The Rise of Individual Spirituality in Gen Z
As a generation that has grown up questioning and challenging everything that was supposed to be accepted, Gen Z has distanced itself from institutionalized religion, for the better or for the worse. Almost 7% of the world’s population is estimated to identify as atheist or agnostic. While that doesn’t seem like a large proportion, this number doesn’t include people who are simply non-religious, which is a different segment.
Non-religious suggests a nominal, often cultural relationship with religion. There could be a number of reasons for this disassociation. One of the main rationales could be the fact that young people today have more access to information about alternative viewpoints than any previous generation. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Buddhism or Islam is only a click away. There’s evidence that the Internet has helped young atheists who had grown up in religiously conservative communities, connect with like-minded peers. Too often, young people regard organised religion as a source of intolerance and abuse, as seen by pictures of Islamic extremists attacking concertgoers in Paris or conservative Christians opposing gay couples’ rights to marry. These sights can be off-putting to the open-minded, tolerant youth of today, who have only a rudimentary religious connection. From a sociological perspective, this could be the result of globalisation, where communication is increasingly easier regardless of time and distance, and cultural differences begin to break down.
Choice, self-actualization, and freedom of expression are all important values among post-millennials. People nowadays have more freedom to express their sexual orientation and gender identity than they have ever had before. A huge part of Gen Z rejects traditional options—one example is identifying as gender-fluid—and this fluidity extends to religion: When young people respond “none” to a religious question on a survey, they are essentially opting out of established religious groups.
But we all have times of hardships and weaknesses, and sometimes, our faith is all we have. With the ever-increasing scepticism towards religion, people have turned to the more sovereign roots of spirituality. Gen Z has thoughtfully created a version of religion that is completely personal; where crystals have replaced saints, tarot cards show potential life paths, and astrology is a blueprint of someone’s personality. While it can seem conflicting, social media and technology also have a huge role in the proliferation of these spiritual practices, from astrologers on YouTube to online palmistry and birth chart readings. Practices like manifestation also act as accessories to this version of spirituality. When the idealized self–help book ‘The Secret’ was released in 2006, manifesting gained popularity. The Law of Attraction, according to the author, “is the ability to attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on.” It’s simple to see why the Law of Attraction is appealing by nature, especially to career-driven, forward-thinking teenagers.
This execution is so different from the conventional religious activities, that it has often been ridiculed or disregarded as “real” faith. But, individual spirituality is not only more accessible, but it also gives young people the space to really explore their beliefs and culture on a more personal level. There is such a lack of ownership over a religious belief system that you are simply given all of the “right” answers. Spirituality, or as it has been moulded by young creatives, is not a trend. It has existed for hundreds of years and will continue to do so in the future. Perhaps at a different volume, or with a varying range, but never completely gone. Something to note is that society always goes in circles; something will go into popularity, then obscurity and back again. But for now, it’s inspiring to watch young creatives exploring spirituality, using it to understand themselves and become inspired to improve the world.
– Sania Mahabaleshwarkar