What’s this religion in youth culture? How do we measure changing patterns of religiosity among American youth? How is religion measured among social scientists and humanists alike? While scholarship suggests that subjective religiosity is strong among American youth despite declining rates of institutional religious participation, the reality is that the category of ‘religion’ and ‘construction’ of meaning have been seldom theoretically and methodologically interrogated. Social scientific and humanities literature on youth and religion finds itself at a precarious crossroads where emergent cultural forms and practices proliferate while traditional institutions of religion continue to decline in membership. On one hand – this has caused alarm for scholars arguing that institutional religion proffers pro-social behavior and is a tool of buffering transgression. These conservative and politically motivated models treat religion as a moral sanitizer and something solely institutional and autonomous (sui generis) from social, cultural, and political influences. This oversight denies the ways in which the housing of religious rhetoric in popular cultural activity is often deployed to legitimate, authenticate, and solidify competing social and cultural interests among various human ecologies.
Across the academic field of religious studies, the region of the Pacific Northwest has been dubbed the "None Zone”—a frame of reference used by scholars to depict low (reported) rates of institutional religious affiliation in and around this region. Again, for the purposes of these empirical studies, religion is something generally done within and practiced under the auspices of faith based institutions. The aim of “Youth Culture and the Remaking of Religion in Portland, Oregon” is to ethnographically consider the role, weight and significance of material cultural practices while also gauging ideas, perceptions, and understandings of religion, broadly conceived. We are interested in the changing landscape of religion among young people by exploring the cultural words and everyday practices that often shape their perspectives of the world in which they live.
Blending street corner culture ethnography with an expanded notion of the ethnographic we hope the findings of this work offer a more robust texture to the form and content of religion in youth culture scholarship. A confidential open and closed ended survey is being administered to roughly 500 young people in numerous locations across Portland, Oregon such as street corners, coffee shops, tattoo parlors, nightclubs and bookstores. The findings of this work will culminate in a
series of forthcoming scholarly publications and initial findings will be
presented at a Spring 2012 symposium to be held at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.