Céline Beraud, The Role of Religion in Students’ Lives and their Surroundings [REDCo III, pp. 397-408]
tendency toward religion “off the beaten track” (hors-piste / buiten de platgetreden paden)
Also some remarkable findings (quotes) from other contributions than Beraud’s.
Social dimension prevails over the personal dimension of teaching about religions (G.Bertram Troost, How do European Pupils see Religion in School ?, REDCo III, pp. 409-422)
Role of religion in the society (Pille Valk, How do European Students see the Impact of Religion? REDCo III, pp. 423-435)
Ways to peaceful coexistence (idem)
p. 401 The REDCo survey’s conclusions on the religiosity of the teenagers surveyed
What is a “religious student”? Measuring religious identity is undoubtedly a sociological challenge. The indicators are imprecise and insufficiently inclusive when considered separately (Campiche, 1997, p. 47-48). When the questionnaire was conceived, we used different indicators of religiosity. The first was based upon the assertion of a religious affiliation or a worldview, or the lack of such an assertion. As with the Norwegian report, we may wonder about how those surveyed understood the question: was it seen from an institutional point of view (having been baptised for example), from a familial and cultural point of view (having grown up in a Muslim family for example), or from an individual point of view of personal convictions? This indicator shows whether or not the people in question think of themselves as within an existing religious system, and whether or not they feel that they are part of a tradition. However, this relationship “is not necessarily a fundamental component of personality” (Campiche, 1997, p. 55). Moreover, it rules out other non-institutional forms of religiosity. To get a sense of personal commitment, the indicator associated with the importance given to religion in each person’s life may be more significant. In some of the reports, it was clearly preferred as a way of measuring the level of teenagers’ religiosity. The data gathered in the question dealing with belief also made distinctions possible. The frequency of religious activities appears as a less effective indicator for distinguishing religious students from nonreligious ones. On the other hand, it was useful for highlighting the existence of very religious minorities. Despite the limitations of our survey, involving either the indicators of religiosity or the samples chosen, we may draw several firmly established conclusions. We must first point out that some of these conclusions may seem to contradict each other; this is a result of the diver- p 402- sity of religious experience among the teenagers surveyed. This diversity is perceptible between national (or local) contexts, but even more so within them.
The overall tendency toward a lack of interest in religious institutions is clearly perceptible everywhere. A good illustration of this is the relatively low percentages of the young people surveyed who identify with a religion: in many cases they make up less than half of the sample. The influence of religious communities and their leaders appears everywhere as secondary. The young people surveyed have few opportunities to meet with religious authorities. It is therefore not surprising that religious communities are not seen as important sources of information regarding religion. In the case of St. Petersburg, this could be explained by historical circumstances, but also because here, as in all the other locations where the survey took place, those surveyed tended to consider religiosity as the individual’s business before being something institutions need to deal with.
This tendency does not stand in the way of the existence of active religious minorities with an institutional presence among young people. A small proportion of those surveyed consider religion as something very important in their lives. These same people stand out by their high level of belief and religious practice. On this point, young Muslims seem noteworthy. In the Norwegian sample, five times more Muslim teenagers than Christian teenagers feel that religion is very important to their lives. The tendency is the same in the German and English samples, although the difference between the groups is not as great. There is another remarkable distinction between young Muslims and young Christians concerning their level of belief in God. Among young Muslims in the German and French samples this level is much higher (94% and 97% respectively) than among young Christians in both samples (59% and 53% respectively)ll. The difference is not as large in the English sample: nearly all young Muslims say they believe in God, vs. 75% of young Christians. The data from this same sample also reveals a higher level of religious practice (particularly prayer and reading of sacred texts) among young Muslims. The insufficiently large size of the samples made it impossible to get an idea of distinctions internal to Christianity: between denominations, but also between tendencies within these denominations. The French report has some comments on young Protestants who belong to charismatic, evangelical movements. In the national context, they seem to have many similarities with their Muslim peers. The impact of national origin on the internal diversity of the various Christian and non-Christian denominations also deserves a more detailed analysis, but here again a larger sample, and/or a qualitative methodology, would be required. The English report seems to go in this direction when it draws a comparison between Muslim students of South Asian origin and African Christians, who share strong theistic points of view.
