Holier than thou

A recent international study shows that four out of five youths consider themselves religious, debunking the assumption that young people are less likely to believe than their parents. Karabo Keepile reports

Are today’s young people more religious than their parents? A recent international study has revealed some surprising results.

The study, conducted in 2008 by German social research company Bertelsmann Stiftung, found that, contrary to popular belief, teenagers and young adults are “largely religious”.

Of the 21 000 individuals surveyed in 21 countries, more than four out of five young adults—or 85%—said they were “religious” while almost half, or 44%, said they were “deeply religious”. Only 13% percent showed “no appreciation” for God or faith in general.

Dr. Martin Rieger, project leader of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor, said the “assumption that religious belief is dwindling continuously from generation to generation is clearly refuted by our worldwide surveys.”

But the study also showed that different areas of the world produced varied results. For example, young adults in Islamic states and developing countries were much more religious than their Christian counterparts in Europe. And the proportion of “deeply religious” Catholics in Europe was only 25% compared with 68% in other parts of the world.

In the United States, however, 54% of the young adults interviewed said they considered themselves to be deeply religious - a finding described as “exceptional among Western industrialised countries.”

South Africa wasn’t covered by the survey, so it’s not clear exactly how we measure up. And anyway, Dr Anita Cloete, lecturer in youth work at the University of Stellenbosch, warns that studies like these can be “problematic” because religious belief is “not easy to quantify.”

Bishop Ebenezer Ntlali, of the Grahamstown Anglican Diocese, told the Mail & Guardian that he has noticed a stronger youth presence in church these days. He attributes this to “political instability and the challenges faced by young people.” According to the Bishop, this is not, however, true of the mostly “white parishes”. He says that in such communities, when young people finish confirmation class, they “disappear from the church”. 
 
Isgak Martin is Muslim and lives in Cape Town. The 25-year-old tries to pray five times a day and goes to mosque each evening. Martin acknowledges that “peer pressure can get the better of many young people” in South Africa, but he believes that “if you have a firm belief in your God, your religion and what it expects of you, then by no means is it difficult to be a religious youth.”

Martin says his religious ways are based on the foundation of his upbringing because “Islam was always, and still is, practiced in my home.”

Rabbi Azriel Uzvolk of Victory Park in Johannesburg has noticed increased attendance at lectures aimed at young adults and adds that “they also hang around a lot longer than before.” He feels that young people around the world are becoming disillusioned with materialism and see religion “as a means of breaking away.”

But the Rabbi stresses that he would like to see more young people walking through the doors of the synagogue. “For every person who attends and asks me questions, there are so many who don’t.”

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