Around the globe, the vast majority of young people share a
conviction that life has a spiritual dimension. Seventy-five percent
in a recent survey believe in God or a higher power. And while some
can't easily define spirituality, the majority say they have had a
transcendent experience, believe in life after death, and think it's
"probably true" that all living things are connected.
For two years, a project involving some 7,000 youths ages 12 to
25 in 17 countries has explored spiritual beliefs and experiences -
and found youths eager to discuss them. It's the most ambitious such
project to date.
"It's how I see good in the world," explains participant Ryan
Mooney, a college freshman in Portland, Ore., who is Jewish but
spends hours reading the teachings of other faiths. "That all these
religions formed by different societies come around to this
sentiment of striving toward goodness gives me faith in the world."
The initial findings were released Wednesday by the Search
Institute, a Minneapolis-based independent research group. The group
intends to plumb the results further and carry out additional
research in countries around the world.
"I was surprised by the similarities we found across different
cultures, even though they may have different languages and
worldviews," says Eugene Roehlkepartain, the Search Institute's vice
president. The institute hopes to encourage a broader look at the
impact of spiritual development on other aspects of life.
Along with partner organizations, the institute conducted surveys
in eight countries, focus groups in 13 nations, and in-depth
interviews with young people whom others consider to be "spiritual
exemplars." The youths represented more than a dozen faiths as well
The results of the report - "With Their Own Voices: A Global
Exploration of How Today's Young People Think About and Experience
Spiritual Development" - can't be considered representative of the
countries or traditions, Mr. Roehlkepartain cautions.
But they "help us understand the dynamics of what is happening
with young people. Kids live in a global world today, and to
understand them, we need to see them in a global context."
Religion has trumped spirituality as a topic of study in the
past, says Roehlkepartain. A study released last spring by the
German research firm Berthlesmann Stiftung found that 85 percent of
young people in 21 nations called themselves religious, and 44
percent said they were deeply religious.
In the US, a UCLA study of undergraduates from 2003 to 2007 broke
some ground on spirituality. It found that while attendance at
religious services decreased dramatically for most, their overall
level of spirituality - defined as seeking meaning in life and
developing values and self-understanding - increased.
When asked what it means to be spiritual, young people in the
Search survey most commonly responded: believing there is a purpose
to life, believing in God, or being true to one's inner self. In
Thailand and Cameroon, "being a moral person" made the top three.
"Having a deep sense of inner peace and happiness" was highly valued
in Canada and the US. …