Religion, Spirituality and Secularity among Millennials
The Generation Shaping American and Canadian Trends
- ISBN: 9781003217695
- Published By: Taylor & Francis Group
- Published: August 2022
Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme's Religion, Spirituality and Secularity among Millennials: The Generation Shaping American and Canadian Trends is a well-organized, easy-to-read exploration of the religiosity and spirituality among the population known as “millennials.” While scholars differ on the exact birth years that comprise the millennial generation, for this study, the author uses the range of 1986-2005. However, she notes that it is more important “to generally encapsulate those individuals who were born and raised in the late 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s” (2). In 2019, Wilkins-Laflamme conducted a mixed methods research study of millennials living in Canada and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Her primary instrument for data collection was the 2019 “Millennial Trends Survey” (MTS), supplemented by her own interviews and focus groups. By providing the reader with numerical data as well as quotes from interview participants, Wilkins-Laflamme offers deeper insight into the lives of millennials. Through her presentation and analysis of the data, she seeks to better understand the behaviors and attitudes of millennials toward religion and spirituality, especially in comparison to other generations. The book concludes with considerations for the future.
“The main objective of this book,” Wilkins-Laflamme begins, “is to take a deep dive into the fascinating and ever-relevant world of religion, spirituality and secularity among the now most numerous generations in the United States: Millennials” (2). By describing “the socio-cultural realities of a digital age, precarious work, growing pluralism, extreme individualism, environmental crisis, advanced urbanism, expanded higher education, emerging adulthood and a secular age that are reshaping the religious and spiritual landscape for millennials living in the US and Canada” (2), she uncovers a contextual framework in which to situate her findings. Although she recognizes that not every individual fits neatly within a category, Wilkins-Laflamme nevertheless uses latent class typology to organize participant responses. Chapters 3 through 6 describe characteristics, behaviors, and implications for the future of each category: “religious Millennials, spiritual seeker Millennials, cultural believer Millennials, and non-religious Millennials” (56).
“Religious millennials,” a minority within their generation, represent approximately 24 percent of millennials in Canada and forty percent in the United States (65). Drawing from both the literature and data from the MTS, Wilkins-Laflamme concludes that most religious millennials continue their affiliation with organized religion because of the influence of their parents and family members. In addition, she highlights the unique societal context of millennials, especially their immersion in digital media. With greater access to religious and spiritual content online than previous generations, millennials who consume this material are more likely to participate in in-person religious activities as well. Through her interviews, Wilkins-Laflamme found that, as a result of being a minority, most religious millennials chose to remain silent about their participation in religious activities Some even reported encountering negativity and hostility from their peers due to their religious beliefs.
Before analyzing the “spiritual seeker millennial,” Wilkins-Laflamme clarifies the distinction between “religious” and “spiritual.” “Religion is often associated with the negative historical and contemporary baggage of institutional and oppressive doctrine, authority and abuse of power. Whereas spirituality seems to be associated with personal freedom, exploration, self-reliance, choice, self-development, and authenticity” (89). Those who consider themselves spiritual believe in God or a higher power and engage in spiritual activities, but they are not necessarily connected to an organized religious denomination. Like religious millennials, they also represent a minority of the total millennial population.
The “cultural believer millennial,” the author explains, “acts in many ways as a bridge category between the larger more religious and spiritual populations on the one hand and the larger more nonreligious groups on the other among the Millennial generation today” (110). According to the data, most cultural believer millennials in this study identified as Catholic. One example can be found in the city of Quebec. Although the majority of those living in Quebec consider themselves Catholic, only a small percentage of them actually participate in church activities. Wilkins-Laflamme notes that, as result of secularization in the US and Canada, the number of millennials who affiliate themselves culturally with a particular religious denomination is on the decline.
For the final category, the “nonreligious millennial,” religion or spirituality does not directly affect their lives or contribute to their identity. The data show a correlation between the religiosity or spirituality of millennials and that of their parents and family members. As in the case of the cultural believer, the other contributor to the rise of nonreligious millennials is the secularization of society. Through her analysis of cross-generational data, Wilkins-Laflamme observes that “the most intergenerational gains from switching among Millennials is the ‘no religion’ category” (138). Because of this increase in the number of nonreligious millennials, especially compared to previous generations, the author stresses the importance of considering implications for the future. Based on MTS data, as well as the author’s research, it appears that future generations will most likely continue to be less religious. While various factors contribute to this decline in religiosity, the most significant appears to be secularization of society and the lack of religious affiliation and participation by parents. The author also notes that a growing number of parents are taking a “choice-based approach” to religion, allowing their children to decide whether they want to seek out a religious tradition. However, Wilkins-Laflamme notes that this does not usually result in religious participation.
Religion, Spirituality, and Secularity among Millennials offers a fascinating look at how Millennials from the US and Canada approach religion and spirituality. This book is particularly helpful to those ministering within religious denominations. Recognizing the growing number of nonreligious Millennials and understanding that this trend is expected to continue requires new strategies of churches if they want to be relevant in the lives of future generations.
Bernadette McMasters Kime is the director of Worship and Sacraments, Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and an adjunct instructor for the Saint Meinrad Seminary Permanent Diaconate Formation Program.Bernadette KimeDate Of Review:April 26, 2023