We should add that this lack of interest in religious institutions is not associated with a large-scale acceptance of antireligious positions. On the contrary, we find that only a very small minority of teenagers declare themselves to be staunch atheists, including those in Estonia and S1. Petersburg where state atheism was promoted during the Soviet era, as wen as teenagers in France and Spain where anticlerical movements have historically had large followings. In all of the regions involved, even the most secularised countries, those surveyed strongly reject the most hostile statements regarding religions and religious people, such as “Religion is nonsense.” There are sometimes marked differences between sexes on this issue. p. 403 For example, in the samples from Estonia and St. Petersburg, girls are much less likely to give the most negative responses than boys are. This is another example of something already observed in the EVS surveys: “Vague beliefs and religious indifference are becoming much more prevalent among young Europeans than the well-reasoned rejection of religious systems” (Campiche, 1997, p. 53). In many national contexts, we may be able to establish a hypothesis of a break with previous generations on this matter: older generations seem to have a more negative image of religions and their most ardent followers. The French context seems to be a perfect example ofthis12
We find various signs of a tendency toward “religion off the beaten track” (Lambert, 2005: “religion hors-piste”) among the young people surveyed, a phenomenon also described as a mobile and flexible religiosity modelled on the two ideal-typical figures of the “pilgrim” and the ‘”convert” (Hervieu-Leger, 1999: The pilgrim travels alone and of his or her own free will. His or her practice revolves around “sacred places” and “profound experiences”, not around day-to-day living. The convert chooses to commit himself or herself). This phenomenon is part of a religious environment that is more complex than what was foreseen some years ago by the theory of a decreasing interest in religion (Berger, 1967).
The analysis of the answers given to the question dealing with belief in “God, a life force or a kind of spirit” reveals that people without a religious affiliation are not necessarily nonbelievers or non-observant(at least when it comes to prayer). Here we find another example of the phenomenon of “believing without belonging” that the British sociologist Grace Davie has observed (1994). The decline of religious institutions has not been accompanied by a decline in belief. Quite the reverse: some beliefs remain strong and are even growing, though with some wavering. The grand narratives of belief “function as stocks of symbolic resources that individuals appropriate freely” (Hervieu-Leger, 2005, p. 296). In addition, some teenagers who do not identify with any religion say they pray at least occasionally. This is true for more than a third of the young Spaniards surveyed who said they did not have a religion. A small minority of German teenagers who said they had no religion (between 4% and 8% depending on the federal state studied) even said they pray every day. In all cases, many of those surveyed agree with the following statement: “One may be a religious person without belonging to a particular community of faith.” (The level of agreement is especially high in the Estonian, English, Spanish, Norwegian and S1. Petersburg samples.) The young people surveyed thus seem to have taken note of the phenomenon of “the institutional deregulation of belief’ (Hervieu-Leger, 1999).
There is only one question in the REDCo questionnaire – the one regarding “some sort of spirit or life force” – that allows us to evaluate how much borrowing takes place from non Christian belief systems, which is another example of this mobile and flexible religiosity(Sociologists use the metaphor of the “bricolage” to describe that kind of phenomenon. See Hervieu Leger (2005)). For example, 27% of the teenagers surveyed in the Norwegian sample feel that “some sort of spirit or life force” exists. In other words, these teenagers in a traditionally Lutheran country agree with an expression that has its roots in Oriental or New Age religions. A comparable proportion of teenagers in the French sample agree, in a country that has traditionally had a Catholic majority. The proportion is even higher in S1. Petersburg (40%), in a context marked – p. 404 –
by Orthodox Christianity followed by several decades of state atheism. Theses results are interesting but we lack other indicators often used in quantitative surveys on religiosity, such as belief in reincarnation or the practice of meditation, to go further on the question of “bricolage” mixing Christian and non-Christian beliefs and practices.
