Is society becoming more spiritual and less religious?

The question of whether religion is prominent in society has been one that has marveled researchers since the dawn of enlightened thought.

This inquiry has often led to the question of whether society is becoming more spiritual and less religious. In order to answer this question, one must take a look at societies youngest generations.

In the context of America, the youngest generations appear to be the Millennials, Generation Z, and Generation Alpha respectively.

With the oldest of Generation Z being 23 and the oldest of Generation Alpha being 8, the Millennial generation would be the best sample group to observe. This is due to the fact that they have lived long enough to express their fully formed beliefs.

Throughout American society, the concepts of spirituality and religiosity have come to be somewhat interchangeable. This comes as a result of our fascination with labels and compartmentalizing things in a manner of extremes.

In other words, anything that is theistic or even vaguely affiliated with theism will be categorized as theistic, thus the interchangeability of the terms spiritual and religious.

Within modern day America, Millennials appear to be fully aware of the distinctions between religion and spirituality. Millennials are essentially the key to understanding the direction of religious prominence America is heading toward.

Gaining an in depth understanding of the sociological undercurrents of America is quite interesting but first, what truly is the distinction between spirituality and religiosity? The answer is religion, and one’s subscription to a religion.

In its purest sense, spirituality can be described as a philosophy that is not affiliated with religion or dogma. It is founded on looking within; it is the belief that a person is not only physical but inhabits a spirit or soul. A spiritual person acknowledges and accepts the idea of a spiritual realm and the spiritual side of the physical world.

A religious person is a person who can be spiritual with the exception of being affiliated with a religion. In order to conceptualize this distinction, it is similar to a rectangle being a square while a square cannot be a rectangle with spirituality being the square and religion being the rectangle.

With this being said, why does it follow that Millennials understand the distinction between religion and spirituality?

According to Michel Hout, a professor of sociology at New York University, the reason lies within the upbringing of millenials. Hout found that Millennials were often raised by Baby Boomers who capitalized on the importance of thinking for themselves and finding “their own moral compass”.

This influence upon the Millennial mind is responsible for often liberal perspectives on the world and their desire to always skip to the beat of their own drum.

As a result of such rugged individualism, this generation of adults is less inclined to engage in heavily traditional and conservative religious practices. This phenomenon is not only limited to practices, but to religion as a whole.

This is easily seen when Millennials and younger generations define religious adherence as an inherited concept. For instance, many young adults and adults state that they’re Christian, Catholic, or Jewish because their parents are. However, in truly assessing their beliefs it is clear to see that they are often agnostic.

Such a phenomenon is heavily prevalent throughout society and gradually increases the younger the individual.

David Masci writing from Pew Research elaborates on this point stating that “…millennials (young adults born between 1981 and 1996) are much less likely than older Americans to pray or attend church regularly or to consider religion an important part of their lives”. Following the flow of influence passed from generation to generation, it seems as if the slight indifference toward religion found among millennials will pass to their offspring. If the pattern continues, it is clear that America will become non-religious.

However, although the Millennial population is growing increasingly non-religious, they are becoming somewhat spiritual. In fact, according to Casper de Kuile, a researcher and millennial at Harvard University, “the overwhelming majority of us nones aren’t necessarily atheists”. Kuile asserts that “two-thirds” of Millennials believe in God and twenty percent “pray every day”.

These finding suggest that religion is still prominent yet religious practices are on the decline likely due to the fact that this population of people see religious adherence as a hereditary trait of sorts.

His findings reveal the underlying mechanisms behind this “I’m Christian because my family is” perspective. He reveals the fact that the numbers are a bit skewed and “millennials are turning away from religion faster than any other age group”.

With this in mind, what is the catalyst that is contributing to a Millennial reversion to religion? In short, it is the fact that Millennials do not feel included in religious communities.

Kuile states that this population is a “growing group that feel like they have been left behind by religious institutions”. Consequently, Millennials are finding other forms of communities and spiritual philosophies.

As a 20-year-old Generation Z woman, I find that this is very true. Throughout social media, my circle of friends, interactions with acquaintances, and life in general I find that Millennials and younger generations are fascinated with New Age concepts.

These concepts consist of  astrology, Buddhism, looking within oneself via meditation, yoga, and crystal healing to name a few. For this reason I find that society is becoming more spiritual and less religious. If you want to know where a society is going, look at it’s young people, if you desire to know where it has been, look at its older adults.