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Young People and Religion and Spirituality in Europe: A Complex Picture

Article · January 2015with247 Reads
DOI 10.1007/978-981-4451-15-4_39
Sarah Lynn Dunlop at University of Birmingham
  • 3.64
  • University of Birmingham
Kornelia Sammet at University of Leipzig
  • 9.55
  • University of Leipzig
Alexander Yendell at University of Leipzig
  • 11.33
  • University of Leipzig
Abstract
The European context in religion has often been characterized as one of inexorable secularization, particularly among young people (Bruce 2002). However, as Davie and others have pointed out, religious belief remains high in Europe, even where communal religious practice does not. Davie has characterized this as “believing without belonging” (2002). Recently, Day has picked up on a concurrent trend she names “believing in belonging” (2013) which highlights the way some Europeans find a sense of belonging in an ethnic and/or regional religious identity without necessarily practicing communally. Meanwhile, the political context of a growing Europe increasingly embracing outlying nations (such as Romania or Turkey) and opening up the right to work across national boundaries, along with migration from Africa and Asia, has led to growing religious diversity even in nations with historically largely mono-religious identities (e.g., the Republic of Ireland or Sweden). In particular, inter-European migration has led to populations who regularly move back and forth for work and study bringing religious beliefs and practices with them but also returning with outside influences. This chapter examines some of these phenomena as they apply to young people in Europe. The chapter paints a broad overview of religious trends across Europe and focuses on several case studies in order to give a sense of the complexity of youth and religion in Europe. The first considers the case of young Polish migrants to the UK, the second, the ways in which Christianity and alternative spiritualities influence young people whose families are historically Christian in Britain, and the third, the case of Germany and especially atheism, religious migration, and a possible emerging de-secularization among young people in East Germany.
Young People and Religion and Spirituality in
Europe: A Complex Picture
Giselle Vincett
a
*, Sarah Dunlop
b
, Kornelia Sammet
c
and Alexander Yendell
d
a
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, NJ, Scotland
b
Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, Oxford, UK
c
Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany
d
Department of the Sociology of Religion and Church, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany
Abstract
The European context in religion has often been characterized as one of inexorable secularization,
particularly among young people (Bruce 2002). However, as Davie and others have pointed out,
religious belief remains high in Europe, even where communal religious practice does not. Davie has
characterized this as believing without belonging(2002). Recently, Day has picked up on a
concurrent trend she names believing in belonging(2013) which highlights the way some
Europeans nd a sense of belonging in an ethnic and/or regional religious identity without neces-
sarily practicing communally. Meanwhile, the political context of a growing Europe increasingly
embracing outlying nations (such as Romania or Turkey) and opening up the right to work across
national boundaries, along with migration from Africa and Asia, has led to growing religious
diversity even in nations with historically largely mono-religious identities (e.g., the Republic of
Ireland or Sweden). In particular, inter-European migration has led to populations who regularly
move back and forth for work and study bringing religious beliefs and practices with them but also
returning with outside inuences.
This chapter examines some of these phenomena as they apply to young people in Europe. The
chapter paints a broad overview of religious trends across Europe and focuses on several case studies
in order to give a sense of the complexity of youth and religion in Europe. The rst considers the case
of young Polish migrants to the UK, the second, the ways in which Christianity and alternative
spiritualities inuence young people whose families are historically Christian in Britain, and the
third, the case of Germany and especially atheism, religious migration, and a possible emerging
de-secularization among young people in East Germany.
Introduction
The European context in religion has often been characterized as one of inexorable secularization
(Bruce 2002), particularly among young people (Voas 2009). Young people have historically had
lower religious participation levels than their elders, and there is little evidence to indicate that most
youth will become more religious later in life (Voas and Crockett 2005). Indeed, Kay and Francis
(1996) argue that religious attitudes are fairly well established by the time young people leave
secondary education. However, Davie has observed that religious belief remains high in Europe,
even where communal religious practice does not (1994,2000,2002), and Collins-Mayo et al. have
pointed to the persistence of individualized practice among young people (2010). Further, as Day
*Email: gvincett@gmail.com
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has argued, Britons often nd a sense of belonging in a relational, moral, and/or ethnic religious
identity without necessarily practicing communally what she calls believing in belonging
(2011). At the same time, it is wise to be a little cautious about the high percentage of young people
who claim to have no religion.As Cheruvallil-Contractor et al. point out, uid or multiple
identitiesand spiritualidentities may all be part of nonreligious identities (2013).
