The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new study today on religion among “millennials,” the generation of people who are currently 18-29. I was pointed to this study from an article at Jewcy, arguing that even though according to the study Millennials are less affiliated with religion than their older counterparts, the generation is about reinterpreting religion and making it their own. Much of this is probably true, probably not even just in relation to the Millennials generation but also in relation to younger generations in the past, as young people tend to be more open to change and redefinitions. (And if you read the appendix of the study, the statistics about religiosity for this age group in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s are pretty similar)
It’s a pretty interesting study. I wonder how much of it reflects Jews as a whole: praying less, less of a belief in an omnipotent God, and a somewhat stronger belief that “own religion is one true faith that leads to eternal life.” (That last one is a bit of surprise to me.) What it does say about Judaism is that 2% of the general population identifies itself as Jewish, and 2% of the Millennial generation also identifies itself as Jewish, an equivalence that does not happen in many other religions like Catholicism and Protestantism. However, whether or not Jews have lost faith in God or prayer is not mentioned.
I believe for Jews, at least, that the aforementioned decrease in religious ties may be more nuanced than for some other religions. According to an article about the 2008 American Jewish Identification Survey,
the proportion of American Jews who identify themselves as religious has dropped by more than 20 percent over the past two decades, while the cultural Jewish population has nearly doubled.
For Jews, with all of our denominations and divisions, there seems to be another one to add to the mix: Just Jewish. And I believe it. I know a lot of Jewish people who don’t feel particularly religious or connected to Judaism as a religion, but who vehemently feel tied to Judaism as an ethnicity. And even when people intermarry, (there’s a new study about intermarriage too, more about that at a later date) I know a lot of Jews who don’t feel that their Judaism must be taken away.
I see this study as good news and bad news. I’m glad that even though many people may be feeling less religiously tied to Judaism, they continue to feel that Judaism is a factor in defining themselves. But I, at least, think Judaism that has a lot to offer as a religion, things that are still relevant for today’s generation. So I guess that’s where the new movements like Renewal come in, as well as outreach from more traditional movements—trying to find a way to help people discover all that Judaism has to offer in a way that relates to their lives.