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date: 29 November 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the integration of theories of youth spiritual development with theories of positive youth development, a relatively recent phenomenon in developmental psychology. It reviews the literature showing the intersection of positive youth development with both institutional and personal expressions of spirituality, and it specifically notes the mediating role played by youth experience of developmental assets in the empirically observed linkage of religious and spiritual engagement and positive developmental outcomes among youth. It presents initial research advancing a new theory of youth spiritual development as a universal domain of development, describing spiritual development as a constant, ongoing, and dynamic interplay between one's inward journey and one's outward journey. Several central animating dynamics are presented: awareness, connecting, and integrating these into a purposeful way of living. Research is discussed from a religiously diverse global sample of more than 7,000 youth ages 12–25 years from eight countries in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, showing that higher scores on those elements of spiritual development predict positive outcomes across nations and affiliations, including volunteerism, self-rated overall health, environmentalism, and risk behaviors. Moreover, as predicted, high scores occur with and without active engagement with religious traditions. Finally, integration of the spiritual development domains—having high scores in each area—increases with age, as would be expected in a valid developmental process. Although the model does not work equally well with all countries and religions, it marks a significant advance beyond the traditional spiritual development models that have been based on Western and Christian samples and measures and represented the great majority of the literature.

Keywords: positive youth development, developmental assets, spirituality, spiritual development, religious engagement

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