Meanwhile, the political context of a growing Europe gradually embracing outlying nations and
opening up the right to work across national boundaries, along with increasing migration from
around the world, has led to ever-growing religious diversity, even in nations with historically
largely mono-religious identities (e.g., the Republic of Ireland or Sweden). Vertovec (2007), for
example, points to a dramatic increase in the range of countries of origin in migration to Britain and
notes that patterns of settlement have changed, in part, because of a government policy on
disbursement of refugees. Movements of people cause religious change (see Levitt 2007; Leonard
2005), and this is certainly true in Europe. Migrants bring with them their own religious notions and
practices, but these are often affected by the religious situation in the new location. Inter-European
migration has led to populations who regularly move back and forth for work and study bringing
religious beliefs and practices with them but also returning with outside inuences.
It is also true that regional differences often remain striking in the European context. It continues
to be the case that young people from the European south show higher Christian identication rates
than those in the north (see below). Nevertheless, at national or regional levels, intriguing local
geographical differences can often be seen. In Scotland, for example, the north/south geographical
difference is reversed. Here, social differences appear to be important: young people in the rural and
often isolated north have higher religious identication and participation rates than those in the more
urban, more pluralized south (see Scottish Executive 2005; Brierley 2003).
Europe is far too large and complex for this chapter to be exhaustive; hence, this chapter begins by
painting a broad overview of religious afliation and belief among young people in Europe by
presenting quantitative data from the European Values Study. The chapter then looks at three case
studies in order to give a sense of the complexity of youth and religion in Europe and to unpack the
data presented from the EVS. The rst deals with the case of intra-European youth migration,
looking at the case of young Polish migrants to England. This case study shows one example of what
happens when young people go from a largely mono-religious country with high levels of afliation
(Poland) to a country with low religious participation and afliation, but high religious plurality
(the UK). The second case study considers some ways in which young people in Britain whose
family background is Christian, but who do not attend church, are inuenced by multiple religious
and spiritual beliefs and practices. This case study unpacks the complicated ways in which young
people engage with and belief in spirituality and the supernatural. The nal case study includes
studies from two regions of one country with very different recent political and religious histories,
that of East and West Germany. Put another way, the rst case study tells a story about the movement
of people, which is very important for understanding religion in Europe, particularly for young
economic migrants. The second tells a story about non-religion and spirituality, both of which are on
the increase in Europe. The nal case study shows how the previous centurys political makeup of
Europe and earlier migrations still inuence the picture of European religiosity today for the most
recent generation of young people.
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Religion/Spirituality in Numbers in Europe
The following quantitative analysis is based on the data of four waves of the European Values Study
(19811984, 19901993, 19992001, and 20082010). Young people here are dened as between
the age of 16 and 24. This section presents data only on Christian afliation and belief as this still
represents the dominant religion across Europe. The chosen states are classied by major religious
afliation and region (see also Pickel 2011, p. 158). From the West of Europe, data from Catholic
states (France, Italy, and Ireland), Protestant states (Denmark, Sweden), and what can be character-
ized as mixed states (West Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands) are examined. From Eastern
Europe, data is examined from Roman Catholic states (Poland, Slovenia), Orthodox Catholic states
(Russia, Ukraine, Romania) and mixed states (East Germany, Latvia).
In most countries in 2008, the majority of young respondents claimed that they belonged to a
Christian denomination. Only in East Germany (22.6 %), France (27.9 %), the Netherlands (43 %),
and Russia (48.6 %) did a signicant portion of young people claim to have no religious afliation.
