The Study „Youth in Europe“ Reveals that Europe’s Young People Are less Secular-minded than has been Generally Assumed
A religious outlook on life is widespreadFor their study, Youth in Europe 3, the researchers surveyed a total of 10,000 young people in nine European countries and Israel between 2002 and 2004 (Note: Turkey was counted as a European country in this survey). Here, they focused on the age group of 16 –17 year-old students, as this would ensure good data comparability, according to Ziebertz, the project’s director. ““But we were also interested in surveying precisely those young people who, because of their educational level, would be in a position to decisively influence Europe’s future.”
A first - and surprising - result of this survey was that most young people have a religiously-oriented outlook on life. The doctrines of the great religious communities for the most part play a subordinate role in their religiosity – but overall, Europe’s young people are less secular-minded than has generally been assumed. “The group of young people who clearly identify with their church or religious community is relatively small,“ summarizes Hans-Georg Ziebertz. “But the idea of a creator, a higher power, existing behind the scenes is widespread.”
Clear-cut differences between the facets of religiosityAs far as the facets of religiosity are concerned, clear-cut differences exist between individual countries. Thus, only a small sector of those surveyed in the western part of Europe describe themselves as religious in the stricter sense of the term. And the influence of religion on the way they shape their lives is correspondingly minor: religious and non-religious young people differ only slightly in countries such as Germany or The Netherlands. Those who describe themselves as religious tend more strongly towards values such as equality and justice, and pursue less-materialistically-oriented lifestyles. But according to Ziebertz, it would be a mistake to speak of opposing views about life here.
The influence of religion is far greater in traditionally Catholic countries such as Poland, Croatia or Ireland – over three quarters of those surveyed describe themselves as religious in the more restricted sense of the term – and religion is of great importance in the lives of young people in Israel and Turkey, as well.
Parental influenceThis is also due to religious education: the study revealed a close connection between parental influence and their children’s religiosity in which young people who are raised religiously by their parents are not only more religious than their age peers; their religiosity is more traditionally oriented and more strongly influenced by the forms and structures of their respective religious communities. Thus, over half of young Israelis and more than three quarters of young Turks maintain that their holy scriptures, the Torah and the Koran, should be read as the authentic word of God. In Germany, where only about 14% of those surveyed said they had been raised religiously, only 19% share this view.
In this context it is interesting to compare the countries in which religiosity among young people is strongest in terms of their social structures. Poland, Israel and Turkey are comparatively young democracies with marked national pride. At the same time, their religious landscapes tend to be homogeneous. Catholicism in Poland, Islam in Turkey and Judaism in Israel are all practically state religions in all but name. It thus involves no great stretch of the imagination to posit a connection between societal conditions and the significance of religion in young people’s lives.
A multi-religious model is favored.This theory is supported by another result of the study: in all countries except Poland, Israel and Turkey, young people favor a multi-religious model for relations among religions. While young Swedes or Germans, for instance, maintain that all religions are equal and refer to the same God, this outlook is not supported in the three countries mentioned above. It is much rather the case that young people in Poland, Israel and Turkey are convinced that their religion is the only true one.
„A mix of national culture and religion“ is decisiveThis attitude is also reflected in non-religious areas of life. “In those countries where the culture as a whole is strongly influenced by religion, religion and concepts of social policy naturally condition each other,” states Ziebertz. Thus young people who have been strongly influenced by religion as a rule have greater difficulties with a modern pluralism of opinions and world views – regardless of what religion they belong to. And with decidedly negative side effects: in countries whose religious practice and culture exhibit a high degree of ideological content, xenophobic attitudes and the exercise of violence to implement one’s own interests are more strongly accepted than in countries with a tradition of secularism.
However, the youth researcher Ziebertz does not wish to assert a direct connection between religious and political attitudes. The societal and personal contexts, the specific “mix of national culture and religion“ (Ziebertz) are what is decisive. Statistics support his claim. A solid 11% of young Mosles in Turkey say they would be prepared to use violence against property and persons. But if one asks young Turks living in Germany, only 7.6% answer that they would turn to violence.
Is a theologian and journalist
Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe Institute, Online Editorial Board
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