The 2016 Census suggested about a third of Australian teens had no religion. But ask a teenager themselves about religion, rather than the parent or guardian filling in the census form, and the picture is slightly different.
According to our new national survey, at least half of teens say they are “religious nones” – those who do not identify with a religion or religious group. Digging deeper, we found a more complicated picture of faith and spirituality among young Australians. Most Gen Z teens have little to do with organised religion in their personal lives, while a significant proportion are interested in different ways of being spiritual.
Migration, diversity, secularisation and a burgeoning spiritual marketplace challenge the notion that we are a “Christian” country. More than any other group, teenagers are at the forefront of this remaking of Australian religion. Their daily experience of secondary school and social media sees them bumping into all kinds of difference. Teens are forming their own strong views about existential matters.
Our national study by scholars from ANU, Deakin and Monash – the AGZ Study – comprises 11 focus groups with students in Years 9 and 10 (ages 15-16) in three states, a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,200 people aged 13-18, and 30 in-depth, follow-up interviews.
So what do we know about the religious and spiritual lives of Generation Z teens? We deployed a powerful form of statistical analysis to identify six different “types” that move beyond conventional understandings of religious or nonreligious identity. The categories take into account religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, self-understandings and attitudes to the universe.
To ensure the types were more than computer-generated assumptions, we interviewed at least five teens from each group, checking that it all made sense.
Here are the six spirituality types we found.
This-worldly. This largest group accounts for 23 per cent of Australian teens. “This-wordly” young people have no space in their worldview for religious, spiritual or non-material possibilities. They never or rarely go to services of worship and don’t identify with a religion.