A dramatic decline regarding religious afliation over time has occurred across Europe, with the
notable exceptions of Latvia and the Orthodox states in Eastern Europe. The highest decrease
between 1981 and 2008 took place in Great Britain (minus 56.2 %) followed by Sweden (minus
37.5 %), France (minus 34.4 %), Italy (minus 23.1 %), and Denmark (minus 15.6 %). By contrast, in
the Orthodox states of Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, an increase in religious afliation or identity is
evident. Romania, especially, shows a very high rate of young people belonging to a religious
denomination (in 2008 97.1 %). A similar situation is clear regarding church attendance: over time
and in most states, fewer young people attend religious services at least once a month. The only
country in which the majority of young people attend religious services at least once a month is
Poland (61.4 %). However, even here there is a decrease of 24.2 % since 1990.
In most European countries, the majority of young people declare that religion is not important in
their life. In the 2008 wave, only in Italy, Poland, Ukraine, and Romania do the majority of
adolescent respondents state that religion is very or quite important to them. It is most important
in Romania, where over three quarters of the young people surveyed state that religion plays an
important role in their life, and least important in Latvia and East Germany, where only about 13 %
nd religion important. The most dramatic decline is in Poland and Ireland (about minus 26 %).
Despite all this decline and apparent disinterest in religion, in most countries, the majority of
young people believe in God. In 2008, there were only a few countries where less than half of the
38.2
54.5 57
44.3
56.4
50.3 47.2
51.4
42.4
57.9
26.9
41
45.2
71.4
64.5
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
Fig. 1 Young peoples spirituality in Europe (2008) (Source: European Values Study 2008 (own calculations, weighted
results)
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young population believe in God (Great Britain 43.7 %; France 32.6 %; Sweden 30.9 %, and East
Germany 19 %). However, in 9 out of the 15 chosen countries, the belief in God is in decline.
Interestingly, and in contrast to the question on whether young people consider religion important
in their lives, most young people in Europe consider themselves to be religious. But the data also
reveal that more and more young people describe themselves as not religious or atheist. In fact,
although atheists are still a small minority in every country, these identities are on the rise in most of
the surveyed countries.
How spiritual do young people view themselves? The EVS asks, Whether or not you think of
yourself as a religious person, how spiritual would you say you are? That is, how strongly are you
interested in the sacred or supernatural?Figure 1shows the amount of young people who consider
themselves as very or somewhat spiritual. As expected, the amount of young people who identify as
spiritual is highest in Ukraine (71.4 %) and Romania (64.5 %) and lowest in East Germany (26.9 %)
and France (38.2 %). In the other countries, the results show that the amount of spiritual young
people hovers around the 50 % mark.
In general then, it is clear that in many ways traditional Christianity is in decline among most
young Europeans. However, as shown, there are signicant regional and denominational differ-
ences. More interesting for this chapter, perhaps, are the seeming inconsistencies revealed by the
data. Why, for example, do the majority of young people claim to be religiousand yet also claim
that religion is not important to their lives? What is the signicance of the results regarding
spirituality?This chapter explores some of the ways that young people are wrestling with these
categories and questions in differing contexts in the following case studies.
The Case of Young Polish Migrants to England
Since the accession of Poland into the EU in 2004, there has been a large wave of Polish young
people moving to Great Britain (Drinkwater 2009). Dunlop took a close look at what this migration
has meant for the religiosity of Polish young people by conducting a study of Polish young people,
aged 1825, who had migrated to live in England. In a past study of the religious attitudes and
practices of student-aged people in Central Europe (2008), Dunlop found that in the midst of rapid
social change in this region, young people were beginning to resist the pull of the traditional
Christian churches there. She discovered that young people found their personal values of self-
expression, freedom, fun, and relationships were at odds with the restrictive nature of practicing
religion and that they perceived church to be about a loss of individualism. The many lifestyle rules
within Polish Catholicism were causing young people to begin to question whether their national
identication with and practice of religion within the Catholic Church should have any personal
meaning. However, there remained a widespread sense of national identity bound up with Cathol-
icism and a strong societal obligation to practice it.
