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Sydney/Gütersloh, 10/07/2008

World’s youth more religious than reputed

Bertelsmann Stiftung's study on religion reveals contradictory trends worldwide

Hands holding a Bible.

When the Pope arrives in Sydney for World Youth Day he will be met by hundreds of thousands of cheering young people. While this is often seen by commentators as an almost inexplicable anomaly, globally teenagers and young adults are much more religious than is commonly assumed.

This is the finding of a special international study conducted by leading international social researcher, the German Bertelsmann Stiftung. Crossing 21 nations, the study surveyed 21,000 individuals to produce the most extensive and detailed comparative study on the significance of religion in the main cultures of the world.

Worldwide, more than four out of five young adults (85 percent) are religious and almost half (44 percent) are deeply religious. Only 13 percent have no appreciation for God or faith in general.

However, there are large differences between individual countries and among the various denominations. Whereas young adults in Islamic states and developing countries in particular are deeply religious, young Christians in Europe especially are comparatively unreligious. For example, 80 percent of all young Protestants outside of Europe are deeply religious and 18 percent are religious, compared to just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe who are deeply religious, and 25 percent can only be classified as nominal members of their church.

It is a similar picture with young Catholics. Although the proportion of deeply religious Catholics in Europe is 25 percent, outside Europe this figure is 68 percent. Only a third of young people in Eastern Europe and Russia have been christened, and most young people have no connection at all to faith and the Church. Only 13 percent are deeply religious.

The study also revealed that a third of the young adults surveyed worldwide (35 percent) who regard themselves as not belonging to a denomination nonetheless identified themselves as religious.

Religious practice

The diverging picture of the religiousness of young people in different countries and denominations is also reflected in their religious practices. Ninety percent of young adults in devout countries such as Nigeria and Guatemala pray at least once a day, and three out of four of the respondents in countries such as India, Morocco and Turkey do likewise.

In contrast, daily prayer is no longer common practice among young Europeans. In France, just nine percent of young adults pray daily, in Russia the figure is eight percent and in Austria only around seven percent.

The great exception among the Western industrialised countries is the United States. What is true for adults in the U.S. also applies to the younger generation: there are many more religious people here than in most other Western countries. Fifty-seven percent of young Americans say that they pray daily. The free-church and Pentecostal Protestants in the U.S. are almost all religious, with almost 90 percent  deeply religious.

Pious elderly – lukewarm youth?

The perception that young people are less religious than their parents and grandparents is typically Western European and does not correspond to the reality worldwide. Young adults in developing countries and Islamic states are no less religious than other adults. In Morocco, around 99 percent believe in God and life after death. In Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria this figure is 90 percent, and in Israel, Indonesia and Italy it is 80 percent.

The countries where the younger population is less concerned with religious faith are almost all in the Western cultural sphere extending from Australia to Spain. However, there are opposing trends here too.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the younger population is turning to religion more frequently than the older population. And young Israelis are significantly more religious than their parents.

Dr. Martin Rieger, project leader of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Religion Monitor concludes: "The assumption that religious belief is dwindling continuously from generation to generation is clearly refuted by our worldwide surveys – even in many industrialised nations."

Politics is a private matter – sex isn't always

The Bertelsmann Stiftung's study also demonstrated a connection between the religious orientation of young people and their attitudes to politics and sexuality.

Religion has no influence on the political views of most Europeans and "Westerners". This also applies to most of the religious young people outside of Europe, albeit not so stringently. The answers were not quite so clear-cut on the issue of sex and relationships. Most young religious Europeans view sex as a private matter and only a minority believe that their religious beliefs influence their sexual relationships.

Religious considerations have an impact on the love lives of just seven percent of young Protestants in Europe, 12 percent of Orthodox believers and 14 percent of Catholics. However, the picture outside of Europe is quite different: here, no less than 67 percent of Protestants and 68 percent of free-church Protestants see a connection between their religious beliefs and sexuality. Catholics outside of Europe are more emancipated in this respect. Only around half (52 percent) say that their personal faith affects their own sexuality.

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