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.
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Young people see spiritual development as both "part of who you are" and an intentional choice, the study shows. As a young man from South Africa puts it, "The more spiritual you are, the more you understand. It's like sport, everyone can do sport, but the more you do it, the better you get at it."Skip to next paragraph
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Some 55 percent felt their spirituality had increased over the past two or three years. Emma, a young Christian in the United Kingdom, said that "the ideal spiritual person is somebody who spends as much time as possible with God," which she does through daily prayer, devotional reading, and social activism.
Young people say they engage in a range of activities and practices to nurture spiritual growth. The most common include reading books, praying or meditating alone, and helping others.
On several scales measuring spiritual concerns, Australia, the UK, and Ukraine showed much lower values than other countries. For instance, while only 7 percent of youths overall did not see a spiritual dimension to life, among young Australians, that figure was 28 percent.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed said their spiritual development was enhanced by time in nature, from music, and from helping other people in their community. The project revealed that "serving people out of your spiritual conviction" holds young people together and can bridge differences," says Roehlkepartain.
Arin Ghosh, a Hindu college student in California, has found his calling in working with the handicapped and with youths. "It's one thing to believe in religion and another to practice it and the moral values it teaches," he says in an interview. "Your personal connection to God is important, but spirituality is based in serving God through serving others."
Identified as one of the "exemplars," Arin is also active in interfaith work. "When people become more spiritual, they are more open to others and other viewpoints," he says.
While the youths see a difference between religion and spirituality, the great majority said they view both as "usually good." An Australian teen explains the difference this way: "Religion is kind of knowing the things in your head, but 'spiritual' is knowing them in your heart."
When asked which people, groups, or institutions were most helpful in their spiritual life, 44 percent named family. Between one-third and one-half, however, had not engaged in spiritual or religious activities with parents in the past year. Just 14 percent mentioned their religious institution as helpful, and close to 20 percent said "no one."
The institute wants to encourage parents, friends, and others to fill this vacuum. "Young people expressed to us some hunger to talk about spiritual development," Roehlkepartain says, "and we want people to say, 'If that's what kids in the survey think, what about the kids I know?'