Dunlop pursued these themes through a study of young people from Poland who had left their
context of religion as obligation to go and live in England, which, Davie has argued, has a context of
religion as consumption (2007). Conducted in Plymouth, England, in the autumn of 2009, twelve
Polish migrants aged 1830 spent a week taking photographs of what was sacred to them. The
denition of sacredwas intentionally left vague and open to the young peoples own interpreta-
tions, but if pressed, it was dened as that which is nonnegotiable.One-to-one interviews were
then held with participants to discuss their photographs. Additionally, participants met together for
focus group sessions using images from the Internet and creating collages that reected on past,
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present, and the future. The project concluded with an exhibition of participant photographs in the
Roman Catholic Cathedral in Plymouth.
The ndings of the study revealed the culture shock that is often associated with moving to a new
country, including some discomfort with the plurality of beliefs in the UK. For example, one young
Polish man observed, I was thinking that there are lots of pictures of Buddha in lots of
places charity shops, public school, and other places Ive seen it as well. It seems like British
people, English people, have lost their personality and are picking everything from everywhere.
Others expressed surprise at the lack of religious practice among people their age in England. One
young person said, people in England celebrate Christian holidays, but dont believe in God.
Another young man explained how he expected to identify himself as Catholic Polish in opposition
to Anglican English, but upon arrival found that religion did not seem to feature as an identity marker
for many of the English people he met, leaving him bewildered about what his own religious identity
meant.
The move to England meant that the young Polish participants in Dunlops study now had to
choose whether and how to practice religion. Indeed, the data showed that there were four responses
to moving to the new context: (1) no longer believing or practicing religion, (2) believing but not
practicing religion in England, (3) believing and exploring Christianity within other Christian
denominations, and (4) believing and choosing to continue to practice Christianity within the
Catholic Church (Dunlop and Ward 2012).
For the young people who felt that societal pressure to practice religion in Poland had caused them
behave hypocritically because they did not believe, coming to England was a welcome relief. As one
young woman said, now when I think about God and all that, I just cant bring myself to believe in it
again. It just seems so unrealistic...These young people quickly embraced the secularized culture
of the majority of young people in England. However, the transition left some young people
bewildered and religiously disoriented. One young woman said, I know that I am not as close to
God I dont feel I am as connected as I used to be. And I miss that. I really do . . . Because what does
it mean to be a religious person? Does it mean you lose all your values when you go away, when you
go from one place to another? You should still have your faith, shouldnt you? But somehow Ive
lost it. And its a shame.Young people with this view, including the speaker here, practiced their
faith on visits home to Poland, but did nothing religious in England.
For other young people, the transition to the religious context in England invigorated their beliefs
and practices. Because religion was no longer assumed, the young people found that in choosing
religion they found a deeper sense of belief. For example, one young woman said,
The rst difference that is striking I think, is that churches in Poland are taken for granted. Its not really about the
church, Jesus Christ, about being good, making a good way of life for others. Its just a tradition. Its like a
foundational pattern and people stick to this pattern because this is the way society does things. So we just adapt
ourselves as a society. Whereas here, [in England] I found that people believe and then they go to the church. They
really believe. They go because they see a deeper purpose in going.
For many of the young people in this category, the choice to continue to practice meant they
regularly attended mass, for others it meant trying out new (non-Catholic) Christian groups and
discovering a whole range of expressions of the Christian faith.
The ndings of this study show that the young migrantsreligious responses to the new context
are complex. Certainly, it is evident that the need to make choices for themselves about religious
belief and practice changed the nature of those beliefs and practices. There seemed to be a greater
connection between personal religious belief and practice, whether this entailed dropping religious
practice altogether or practicing because it owed out of a deepened and more considered faith. The
process of migration to a new context forced young informants to consider what is meant by terms
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such as the sacred,”“religion,and being religious,anding which is consistent with other
research on young migrants to the UK (for e.g., Loul et al. 2014).
