Development of Religious Identity Through Doubts Among Religious Adolescents in Israel: An Empirical Perspective and Educational Ramifications

March – April, 2016

Source: Religious Education, 111:2, 119-136 


Researchers have been demonstrating interest in doubts regarding religious faith for thirty years. The current study goal was examining differences between three groups of religious male adolescents in Israel, regarding faith identity, doubts in religious faith (past and present), religious behavior, and the connection between them. Three questionnaires were answered by 472 religious Israeli male 9th, 10th, and 11th graders, regarding faith identity, religious behavior, and faith doubts. A MANOVA indicated significant differences between the groups for all research variables. Separate regression analyses for each age group for predicting faith identity according to doubts, produced very different pictures. Tenth grade seems the most important crossroads in forming religious identity.

If these explanations are correct, they have important educational implications. Apparently 10th grade is the major crossroads for religious doubts and connection with faith identity. So as not to reach foreclosure faith identity, it is important that educators and parents raise doubts, a process essential to consolidation of spiritual identity.

Adolescents should be encouraged to raise doubts and be exposed to a range of opinions and various philosophers, to arouse their interest in reexamining their faith. Most importantly, they should be taught that doubts are not the enemy of faith, but rather a pre-condition for crystallizing an adult faith identity. Throughout his life of faith, the believer with an adult faith identity is accompanied by doubts, and it is the fuel to light his faith. We believe parents and educators of 10th graders must emphasize these issues all the more forcefully to help adolescents investigate, disagree, and raise doubts on their way to crystallizing a faith identity.

Religious education must not be based solely on religious behavior, and must include also (and primarily) faith identity education. Faith identity education must be based on doubts regarding faith, synchronous with the adolescent’s development. Education regarding doubts includes critical thinking and the latter must begin at a relatively early age, so that when the adolescent reaches the stage of doubts regarding faith those doubts will not scare him, since he will understand that they are the cornerstone of faith identity. The educational system must encourage education towards critical thinking as part of education toward forming an ego identity, including religious identity. Education regarding doubts is not education to raise questions with the goal of being given clear answers by the teacher or parent. Education regarding doubts is a process in which the adolescent raises doubts so as to examine the truths toward which he was previously educated. Education systems that encourage raising doubts have no fear of this process and have no objections to this educational method. In fact the contrary, it encourages the process of raising doubts at the appropriate developmental stage, so as to direct the adolescent to formulate his faith identity. When the education system understands that the goal of religious education is to help the adolescent crystal-lize his identity, it ceases worrying about the results of those doubts. Education that focuses only on religious behavior is not education to be religious, and will probably make it more difficult to crystallize a faith identity. This educational process must also be expressed when training educators and during teachers’ continuing education.

Study Limitations

This study has two major limitations: one connected to the sample. The study was conducted only on Modern Orthodox boys, and in three age groups. It is recommended that the study be expanded and conducted on additional age groups, girls, and religious adolescents from other sectors.

Another limitation concerns the study methodology. Conclusions cannot be drawn from the study regarding the type of doubts, or the link between doubts and school climate, home climate, and many other variables. It is recommended that the study be expanded to include data from qualitative methodology.

Another recommendation is to conduct a comparative study with non-religious Jewish adolescents and religious adolescents of other religions.

Updated: Apr. 20, 2016