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Do Young People Care About Religion?

Euella explores what role religion plays in young people’s lives today. 

Religion – one of two topics that we are taught to explicitly avoid at the dinner table, and funnily enough, a topic that appears to re-emphasise the generational gap between us and those who raised us. The religious landscape is changing and for the first time, according to the British Social Attitudes survey, more than half of the population say they ‘have no religion’. The figures for those who identified as having no religious affiliation have so far peaked at 53% – up from 31% when it was first recorded in 1983 – which leads me to wonder, what role does religion play in young people’s lives today?

‘Religion – one of two topics that we are taught to explicitly avoid at the dinner table…’

Although there is irreligiosity in all generations, it seems young people are driving this change. In general, we are no longer expressing close affiliation with religious values and their institutions – but that doesn’t mean we lack faith completely. Generation Z and millennials often get a bad rep. We’re seen as entitled, narcissistic and tech-dependent – too absorbed in our smartphones and social feeds to give a damn about anything beyond our immediate worlds. But I don’t entirely believe this to be the case. Although the findings look particularly bleak for Christianity (lol), affiliation from young Britons from Muslim and other religious minority backgrounds are holding up well. I personally know many young people who are religious and openly display their faiths. It is true that religious affiliation is changing and in a world that is becoming increasingly sceptical towards religious systems, young people may choose to explore their faith in new and creative ways.

At a time when the western world is rife with Islamophobia and xenophobia, openly declaring your religious faith or affiliation is dangerous territory. Treading a thin line between being accused of ‘shoving it down people’s throats’ and being seemingly ashamed of their faith, many young people are faced with a challenge. Some may prefer to change with the times, and instead of their faith being encompassed in a particular place of worship or practice, they may choose to focus their religious efforts online by reposting quotes from sacred texts on Instagram or streaming sermons on Youtube. Although there is the obvious threat of trolls, online spaces present the scope for gaining support and affirmation from others who share similar beliefs because, let’s face it, scepticism is real.

‘Treading a thin line between being accused of ‘shoving it down people’s throats’ and being seemingly ashamed of their faith, many young people are faced with a challenge’.

According to YouGov, religious figures have the least influence on the lives of young Britons – and more say they see religion as a force for evil than a force for good. Despite there being significant nuances within this, it can be argued that some young people see religion as being conservative and divisive rather than progressive and inclusive. For example, resistance to the rights of women and/or the LGBTQIA+ community have alienated many young people and shown some traditional religions’ inability to embrace the diversity of 21st-century Britain. As a result, some choose to adopt a ‘pick n mix’ approach to religiosity – where you take parts of religious values that you do believe in and reject the parts that you don’t – ultimately using religion as a guide but not gospel (excuse the pun). Others, use their art to express and challenge their own religiosity – using, for example, music, writing or film to create a dialogue around the relevance of religion in today.

Despite our scepticism towards big belief systems, young people seem to have a general openness to new ideas and possibilities. Many young people are identifying with other concepts relating to spirituality – using terms like ‘karma’, ‘zen’ or ‘inner-balance’ to explore their relationship with themselves and the world. They may do yoga, tai-chi or pay attention to the feng-shuai of a space. Even if they’re not doing this, their belief systems appear to be much more personal, believing in things that align with their own ethics and world-views. A recent study on youth and religion found that being non-religious meant a number of different things to young people and that even those who identified as having ‘no religion’ seemed to display different levels of religiosity at various points of their lives. It seems that young people see a difference between faith and religion – even though the two are often closely linked. Religion being an ideological belief-system that structures the way you view the world, whereas faith is something different entirely. It can be argued that faith is about conviction; it’s personal – it’s spiritual. Religion relates to the collective but individual faith is what gives religion power.

Religion relates to the collective but individual faith is what gives religion power.

In many ways, religion is becoming one of those things you can’t talk about or explore openly because it’s becoming increasingly individualised. We’re all invested in the questions around our creation, or what happens after we die or what our purpose on this earth is that things can become heated, but it shouldn’t have to. We’re criticised as being increasingly secular, but there is more than one way to engage with religion than identifying with a set of beliefs. For young people, faith is seemingly more dynamic and personal – with more people choosing not to openly declare their faith or wear it for all to see. There’s a growing fluidity around faith as certain beliefs may seem more relevant to us at certain points in our lives, but as we grow, they may become more redundant. Faith and questions around it may seep into our creative endeavours or the way we think about ourselves and others may look beyond religion to give meaning to our social worlds. So in answer to my question, it seems everyone believes in something – it just seems like the parameters to what we believe in are much broader.

For groups in Bristol where you can explore these topics, head over to the Rife Guide

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