World's youth more religious than reputed

An international study on religion has revealed that the world's teenagers and young adults are much more religious than people think.

Crossing 21 nations, the Bertelsmann Stiftung's 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 per cent) are religious and almost half (44 per cent) are deeply religious. Only 13 per cent have no appreciation for God or faith in general.

However, there are large differences between individual countries and among the various denominations, the study found. 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 per cent of all young Protestants outside of Europe are deeply religious and 18 per cent are religious, compared to just seven per cent of young Protestants in Europe who are deeply religious, and 25 per cent can only be classified as nominal members of their church.

The study found a similar picture with young Catholics. Although the proportion of deeply religious Catholics in Europe is 25 per cent, outside Europe this figure is 68 per cent. 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 per cent are deeply religious.

The study also revealed that a third of the young adults surveyed worldwide (35 per cent) 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 per cent 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 per cent of young adults pray daily, in Russia the figure is eight per cent and in Austria only around seven per cent.

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

Young adults in developing countries and Islamic states are no less religious than other adults. In Morocco, around 99 per cent believe in God and life after death. In Brazil, Turkey and Nigeria this figure is 90 per cent, and in Israel, Indonesia and Italy it is 80 per cent.

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 per cent of young Protestants in Europe, 12 per cent of Orthodox believers and 14 per cent of Catholics. However, the picture outside of Europe is quite different: here, no less than 67 per cent of Protestants and 68 per cent 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 per cent) say that their personal faith affects their own sexuality.

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