The Case of Unaffiliated Young People in the UK
In two qualitative studies of young people conducted from 2007 to 2011, Olson, Vincett, Hopkins,
and Pain rst investigated the religiosity of young Christians in Scotland (aged 1627) and then that
of young people in areas of deprivation in Scotland and the north of England (aged 1325). The
studies used mixed methods, from ethnographic eldwork, focus groups, and interviews to partic-
ipant action research groups (see Olson and Vincett 2013). The discussion which follows draws
upon data on young people whose family background was Christian, but who did not attend church
themselves. The majority of these young people continued to identify as Christian. The reasons for
this identity were varied and often overlapped. A Christian identity might be familial or relational,
national (often in contradistinction to other migrant religious identities within a young persons
neighborhood), or it might be indicative of a mainly individualized and privatized set of beliefs and
practices. As young peoples Christianity was largely disconnected from church authority, Olson
et al. were not surprised to nd that it was often eclectic, drawing upon a range of sources and
inuences. However, one unexpected nding was that many young people who identied as having
no religion not only retained belief in God but also actively thought about, searched for, and/or were
committed to frequent religious and/or spiritual practices. It is in these last two ways that the
importance of both the supernatural and the inuence of alternative spiritualities became evident.
In both studies, it was clear that many young people are reluctant to identify with negatively
perceived religion,which is seen as outmoded, hierarchical, repressive, leading to sectarian and
interreligious violence, and as having little relevance to everyday life. This suspicion persisted even
among those who identify as Christian and, often, among those who actively practiced or attended
church (see Vincett et al. 2012). This nding perhaps goes some way to elucidating some of the
apparent inconsistencies in the European Values Study quoted earlier in this chapter. Although many
young people were not sure exactly what was meant by spiritualityin conversation, it was clear
that they held beliefs and drew upon sources which can be classed as alternative spirituality (i.e.,
from Wicca and other contemporary paganisms or from the supernatural or occult more broadly).
Sources included books of ction, TV programs and lms, and popular or alternative music. Talking
about particular TV programs or lms often elicited evidence of beliefs and practices from young
people who at rst claimed to have no religion and no religious or spiritual beliefs, an important
nding in terms of method in the study of religion with young people.
The difference between the way young people spoke about religion,which was negatively
perceived and experienced, and the positive way in which they spoke about alternativebeliefs and
practices was plain. Among Christians and non-Christians alike, belief in ghosts, especially of close
family members, was high. A practice of prayer, meditation, or just sitting(Sam) at the gravesides
of dead friends or family members was also common and valued. As Brooke explained, I think
theres this afterlife and theressee, if theres a special place that [a person] always liked, like a
beach or a park, they could go and like rest there.Sitting with dead friends or family members either
at their gravesides or with a sense that they were present in a room or special place fullled a social
obligation to show respect(Connor) but also allowed a continuation of relationship and a renewed
sense of being able to cope with the very real stresses in young peoples lives. That many deceased
relatives were revisioned as guardian angels rooted the phenomenon in religious or spiritual
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language. In Sians case, the practice of sitting in a graveyard also fostered a sense of history of and
connection to the local community.
Jack began his interview by claiming to have no religion and no religious beliefs and then
enthusiastically talked about his view that the world is peopled by spirits,including spirits of
the natural world: I believe in spirits and stuff like that. ...Everyone has a spirit. ... Do you think
there are spirits in the trees and plants and things like that? Everything is alive. Everything has an
aura. Everything has a ... Is that kind of similar to saying that everything has a spirit? Yeah.In
Jacks case, his belief in spirits turned out to be only one aspect of a well-developed set of spiritual
beliefs. However, the idea that everything might have a spirit sometimes also came out in conver-
sations about reincarnation. Natasha, for example, did not believe in God or ghosts, but believed in
reincarnation and discussed the possibility that a human could be reborn as an animal or even a
leaf.
April, who had negative experiences of the Catholic Church, was drawn to media about the occult,
particularly recent books and lms about vampires, ghosts, and witches. As she said, I love stuff
like that. I love reading about the supernatural.Although she did not believe that vampires and
witches would be like they were portrayed in books and lm, she believed in ghosts and angels, and
she was increasingly curious about alternative spiritualities such as contemporary paganism.
