Have millennials turned their backs on spirituality and scratched the question of atheism? Rather, they seem to have appropriated questions of belief in their own way and do not hesitate to debate them, as we learn from the philosopher and teacher Jérémie McEwen as well as Stéphanie Tremblay, professor in the religious sciences department at UQAM. . Five words to understand.
Does atheism reign supreme among millennials? Not so much, according to qualitative research conducted by sociologist Stéphanie Tremblay. She invokes the concept of ultramodernity crafted by her counterpart Jean-Paul Willaime, where secularization, after being applied to religion, has extended to other social institutions. “We rather find ourselves with a fluidity of navigation between positions of a religious type and a non-religious type, where we refuse a label, we identify ourselves as non-religious rather than atheist, even if there is always one marginal portion. » We invoke spiritual, nature-centered, even neopagan values (Druidism, sacred feminine, Wicca, etc.); an eclecticism perceived since the 1980s and 1990s, and even more salient among younger people. “Students arrive with rational arguments to defend their faith or atheism, because the two coexist in the classrooms,” underlines Jérémie McEwen.
During research carried out with various generations (from 20 to 60 years old), Ms. Tremblay noted a hiatus in the vision of secularism. The older ones showed an approach that was “more republican, more restrictive, with freedom of thought, but where everyone must experience this more “inside”,” she says. Among millennials and younger people, freedom of expression remains a pillar. “We consider that the individual must more self-determine, but others must also have this right. We don’t see the problem with religion, seen as that of another generation, a bit outdated. For example, for them, a hijab can have various meanings, be a cultural, personal or religious sign,” she illustrates.
Has the idea of God been abandoned along the way by millennials? Not according to what Jérémie McEwen was able to observe, who however specifies that he intervenes in a specific geographical and social context; or in a CEGEP in Laval with a strong representation of newcomers. Every year, he surveys his students: do they believe in the existence of God? “The proportion that came back year after year was 50%,” he reports, having taught cohorts of millennials at the start of their careers. “There are two or three people who are hesitant, but most of them have a very clear and clear answer on the question. It turns them on,” he adds, specifying that the theme systematically leads to debates that are as abundant as they are vigorous.
We find the Catholic matrix and cultural imagination both among older people and among millennials, notes Stéphanie Tremblay, often enhanced by an attachment to nature or international influences. “Among all generations, Buddhism is, for example, often described as an ‘inspiring philosophy or religion’,” she emphasizes. But visions diverge regarding self-denomination. “The oldest will call themselves Catholic, and even if everyone is of Catholic culture or tradition, very few of the youngest call themselves Catholic,” reports the sociologist. They will prefer: non-religious, spiritual or atheist. “This is consistent with recent Statistics Canada survey data showing that “non-religion” is on the meteoric rise,” adds the one which draws a parallel with the end of religious socialization at school.
What about astrology beliefs? Unless I’m mistaken, no generational study in Quebec has been conducted. On the other hand, the question has been probed elsewhere in the West, notably in the United States and France. A poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP) in 2023 in these two countries shows that 42% of Americans believe in astrological influence, as do 32% of French people. Most involved in these beliefs? In the United States, it is the 25-34 age group (thus millennials) that is leading the way, with 54% of people from this generation admitting to believing in the power of signs and stars; confirming a trend already observed in 2012 among 18-24 year olds (58%). That said, Generation Z is almost as fond of astrological signs as their elders.