Introducing Jaclyn Doherty: Her Research Story
Springtide Research Institute is pleased to welcome Jaclyn Doherty to our team. Jaclyn is a PhD candidate in Psychology at The Graduate Center, CUNY, where her academic research centers around religious/spiritual identity in social spaces. Below, she shares her own research experiences and what it means for her work at Springtide.
When I interviewed Noah, 22, and Andrew, 25, for my research on navigating religious differences in relationships, they’d been in an interfaith romantic partnership for two years. While they didn’t feel that religion impacted their lives every day, they were excited to incorporate some religious traditions into their relationship.
Noah, who is Catholic, recalled celebrating the Hindu tradition of Diwali with Andrew. He felt it built vulnerability and trust between them. “We had all the little diyas in the apartment,” Noah said. “And that was really nice. I actually felt closer to him because we he was willing to open that up for me. . . . There was a level of trust there.”
In turn, Andrew appreciated Noah’s attentiveness to his culture. “We lit [diyas], and I explained this was to light the path for the new year, and the gods bring prosperity to the household,” Andrew said. “And in our room, he had one that he was very carefully putting in a low corner of the room. And I took a video because it was very sweet . . . giving so much care to this thing that I grew up with.”
Outside of my work with Springtide Research Institute, I study close relationships like Andrew and Noah’s, where the people don’t share a religious affiliation. These relationships can be interfaith (between people of two different religious groups) or religious/secular (between one religious person and one nonreligious person). Though my research hasn’t focused on young people, I have learned about young adults’ interfaith relationships.
Noah and Andrew were one of 11 interfaith or religious/secular romantic couples I interviewed for my dissertation. Through both individual and joint interviews, I aimed to understand how couples interacted with religion in their relationships. Were they having conversations about religion and/or spirituality? Were they participating in each other’s religious practices, holidays, or rituals? How did they approach and experience these activities? How did they see these activities affecting their relationship?
While most interviewees did not fall within Springtide’s definition of young people (ages 13–25), four partnerships included at least one young person. I was fortunate to recruit religiously diverse young people—self-reported affiliations included Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Nonreligious.
Additionally, these interviews helped me explore relationships that began in young adulthood. All couples had at least one partner under 26 years old when their relationship started; for 91% of couples, both partners were under 26.
In these conversations:
- Many people told me that religion wasn’t very relevant in their day-to-day lives. Most young people did not describe themselves as religious, especially when it came to institutional religion. This mirrors Springtide’s research, which finds that many young people do not readily trust and affiliate with religious institutions. Interviewees felt that this lack of traditional religious identity made it easier to maintain their relationships.
However, most interviewees still felt that religion played a role in their lives and relationships. Many believed religion affected their identity through upbringing and culture, ultimately inspiring their values and worldviews. These foundations then shaped family life together.
- Interviewees appreciated open and respectful religious conversation and participation. Many expressed curiosity—a longing to learn more about their partner by understanding their religious beliefs, traditions, and practices. They also expressed an excitement to introduce their partner to their own religious background.
Some felt that building a close relationship involved understanding their partner’s deeper self: Where do they come from? What do they believe? How do they experience their culture? Through religious conversation and participation, they found ways to better understand and respect each other, in light of their differences.
- These conversations and practices also helped couples recognize their religious similarities. Interviewees described similarities in their religions’ underlying messages and values. They noted similarities in their communities’ religious practices and celebrations. They found similarities in their level of religiosity and relationship with a higher power (or lack thereof). These similarities offered more opportunities to bond as a couple and reaffirm their compatibility.
As I analyze this interview data, launch two experimental follow-up studies, and write my dissertation, I find myself wondering how generational contexts might impact interfaith relationships. Springtide observes that young people often formulate their own systems of belief and practice by integrating aspects of multiple traditions—we call this faith unbundled. I wonder how a faith-unbundled approach might affect interfaith communication and engagement in both romantic and platonic settings. Might this flexibility allow young people to navigate religious differences more easily? Might it increase their likelihood of recognizing religious similarities?
Especially as the world becomes more connected and religious identity becomes more complicated, I trust that my work with Springtide will continue to promote positive relationships and communities, both within and beyond religious spaces.