Laura Levitan ’15 was raised in a religiously mixed household. Levitan’s father always expected her to follow his religious traditions. However, she never internalized his faith, and when she left for college she officially declared herself agnostic and stopped practicing Jewish traditions. Levitan is part of a broader trend of religious disassociation across America.
25 percent of people ages 18 through 29—known as the millennial generation—now identify as ‘unaffiliated’ with any religious group according to a 2010 report from the Pew Research Center. This is significantly higher than previous generations.
“[Our generation] wants to break from the mold, so a lot of children will want to go against what their family is telling them, so if their family is religious they’re going to want to go their own way. And I think that manifests itself in people not believing in anything,” said Daniela Alvarado ’15.
Dr. Amy McClure, a professor of sociology here at Rollins, noted a similar, but distinct trend. She claims that the millennial generation does not care for the rules and expectations of traditional religion, much like Levitan with her father’s expectations.
She said, “What’s happening is that this generation is more comfortable teasing out the difference between spirituality and religion, so you get all these folks who are in the category of unaffiliated, but two-thirds of them believe in God. They’re not necessarily 100 percent sure, but two-thirds of them think ‘Yeah I’m pretty sure there is a god.’”
Kolton Ellis ’17 represents the other side of this trend, the declining but still majority group, who do identify with a religion. Ellis is a Christian, along with 68 percent of millennials nationally, but he still does not feel as though he is surrounded by like-minded peers.
“I feel like the majority of students here were brought to church as kids, and if you back them into a corner, they would say that they are a Christian,” said Ellis.
However, he makes it clear that these students are not serious about their faith. Ellis identifies another trend in the Pew survey, which is the importance of religion in his generation. Although 74 percent of millennials identify with a religion, only 40 percent of them claim that religion is important in their own lives.
At Rollins this plays out in a somewhat shocking fashion. The Sunday services at Knowles Memorial Chapel do not reflect that 68 percent of millennials still identify with some form of Christianity. Reverand Garvey, Dean of the Chapel, said that the last time he was at a service at the chapel—services are usually performed by Reverand Talia Raymond—there were no students present. This may not represent an accurate weekly average, but it does make a statement about the lack of importance the average student puts on religion.
Garvey asserts that thisgrowing trend of religious disassociation reflects poorly on the church.
“Young people especially seek truth and authenticity above all else, and the church as an institution has gone through its own set of scandal and hypocrisy, and young people see that and say ‘Well then, why would I want anything to do with that?’” said Garvey.
He also asserts that the church has held onto certain traditions too long, and failed to keep up with the changing culture with which it lived in tandem.
His solution is to build a stronger sense of spiritual community on campus with a focus on empathy and compassion for one another’s beliefs and experiences.
Perhaps Garvey will be successful in his attempts to reinvigorate spiritual life on this campus, but he is fighting against a broader trend—one that has been increasing for the last several generations.
Meanwhile, students like Levitan will continue to seek their own path, setting out to make sense of the world, independent of their parents’ religious beliefs.