Are Millennials Walking Away from Religion in the U.S.?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 - 12:42pm

Are Millennials Walking Away from Religion in the U.S.?

by Trent Gilliss (@TrentGilliss),  Executive Editor / Chief Content Officer

Ah, the Millennials... the much probed and analyzed generation who are often (simplistically?) characterized as being less religious than previous generations. According to a poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 1 in 4 people of current 18-29 year olds say they have no religious affiliation.

While it's true that Millennials are questioning the cultural and religious norms, these data are often reduced to headlines about Millennials being a godless lot who lack a spiritual mooring. And yet, 4 in 10 Millennials report praying every day, which is the same rate as Generation X'ers did at a similar age in the 1990s.

Polls also show that this generation has a personality distinct unto itself. They are confident and upbeat, self-expressive and open to change — whether they are secular Jews from the heart of New York City or evangelical Christians embedded in the heart of the Bible belt. They can no longer be defined in such narrow terms, neither boxed in by reductionist media framing or traditional institutional containers that once served their parents and grandparents well. They're better educated in a way that no other generation in U.S. history has seen. And Millennials are more ethnically and racially diverse.

As Dante Chinni, director of the American Communities Project, says in his interview with The Takeaway's John Hockenberry (audio above), Millennials are shaped by the urban and rural landscapes around them to some degree.

How is your faith changing over time?For the next week, we're partnering with The Takeaway on their series “Young Nation Under God?” John Hockenberry and his producers are exploring the shifting landscape of religion in the U.S. by having a series of roundtable discussions with four groups: with secular Jews, Christians-turned-humanists, American-born Muslims experiencing a clash of cultures, and African-American millennials who remain as committed to their faith as their parents’ generation. It's a prompt for a building dialogue about what these new demographics and cultural sensibilities mean for the future of the United States' identity as "one nation under God."

Each day I'll be blogging about these roundtables, asking for your input, and asking questions of my own. For example, there's a presupposition that America's relationship with religion and faith is dramatically shifting:

  • Is it? How so?
  • Is the religious landscape shifting in seismic ways or is the expression of what it means to be faithful changing?
  • What's the nuance that's missing from this discussion?
  • How is your personal faith changing over time?
  • These are some of the questions we want to explore with you. Leave me a comment here. Or, better yet, inform the discussion taking place at The Takeaway each day this week. This Friday (Oct 18) at 2 pm Eastern, participate in a live chat about the role of faith in America with John Hockenberry and Lisa Pearce, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. It could be fruitful!

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    Trent Gilliss is executive editor of On Being and chief content officer of Krista Tippett Public Productions. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi" and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent's reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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    The missing nuance is the many definitions of God and Spirit. They have always been there, but people are allowed to express them. Even churches have conversations about what God means to each individual. The question “do you believe in God”, is not very meaningful. Pollsters needs to start asking more to get at just what people are doing with this new freedom of belief.