When given the opportunity to conduct a research project, my initial instincts were to look into something I have researched in the past. Obviously I don’t wish to come out with the same findings as before, but rather to further investigate into the topic and perhaps ask a more specific and applicable research question. At first, my research question was, “Are younger generations across Australia turning away from organised religion?” Then it was pointed out to me that this sphere of research is far too large for the amount of time I have. My focus then became how this is relatable to university students; whether or not they are more likely to partake in religious practices, or partake in the decline of them.
After reading the book, “Putting Life Together” by Phillip Hughes, and having conducted an interview with him on this topic in the year 2012, there is obvious evidence that young people are not as likely to partake in organised religious activities as they once were. Hughes’ findings show that young people, as early as secondary school, start to question how the world is portrayed by science and how it is portrayed by religion, and how these two fit together. Hughes’ research shows that youth don’t necessarily feel the pressure to partake in religious activities as much as they do to forge their own paths, supporting the notion that more individuals are straying from organised religion. Hughes’ has found that Generation Y feels strongly about how we must choose our own views on life and thus ideas and traditions from the bible seem to be too traditional and archaic (Hughes, 2007).
The “Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion” (O’Connor, Hoge and Alexander, 2002), looked into the different influences regarding adult religious practices. They categorized these influences into three different groups: “family life cycle theory, social learning theory, and cultural broadening theory.” Looking into family life cycle theory, “Research has found that church disaffiliation occurs most often in the teenage years and the early 20s… and often a reentry into church life later when the young adult is building a family (Roozen 1980).” (O’Connor, Hoge and Alexander, 2002) Looking at social learning theory, our socialization in early life is primarily our parents, and then in teenage years beliefs might change from the influence of our peers, and perhaps again later from the influence of adult peers.
The journal, Social Forces (Uecker, Regnerus and Vaaler, 2007) points out that most of American youth tend to stray away from religious expression as a result of the “college experience”. With this being true to the American people, I wonder how the university or higher education experience in Australia influences individuals’ and their religious beliefs and consumption.
The information from these sources has led me to believe that a stray from religious expression and practice almost always takes place in teenagers and those in their early 20’s. This idea has pushed me to want to find out why they are partaking in the decline of religion, and how university and peers influence these life decisions.
In another article, The “Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion”, acknowledges that there is a lack of attention among sociologists, and that perhaps they are not asking the correct or strong enough religious based questions on surveys for young people. This makes our understanding of youth involvement with religion, or lack thereof, very limited (Smith et al., 2002)
In order to unpack the why behind youth involvement with religion, to support my research I plan on creating a survey that I can hand out to university students around campus and in my classes. On this survey I plan on asking about individuals’ belief systems, what religion they identify with, whether or not they have been raised religious, why they’ve stayed a part of their religion or have strayed from it, and whether or not university/peer influence has played a large role in their ultimate decision.
I have been in contact with a member of the Evangelical Christian Union at UOW and plan on conducting a one-on-one interview with the organiser of this society. In this interview I plan to ask how the members of this society grow each year (or don’t), the kinds of things they talk about in meetings, etc. I would also like to conduct a focus group with the members of this society and ask how their involvement in this group effects their involvement with other students around campus, what pushed them to join this group and how they feel the benefits from being apart of it.
Although my reading on this topic has only been minimal, I plan on divulging much further into peer-reviewed articles to gain a stronger knowledge on the research that has already been conducted. This will hopefully help me engage deeper into the topic, and help me unpack the question of why youth is turning away from religion, and more so, how university involvement plays a role in these life decisions.
Hughes, P. (2007). Putting Life Together: Findings From Australian Youth Spirituality Research. Christian Research Association, p.215.
O’Connor, T., Hoge, D. and Alexander, E. (2002). The Relative Influence of Youth and Adult Experiences on Personal Spirituality and Church Involvement. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(4), pp.723-732.
Smith, C., Denton, M., Faris, R. and Regnerus, M. (2002). Mapping American Adolescent Religious Participation. The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(4), pp.597-612.
Uecker, J., Regnerus, M. and Vaaler, M. (2007). Losing My Religion: The Social Sources of Religious Decline in Early Adulthood. Social Forces, 85(1668-1692).