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At Teen Magazine, Faith Is in Fashion

By Rachel Zoll
Associated Press
Saturday, September 4, 2004; Page B08

Faiza worships five times a day, while Rhianna is as likely to believe in the Easter Bunny as in God. Kristin prays, too, but to the God and the Goddess.

This teenage religion debate can be found on the pages of a magazine better known for explaining how to match lipstick to blush -- not exploring the concept of a higher power.

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But under editor in chief Atoosa Rubenstein, the venerable girls' publication Seventeen has added a faith section that includes inspirational messages, personal stories of spiritual struggle and testimonials on issues that include prayer and gay teenagers who attend church.

The content is serious. Verses from the New Testament are printed beside sayings from the Prophet Muhammad. The teachings of Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama are also featured.

Rubenstein said her goal is not to spread a religious message, but to provide a forum for an issue she believes is important to this generation of girls.

"I feel, and had sensed that my readers felt, that there was an entire magazine that wasn't speaking to a part of them," Rubenstein said. "I just noticed, more and more, our readers were talking about their faith."

Experts on religion and youth trends agree. They theorize that teenagers are rebelling against the broad, undefined spirituality of their baby-boomer parents and are seeking out environments -- like those in church -- with clearer rules that help them cope with day-to-day problems.

Rubenstein, founding editor of CosmoGirl!, said she proposed a faith section when she started out in magazines. She said other editors told her a fashion magazine was no place for God.

A year ago, she took over at Seventeen with a mandate to revamp the publication, and she revived the religion idea. For guidance, she formed an interfaith advisory board that includes an evangelical Christian preacher, a priest from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, a Reform Jewish rabbi, a Buddhist teacher, an Episcopal youth minister and two Muslims.

The section debuted in the August issue. Reader response has been mostly favorable, Rubenstein said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company