Some doubts are often expressed. For example, more than 40% of French teenagers surveyed say they have doubts16 about the existence or non-existence of God (the proportion is roughly the same in the Norwegian and German samples). In addition, some of thosesurveyed say they are open to change. This position (“What I think about religion is open to change”) is clearly mentioned among the Spanish and Estonian teenagers surveyed, whether or not they identify with a particular religion. But some religious minorities resist this relativism, as shown by the young English Muslims surveyed who distinguish themselves from their classmates by disapproving strongly of doubts about the existence ofGod and by rejecting the possibility of future changes in their beliefs.
However, this tendency toward “religion off the beaten track” among the teenagers surveyed may be put into perspective through the importance they give to the family as a source of religious socialisation, as. well as through the importance of the traditions inherited from their parents. This heritage can be seen in the relative correspondence between the religion or worldview of those surveyed and that of their mother or father, as well as in the divided opinions gathered on the statement “Religion is something one inherits from one’s family”, which did not make it possible to ascertain a clear tendency toward rejecting inherited religious affiliations.
The role of religions in cultural heritage asserts itself at the very moment when religious institutions are becoming less socially relevant and are losing their hold on the faithful (Boespflug, Dunand & Willaime, 1996). In all the samples, the statement “Religion is important in our history” obtains a majority of favourable opinions. The Norwegian report highlights the existence of a group of “cultural Christians”, that is young people who identify with Christianity, but without necessarily sharing its beliefs or practices. We thus see here a form of “belonging without believing” in symmetry with the previously observed “believing without belonging”. This category must necessarily exist in other samples, even though it is not explicitly mentioned.
[next pages are devoted to checking the working hypotheses]
The data on the role of religion in the personal lives of teenagers highlights situations that contrast to a certain degree from one national (or local) context to another, but also within each context, as well as some tendencies that are partially contradictory. Our survey confirms the tendency toward a lack of interest in religious institutions, excepting very religious minorities. This tendency does not mean either the end of forms of religiosity that willingly go “off the beaten track,” or the end of the ability religions have to build identities, as demonstrated by the “cultural Christians” whose relationship to religious traditions is based on cultural heritage.
As for the issues of tolerance and dialogue, we may conclude by distinguishing diversity as a fact and as a value (pluralism). The first case [= as a fact] concerns the presence of several distinct groups within a given society. The second corresponds to a “deliberate option […] that intends to emphasise that diversity, to take it into account and even to promote it” (Lamine, 2004, p. 226). Whether or not we consider the teenagers surveyed to be “religious”, they are clearly aware of how diverse the European societies to which they belong have become, even for those living in national contexts where this diversity remains quantitatively limited. Moreover, our survey underlines the support that most of the teenagers surveyed share toward diversity as a value (tolerance and openness to dialogue). Still, we must be very cautious about our conclusions in this area. With this quantitative survey, we have collected opinions. But to be able to assert that there is indeed tolerance and openness to dialogue, and thus that the values of diversity are experienced on a daily basis, these opinions must confront the facts. Stopping at the level of what is said means taking the risk of being caught in a form of “religious correctness” that teenagers have no trouble mastering. Moreover, we have to recognise the limits of our research regarding the forms of tolerance and dialogue that the questionnaire takes into account, and thus keep ourselves from being overly optimistic.
The general impression is that European pupils have the feeling that learning about religions at school has more impact on their knowledge on different religions, their respect for people of different religions and on how they (learn to) live together than on what they learn about themselves, current events and decisions between right and wrong. The social dimension of learning about religion in school (including getting knowledge about different religions) is, so to say, much more accepted and appreciated by pupils than the personal dimension.
Most oft he teenagers surveyed see religion as a normal part of the societal life.
The surveyed students mainly did not see religion as a source of aggressiveness nor an obstacle to tolerance.
Students soundly disagreed with the xenophobic statement ‘I don’t like people from other religions and do not want to live together with them’ in all our samples.
The surveyed teenagers were quite aware of the conflict potential of religion. At the same time most of them were convinced that respecting the religion of others is a way to cope with differences.
