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The Religious Life of Gen Z

Gen Z

At the beginning of the 20th century, sociologist Max Weber prophesied that religion-less modernity would become unbearable for secular society. He predicted the emergence of what he called late modernity, a period in which people embraced a kind of polytheism, hybridizing their spirituality by welding together different beliefs and practices in an attempt to find enchantment in the midst of bland secularism.

He might have been right.

Deakin University recently published their Worldviews of Generation Z report, based on research done with Australians aged 13-18.

Up until its release, most social commentators have tended to assume that young people are largely apathetic when it comes to religion. But the Deakin researchers found that some of this had to do with how we’ve been asking teens about religion. When confronted with traditional surveys that ask them to identify themselves as Catholic Christian, Protestant Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc, teens are nonplussed. The Deakin team found that these fixed ideas of religious identity are no longer applicable to young people.

Instead, Deakin used contemporary theories of religious diversity, and asked teens about six different spirituality “types” — this worldly, indifferent, spiritual not religious, seekers, nominally religious, religiously committed. Their results looked like this:

Far from being disinterested, the study found “that young people negotiate their worldview identities in complex, critical and caring ways that are far from ambivalent, and that are characterised by hybridity and questioning.”

If you’re wondering what hybridity looks like, read this quote by international model, Miranda Kerr, as she describes her religious outlook:

“I’m not Buddhist. I’m Christian. I pray every day. I meditate every day and I do yoga. I’m not religious, I’m spiritual. And praying is something my grandmother taught me as well. To pray and be grateful, have gratitude, is a big thing for me. I like to pray and I like to meditate. Doing just three minutes of prayer and a minimum of five minutes meditation twice a day sets the tone – like an arrow so that you’re hitting your target. When I pray I always thank Mother Nature for all the beauty in the world; it’s about having an attitude of gratitude. And then I pray to Christ to say, ‘Thank you for this day and my family and my health,’ and now that I’m older I’ve added, ‘Please illuminate me. Please open my heart chakra. Open my aperture and uplift my consciousness so that I can be the best version of myself’.”

To the specific findings of the Deakin University study, the Worldviews of Generation Z report makes fascinating reading. They found:

Teens were generally very positive about different faith groups:

  • 85% of teenagers had a positive attitude towards Christians;
  • 80% had a positive view of Buddhists;
  • 75% had a positive attitude to Hindus;
  • 74% had a positive attitude to Muslims;
  • 83% had a positive view of those who have no religion.

Teens affirm and were open to religious diversity in Australia and thought different faiths should have religious freedom:

  • 91 % thought that having people of many different faiths made Australia a better place to live;
  • 90 % thought that students should be allowed to wear religious clothes or jewellery to school;
  • 88% thought that all religious groups in Australia should be free to practise their religion the way they want to.

Opinion was divided when it seemed that religion might impinge on them:

  • 44% thought that religion caused more problems in society than it solved;
  • 50% thought people with very strong religious beliefs were often too intolerant of others;
  • 33% thought religion should have no place in our parliament or official ceremonies;
  • 32% thought that local communities should be able to prevent the construction of mosques or temples in their area if they didn’t want them.

What can we say about the emerging face of religious belief in Australia? As the researchers concluded, when it comes to religion, teens are complex, critical and caring.

GEN Z IS COMPLEX

The religious outlook of teens in Australia is, well, complicated. Far from being apathetic about it, teenagers are in fact hybridizing a kind of bespoke religious life without necessarily any belief in God or involvement in traditional religious communities.

The report states, “For the most part, they don’t believe or belong in the same ways as members of older generations, and the majority of them don’t see themselves as belonging to a religious tradition or organisation.”

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I’m a 20-year veteran of the academy, but I still don’t call myself an academic. On my immigration forms I write “teacher” in the occupation box. I’ve taught at Morling College in Sydney that whole time and am currently the head of the missiology department there.