What does Generation Z believe? Religious research shines a light on youngest Americans

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Religion and the role of spirituality continue to have a place in the lives of younger generations of Americans, even though their approaches to faith differ from traditional definitions of religion.

The finding was one of many in the State of Religion & Young People 2021 research study published by the Springtide Research Institute in Minnesota in October.

The data, based on more than 10,000 surveys of Americans aged 13 to 25, found that most young people identified as religious, 71%, or spiritual, 78%, but they were just as likely to asking “nobody” for help during stressful times. that they don’t have to look for a religious leader. The study clearly shows that the link goes both ways: One in 10 young people told researchers that a religious leader contacted them in the past year.

Josh Packard, executive director of Springtide, said the people studied, largely Gen Z, largely try to balance a focus on the inside with a trust in institutions.

“They’re really trying to find that middle ground where they’re just not going to compromise their identity and that of their friends and their ability to come forward for them just to be part of an institution,” Packard said. “And, at the same time, what we don’t see is that they are fabricating, if you have 700 individuals, they are not fabricating 700 versions of religion for themselves. They are very interested in these traditions and by these intact faith systems.

Data released this week by the Pew Research Center found that about three in ten Americans are not affiliated with a religion, part of a continuing downward trend. Gen Z research shows that some of the younger Americans have a more fluid definition of church membership.

Haneen Ahmed, a 13-year-old resident of Chattanooga, said she had friends who followed religions other than her own. When she shares her understanding of Islam or they ask questions, it’s not toxic and it doesn’t lead to arguments, she said.

“I don’t really base my friends on their religion, but when we talk about it, we are just talking about the basics of their religions,” she said.

An interest in learning more about other religions, or even in drawing lessons from them, was a takeaway from Springtide’s research. Defined in the study as ‘unbundling’, the current generation of young people turn less to strict religious frameworks and are more drawn to the intermingling of traditions.

Levi Lebovitz, 17, said that although he was raised in the Jewish community and active in many Jewish after-school groups, he sees religious tradition as a useful framework.

“My relationship with Judaism is not very evangelical or, like, very Orthodox,” said the Chattanooga resident. “I am very interested in the community aspect. I’m a conservative Jew, which means I’m kind of in the middle of the strict category. I go to services and things, but I’m not like a strict believer that every word in Torah is the truth. “

Lebovitz said he learned meditation and Buddhism because of the general interest and the potential mental benefits of meditation. But, in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, he turned to the Jewish concept of “tikkum olam”, in Hebrew to “fix the world,” to inform his advocacy work. a reform of the law on firearms.

(READ MORE: Christian colleges in Chattanooga area rank among ‘absolute worst’ for LGBTQ students, according to rights group)

The Springtide survey found that young people crave religious institutions to tackle major social issues, such as climate change, racial justice or LGBTQ rights. Research has found that about half of young people think religious groups of all faiths don’t care about the things most important to their generation.

Gen Z is very interested in mental health and aligning belief systems with actions, Packard said. However, being told what to believe is probably a non-starter.

“This has always been true for young people,” Packard said. “And that’s just really critical at this time, when so many of our institutions, including our religious institutions, seem so polarized. So make room for all of their feelings in the context of your religious tradition and show that these two things are not incompatible is, I think, a really important step in rebuilding some of that confidence. “

Emma Campbell, 22, said she doesn’t want preaching in her church to be political or prescriptive, but young people are hungry for ways to apply the Bible to everyday life or to current issues.

Campbell, a Chattanooga resident who said she has debated full-time ministry, understands young people are reluctant to submit to religious ideology because this call to submission has already been misused by religious leaders.

Packard said it’s important to remember that young people’s approaches to faith will change over time as they get older. Keeping in conversation with them is what is essential, he said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at [email protected] or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @ news4mass.

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