[volgt een nationaal uitgesplitst stuk]
Thus, summing up – in all the national samples in REDCo survey an interesting and important similar pattern occurred:
Students with religious affiliation share much more positive positions regarding the impact of religion in society.
They are more likely to disagree that religious people are less tolerant toward others, that the world would be a better place without religion and that religion is the source of aggressiveness.
They also esteemed the role of respecting the religion of others in coping with differences significantly more highly.
As is said in the first chapter of the book, we did not work with an elaborated specific theoretical concept of dialogue in our quantitative study. Instead, we decided to use the simple wording ‘talking about’ as a flexible synonym for dialogue in our instrument […]. Three statements [..] explored the possible positive impact of dialogue on religious issues
– “Talking about religion helps to understand others”,
– “Talking about religion helps me to live peacefully together with people from different religions”, and
– “Talking about religion helps me to understand better what is going on in the world”
When looking at the mean values of the responses to the first statement, it occurs that in all samples they lay closely and firmly on the agreement side of the scale, between 2.44 (England) and 2.82 (Estonia). A similar pattern was found also in regarding to the third statement. Here also all the means are below ‘3’ from 2.49 (France) to 2.95 (Russia). Talking about religion as a prerequisite for the peaceful co-existence of people from different religions met a slightly different response. Here the means lay between 2.75 (Dutch respondents) and 3.18 (French respondents). The means of the responses fell slightly into the disagreement side of the scale in three samples – in France, St. Petersburg (3.07) and Norway (3.04). The statement, that talking about religion only leads to disagreement was not agreed by the ‘average respondent’ in all countries – all the mean values lay on the disagreement side of the scale from 3.07 (for Norway and Estonia) to 3.86 (for The Netherlands). The statement reflecting the emotional reactions regarding religion as something to talk about – “In my view talking about religion is embarrassing” was rejected by lot of respondents in all countries. The mildest disagreement was found among the St. Petersburg students (3.31); the strongest disagreement was recorded among the Dutch students (4.25). There were three samples where the mean value of the responses was higher than 4 (thus, in-between ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’) – in addition to The Netherlands this was the case also in Germany and in Norway. The last detail is of particular interest because when looking at the answers to “For me talking about religious topics is boring”, Norwegian respondents together with Estonians were the only ones whose mean response fell slightly to the agreement side of the scale (2.96): is it the case that talking about religion is not embarrassing because it is just not an issue to talk about?
These general findings regarding ‘talking about religion’ could be synthesized in the following way:
The surveyed students evaluate the dialogue on religious issues as an important mean of understanding others as well as the current events going on in the world.
The respondents were less optimistic about talking about religion as being a sufficient prerequisite for peaceful coexistence. Probably something more is needed.
Religion was not considered as an embarrassing topic to discuss about by our respondents. If they are not so eager to talk about religion in some countries it is because their main interests lay somewhere else.
Positive statements towards dialogue are evaluated more highly, and negative ones lower, by the students with religious affiliation.
Girls in all countries tended to be more open for dialogue and more optimistic about the possible positive impact of such communication.
Muslim students were distinguished by higher readiness for dialogue and communication in several countries.
It is a challenging complex research question for future deeper investigation how far their readiness to talk about religion is influenced by their reaction to the negative image propagated sometimes by the media, how far it is an apologetic position, how far there is deeper conscious readiness for dialogue. These questions can of course also be addressed to the readiness for dialogue of Christian pupils.
Looking at the general tendencies in the surveyed students’ views regarding the prerequisites for peaceful coexistence, one can point out the following issues:
Students evaluate knowledge about the different religions and worldviews as one of the most important preconditions for peace in the pluralistic society.
Common interests and joint action help to develop social cohesion. Personal contacts help to overcome separation and xenophobia.
The relevance of the impact of legislative measures in attaining peaceful coexistence is less agreed upon, compared to the above-mentioned aspects such as knowledge, common interests and joint actions. Nevertheless legislative measures are also regarded as a useful instrument by a considerable proportion of pupils. Even less was the number of those who agreed that keeping religion as a private matter will solve the problems.