Global survey: youths see spiritual dimension to life
In the most ambitious such review to date, young people in 17 countries most often defined spirituality as belief that life has a purpose, belief in God, and being true to one's inner self.
Around the globe, the vast majority of young people share a conviction that life has a spiritual dimension. Seventy-five percent in a recent survey believe in God or a higher power. And while some can't easily define spirituality, the majority say they have had a transcendent experience, believe in life after death, and think it's "probably true" that all living things are connected.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For two years, a project involving some 7,000 youths ages 12 to 25 in 17 countries has explored spiritual beliefs and experiences – and found youths eager to discuss them. It's the most ambitious such project to date.
"It's how I see good in the world," explains participant Ryan Mooney, a college freshman in Portland, Ore., who is Jewish but spends hours reading the teachings of other faiths. "That all these religions formed by different societies come around to this sentiment of striving toward goodness gives me faith in the world."
The initial findings were released Wednesday by the Search Institute, a Minneapolis-based independent research group. The group intends to plumb the results further and carry out additional research in countries around the world.
"I was surprised by the similarities we found across different cultures, even though they may have different languages and worldviews," says Eugene Roehlkepartain, the Search Institute's vice president. The institute hopes to encourage a broader look at the impact of spiritual development on other aspects of life.
Along with partner organizations, the institute conducted surveys in eight countries, focus groups in 13 nations, and in-depth interviews with young people whom others consider to be "spiritual exemplars." The youths represented more than a dozen faiths as well as nonbelievers.
The results of the report – "With Their Own Voices: A Global Exploration of How Today's Young People Think About and Experience Spiritual Development" – can't be considered representative of the countries or traditions, Mr. Roehlkepartain cautions.
But they "help us understand the dynamics of what is happening with young people. Kids live in a global world today, and to understand them, we need to see them in a global context."
Religion has trumped spirituality as a topic of study in the past, says Roehlkepartain. A study released last spring by the German research firm Berthlesmann Stiftung found that 85 percent of young people in 21 nations called themselves religious, and 44 percent said they were deeply religious.
In the US, a UCLA study of undergraduates from 2003 to 2007 broke some ground on spirituality. It found that while attendance at religious services decreased dramatically for most, their overall level of spirituality – defined as seeking meaning in life and developing values and self-understanding – increased.
When asked what it means to be spiritual, young people in the Search survey most commonly responded: believing there is a purpose to life, believing in God, or being true to one's inner self. In Thailand and Cameroon, "being a moral person" made the top three. "Having a deep sense of inner peace and happiness" was highly valued in Canada and the US.