It looks like a fascinating work. As Oppenheimer reports:
In 1969, shortly after being hired at U.S.C., Professor Bengtson began a study of 350 families, whom he interviewed regularly until 2008. In some families, he interviewed four generations. In all, his respondents were born in years spanning 1878 to 1989.
Professor Bengtson’s project yielded more than 200 articles, many focused on aging and intergenerational conflict, topics on which he has become an expert. Now, at last, he is ready to draw some conclusions about religion, the issue that got him started.
I found this passage particularly interesting, having to do with the effect of fathers on the faith of children:
But Professor Bengtson’s major conclusion is that family bonds matter. Displays of parental piety, like “teaching the right beliefs and practices” and “keeping strictly to the law,” can be for naught if the children don’t feel close to the parents. “Without emotional bonding,” these other factors are “not sufficient for transmission,” he writes.
Professor Bengtson also found that one parent matters more than the other — and it’s Dad. “But what is really interesting,” he writes, “is that, for religious transmission, having a close bond with one’s father matters even more than a close relationship with one’s mother.”
. . . “fervent faith cannot compensate for a distant dad.” Over and over in interviews, Professor Bengtson said, he found that “a father who is an exemplar, a pillar of the church, but doesn’t provide warmth and affirmation to his kid does not have kids who follow him in his faith.”
Professor Bengtson’s own family hewed to the rule of the nurturing dad.
“I had this great big jovial grandfather, who just exuded warmth,” Professor Bengtson said. “All of his 10 kids followed him in the faith. And it was true of his father, going back to Sweden, and it was true of my father. There’s this pattern of paternal warmth that seems to characterize the Bengtson family. And that may be why there are so many evangelical Bengtsons.”
Professor Bengtson also found that grandparents have a strong influence on children’s religious development, and that freedom to leave can encourage children to stay. “Allowing children religious choice can encourage religious continuity,” he writes.