by Ally Hutzler
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center study, millennials are much less likely than older Americans to pray or attend church regularly, or even to consider religion an important aspect of their lives.
And that number is growing, quickly. The religiously unaffiliated now account for nearly a quarter of the adult population, up from 16 percent in 2007.
Michael Hout, a professor of sociology at New York University, responded to this study stating that a large reason behind millennials losing their religion is that they are being raised by Baby Boomers who have expressed the importance of individuality and finding your own moral compass – a cultural idea that sometimes is directly at odds with organizations, like churches, who have a tradition of teaching and obedience.
Jessica Saio, a junior at Manhattan College and a practicing Catholic, agrees with Hout’s assessment of growing up in an era where self-identity and liberal thinking was extremely valued – a childhood that might be vastly different than our parents or grandparents.
“I think that we grew up differently and not in a conservative or traditional sense like older Americans,” she said. “Our country and the people in it are becoming more progressive and open minded to other views and opinions.”
Carolyn Crocker, a sophomore, also believes that we are being raised in a different way than our parents when it comes to religious matters.
“I feel that our generation is less religious because adults of the older generation forced it more. For at least my parents, going to church was just something you did, and you never questioned it. You just got up Sunday morning, put on nice clothes, and went to mass. I feel that our generation is more outspoken, and may start to question religion in general, leading them not to believe in it at all,” she said.
Crocker, a practicing Catholic, doesn’t always get the chance to attend services at Manhattan but when she returns home she goes to mass with her family every Sunday. She attributes the busy lives and time demands that college students face as one of the reasons they may not be able to attend mass or services regularly.
Senior Max Whitwell has not taken part in a religious services since attending a Southern Baptist high school in North Carolina, but he has spent time engaging with both Catholicism and Islam while at MC. Yet, he doesn’t particularly view himself as religious.
“I’m very concerned with matters of spirituality and have borrowed or stolen enough useful things from a whole gamut of religions and spiritual or mystical practices to create a cosmic framework that gives me quietude,” he said.
However, Whitwell does not think the American public have left behind the needs that an institution like religion fulfills. He also believes that there is a possibility that we may get more religious as we age.
He does attribute the lack of religious interest or commitment among our generation to growing up in the age of information.
“Thanks to the Internet, it’s so easy to ask questions and find out new things. I mean, kids having been asking ‘why’ about the religious ideas for years, but we’re the first generation that could get a whole world’s worth of information on everything, so it’s just easier to not get married to a given set of concrete ideals,” he said.
Each of these students, like all of their classmates who will get their degree from Manhattan College, have to take three religion courses during their four years at our Lasallian, Catholic institution.
Crocker has only taken one religion class so far, and enjoyed it primarily because it “didn’t seem like they were shoving the school’s Catholic beliefs down our throats.”
While we did learn about [Catholicism], we also learned about different religions and their similarities and differences, and I found it interesting to see that all of these different religions, with all of their different Gods aren’t as different as we make them out to be,” she said.
Saio agrees, stating that she’s never felt the religion courses she has taken were “too religious” and that they “seemed to incorporate other cultural ideas and historical events.”
In the spring 2018 semester, the religious studies department is offering courses like “Death is a Fact of Life” and “Religion and Popular Culture.”
The department is also offering a class titled “Sexuality and the Sacred,” which according to it’s course catalog description will “examine the religious roots of our own cultural attitudes toward sexuality and sex roles.”
While the college does require these courses to be taken, Crocker believes Manhattan’s religiosity runs much deeper. She noted that many of our clubs and organizations both on and off campus are devoted to many different faiths and religions like the Muslim Student Association and Catholic Relief Services Student Ambassadors.
“Being that it is a Catholic college, all students have to take religion classes, but besides that, I feel that they offer a lot of different activities and events involving religion that can appeal to anyone.”