Growing numbers of young adults are either nonreligious or "spiritual but not religious," but this does not signal a lack of interest in religion and meaning-making. Though the lexicon describing sexuality and gender is quickly evolving, young people do not yet have satisfactory language to describe their fluid religious and spiritual identities.
In Identities Under Construction Pamela Dickey Young and Heather Shipley undertake a focused study of youth sexual, religious, and gender identity construction. Drawing from survey responses and interviews with nearly five hundred participants, they reveal that youth today consider their identities fluid and open to change. Young people do not limit themselves to singular identity categories, experiencing the choice of one religion, of maleness or femaleness, or of a fixed sexuality as confining. Although they recognize various forces at work in identity construction - parents, peers, the internet - they regard themselves as the authors of their own identities. For most of the young adults in the study, even those who are most traditionally religious, religious opinions and values should adapt to changing social mores to ensure that people are not judged for their sexual choices or identities. Further, they are not judgmental of others' choices, even if they would not make these choices for themselves.
Engaging religion and sexuality studies in new ways, Identities Under Construction calls for a new grammar of religion that better captures lived realities at a time when religious choice has broadened beyond choosing a single organized religious tradition.
About the authors
Pamela Dickey Young is professor and interim director of the School of Religion at Queen's University.
Heather Shipley is a project manager for the Religion and Diversity Project and she teaches part-time at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. Her research focuses on the construction, management, and regulation of religion, gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation as identity categories in law, policy, and public discourse. Publications include “Human Rights, Sexuality and Religion: Between Policy and Identity,” Canadian Diversity 9(3) (2012); “Fairies, Mermaids, Mothers and Princesses: Sexual Difference and Gender Roles in Peter Pan,” Studies in Gender and Sexuality 13(2) (2012); and “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other: Regulating Sexual Difference,” in Reasonable Accommodation: Managing Religious Diversity edited by L. Beaman (UBC Press, 2012).
"Dickey Young and Shipley let their participants define their gender, sexuality, and religiosity in their own words - a sophisticated and thoughtful choice that truly reflects the spirit of their findings. Several of the compelling participants' narratives promise to stay with readers long after they put down this book. The authors wield an impressive amount of data, revealing a generation's lived experiences of religion and sexuality in Canada as we have never seen before." Jennifer A. Selby, Memorial University of Newfoundland