/resiliency and asset development models; (b) provided voice to and insights of adolescents regarding their individual intrinsic faith development within the faith community; and (c) empowered youth as research partners in its methodological design. The study illuminated the essence of faith development within the faith community, gave insights into how faith served as a salubrious factor for youth, and suggested implications for redesigning the children's mental health deficit-model system of care into a salutogenic, strengths-based system that promotes growth and thriving.

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