In Olson et al.s data then, these beliefs and practices did not lead young people to join religious,
alternative spirituality or occult groups. The importance of both Christianity and alternative spiri-
tualities here was in the provision of sources of belief (and in reinforcing belief) and in inspiration in
personal practice. Similarly, it is important to note the ways in which both Christian and alternative
beliefs contribute to the worldview of young people, including the way they can people the world
with other-thanor more-thanhuman beings. As has been noted, for some scholars, many of
these young people might be categorized as part of a secular social supernatural(Day 2011)ora
secular sacred(Knott 2013); however, young people continued to hold beliefs and use language
associated with Christianity or alternative spiritualities (e.g., the word pray), which makes such
categorization difcult. It is also important that the some of the reasons that young people did not
identify as religioushad to do with difculty with the term, social pressure, not feeling that they
were good enough,or an acute and painful sense of abandonment by God because of events in
their lives.
The Case of Young People in East and West Germany
In Germany, as detailed above, a decline of religiosity during the last decades can be observed.
However, there is a deep divide between the religious portraits of West and East Germany even
25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunication of West and East. In West Germany, the
number of young people aged 1820 who identied as having no religion grew from 4% in 1980 to
17 % in 2008 and for those aged 2125 from 7 % in 1980 to 21 % in 2008. In East Germany, the rise
was from 75 % in 1991 to 87 % in 2008 in the younger group and from 71 % to 86 % in the older
group (Pickel 2010, p. 263). Similarly, the situations in the religiously diverse West and the formerly
socialist secularized East with dominating atheistic and scientic worldviews constitute a sharp
contrast. This case study will draw out some of the detail of this contrast, based upon recent research
led by Sammet (20082012) which looked qualitatively (especially using focus groups and inter-
views) at the religious and nonreligious worldviews of people in precarious situations in both West
and East Germany (especially those experiencing deprivation and social exclusion), both young
people and adults.
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In West Germany, there is a bi-confessional tradition with two main denominations: the Protestant
and Catholic Church, both with strong organizations and specic privileges. The rates of church
membership are still comparatively high; however, after conrmation at the age of 14, religious
indifference as well as young peoples distance from organized religion grows. With regard to West
Germany, the majority of young people can be described as belonging without believing.Besides
this majority there are young people who are engaged in groups in the context of local churches (e.g.,
Bible study groups, social justice groups, parish choirs or orchestras, etc.), who are interested in
spirituality or who are members of charismatic churches, but such young people are in the minority
and decreasing (Pickel 2010).
West Germany has, however, experienced religious pluralization due to migration during recent
decades. Migration from the south and southeast of Europe, especially from Turkey and Greece, has
meant that the number of young people with Muslim or Catholic Orthodox backgrounds is
increasing (Pickel 2010, p. 278). Second- and third-generation Germans with Turkish family
backgrounds and Muslim belief are more religious than other young Germans. As they are perceived
as being different from the German majority regarding religion as well as ethnicity, religion becomes
an identity marker for some of these young people (G
artner and Ergi 2012). This Muslim identity
can be expressed by habits in everyday life, as they are accustomed in their families, but also by
young women choosing to wear the hijab and more rigid gender norms. As with Dunlops study of
young Polish migrants to the UK, young Muslims of migrant families must negotiate with different
religious and secular contexts, sometimes following the religious and cultural traditions of their
families and at other times following the cultural norms of other young Germans. Although religion
continues in this case to be a strong constituting element of identity, practice and belief are more uid
and context dependent.
Where West Germany is both religiously plural and young people mix the religious and secular,
East Germany has often been characterized as the most secularized region in the world. In the 1950s,
during the rst years of the socialist German Democratic Republic, harsh conicts took place
between State and Church, especially relating to young people. The socialist rite of passage of
Jugendweihe,in which 14-year-olds were given adult social status, was established as a rival to,
and nally an almost complete replacement of, Protestant Conrmation (see Pollack 1993, p. 249),
and socialist school education conveyed a scientic worldview as a substitute for religion and
superstition.This secular heritage still dominates the worldviews of young people in East
Germany (Sammet 2012).
In Sammets study, one young woman, when asked about the signicance of religion in her life,
answered:
None at all. ...Well for me its just...um as a child maybe I thought it was great...there is a Santa Claus etcetera,
then it is okay. But as an adult, um what I dont see doesnt exist for me. God doesnt exist, someone created him
once upon a time. ... Where does he come from?.. Im just, Im too realistic there.
