Describing contemporary adolescents by the term "theologian" would hardly achieve widespread consensus within developmental or social psychological communities. In describing the religious and spiritual experiences of youth around the globe, one is just as likely to hear adjectives like pluralistic, undeclared, or "agnostic" (i.e., no knowledge that God can or does exist). Adolescence, however, continues to be the period of life when many individuals seek and find answers to their spiritual and religious questions. Before describing three areas of experience prominent during adolescence that illustrates that adolescents are both intentionally and developmentally active in their theological exploration, the term "theologian" is explored as a construct to inform this discussion. As will be demonstrated, the maturational cognitive, social, and behavioral changes that are unique to adolescence contribute quite holistically to the spiritual and religious development of the young person.
WHAT IS A THEOLOGIAN, AND CAN AN ADOLESCENT BE ONE?
Social scientists working in the area of religious and spiritual development seem hesitant to explore a field of study-theology-that has historically been left to seminaries and other religious disciplines. Simply stated, theology is nothing more or less than the study of God; more specifically, it is the ongoing process of seeking, critiquing, and refining an increasing knowledge of God. Thus, a theologian is anyone who speculates about theology, and/or the prominence, nature, and knowledge of God. Implied in this definition is the acknowledgment that, for reasoned exploration to take place, God does indeed exist. That most adolescents believe in the existence of God has been overwhelmingly supported in numerous surveys. What remains to be explored, however, is the nature of how the adolescent experiences, understands, and generally wrestles with the processes critical to acts of theological inquiry, critique, and refinement. The course of developing one's theological understanding during adolescence is not scripted, nor is there any certainty that all or even most adolescents will come to favorably embrace their understanding of God. Support for this proposition comes from studies looking at a developing theologian's supposed antithesis- atheism-wherein at least four types of atheists have been identified. First, developmental atheists are those who designate themselves as atheists when they claim not to believe in what they believed at earlier ages. Second, social or ecclesiastical atheists are those who have quit as members of a church or other religious institutions. Third, philosophical atheists are those who have thoroughly worked through their former beliefs, and hence denied any existence of a divine Ultimate Being. Finally, easy atheists are those who are characterized by an absolute absence of interest in religious affairs.
For all but the easy atheist, then, even adolescents who reject God, the church, and/or its principles appear to expend considerable cognitive energy and social commitment to the consideration of and decisions about religious faith and God. Theologians are not defined by the results of their searching and refining, only by the fact that they extend effort and resources in attempts to increase their understanding of religious faith and God. In this way, is every individual who has some reason for his or her atheism a theologian, too? Atheists who intentionally and objectively examine their faith, and consequently come to deny His existence, usually know very well what they are rejecting or have lost-sometimes even better than believers who more or less let God be God. Whether the adolescent accepts or rejects this understanding does not disqualify her or him as a theologian. There are at least three processes prominent within most adolescents' experience-religious doubt, theological dissonance, and identity formation-that contribute to the essence of theological inquiry.
DOUBT, ATTRIBUTIONS, AND THE ADOLESCENT THEOLOGIAN
Religious and theological understanding for children in their primary school years is largely imitative in nature. Learning religious practice rather than developing religious belief is the primary experience for the child.