This young woman denied any inuence of religion and distinguished between a childish and an
adult worldview. According to her, believing in God is identical with believing in Santa Claus (i.e., a
childish, unrealisticthing to do). Similarly, as a child she was able to talk to her dead grandmother,
which helped her to overcome her loss, but as an adult she is characterized by a pragmatic view of the
world.
However, using results from the German General Social Survey (ALLBUS), Wohlrab-Sahr
(2009, p. 152ff) sees an increasing openness albeit on a still low level of East German youth
toward topics related to religion or spirituality in the decade after the German reunication.
Wohlrab-Sahr cites higher interest in magic, spiritualism, and occultism and a striking increase in
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attitudes to belief in life after death (though not necessarily in God), where 34 % of the youngest
group believed in an afterlife in 2002, in contrast to only 15 % in 1991.
This new openness regarding beliefs associated with religion or spirituality among young people
in East Germany is illustrated by the case of a young East German woman in Sammets research. In
her interview, she recalled in detail her childhood from a broken home,which led to her living on
the streets as a teenager for several years where she was a victim of some extremely violent
experiences. This young woman is interested in religious issues (e.g., in indigenous religions), she
reads books about religion and spirituality, as well as reading the Bible. Various elements are
combined eclectically in her beliefs and her religious practices. For this young woman, religion
functions as a way to interpret crisis-laden experiences. When this young participant refers to God,
she is explicitly not talking and praying to the Christian God, but rather, to the good god,who
takes care of her and her children. As was the case for many of Olson et als informants, this young
woman distances herself from traditional Christianity, but religious and spiritual ideas and practices
help her to interpret her life experiences and deal with the contingencies and insecurities of her life.
Conclusion
The religious and spiritual portrait of European young people is complex. Rather than an uncom-
plicated picture of secularization, this chapter has argued that secular and sacred discourses,
practices, and beliefs comingle in the lives of the majority of young people in Europe. The religious,
spiritual, and secular are intertwined through the particular histories, geographies, and sociologies of
countries, regions, and localities and cannot easily be separated or interpreted without reference to
each other. In the case studies cited above, religion and spirituality are mostly left to the individual
and are very often privatized, sometimes because of social pressures. As the EVS data indicates,
traditional ways of being religious are in decline in most corners of Europe with the notable
exception of parts of Eastern Europe. It is easy to make this the major story concerning religion and
spirituality in Europe for young people, but that would be to ignore the signicant minorities of
religious or spiritual young people, including migrant and/or non-Christian communities. It would
also leave unexamined what it means to be nonreligious,which, as has been shown, often includes
(privatized) religious belief and practice for individuals. This does not mean that the religious and
spiritual lives of young people are fuzzyor insignicant. Young people in many European
contexts take a different approach to religion; they are suspicious of inconsistencies within and
social injustices committed by faith institutions, valorize self-actualization of religious identity and
belief, and prioritize the acting out and embodiment of faith or belief in the everyday and, in
particular, through close relationships. Many young people evidence a fascination with the super-
natural or the occult, which is fed by popular and alternative cultures, with the qualication that this
fascination is most often expressed through everyday relationships (e.g., a continued relationship
with a deceased relative). Indeed, religious and spiritual beliefs and practices continue to function in
a deeply meaningful way, often allowing young people to make sense of and cope with challenging
life events (such as migration, death, violence) as well as fostering relationships with the human and
other-than or more-than human.
Handbook of Children and Youth Studies
DOI 10.1007/978-981-4451-96-3_39-2
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Page 9 of 11
Cross-References
Belief, Not Religion: Youth Negotiations of Religious Identity in Canada
Black Neighbourhoodsand Race, Placed Identities in Youth Transition to Adulthoods
Citizenship: Inclusion and Exclusion
Spirituality, Religion, and Youth
Young People, Identity, Class, and the Family
Youth, Relationality, and Space: Conceptual Resources for Youth Studies from Critical Human
Geography
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