Young Americans reinvent spirituality and religion

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Young adults in the US are increasingly likely to identify with more than one religious or spiritual tradition. One in five college students who responded to a recent Student Health 101 survey considered themselves multifaith, meaning they embrace a blend of religious and spiritual influences.

In most cases, US students complemented Christianity with Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American practices, or another tradition. “I believe in Christianity, but I also believe in the love and empathy I’ve learned through studying Buddhism, as well as the five pillars of Islamic faith. I essentially practice whatever I think will make me a better, more caring, understanding, and compassionate person,” says Michaela D., a second-year undergraduate at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

  • Sixteen percent of Americans identify as multifaith, according to a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).
  • Nearly 1 in 3 Americans say they explore the spiritual ideas or practices of other religious faiths sometimes or often.
  • 4 in 10 Americans say they meditate at least once a week.

Americans’ increasing familiarity with minority religions is due partly to the rise of interfaith marriage: 1 in 4 marriages involve a couple of different religious backgrounds, according to the 2012 General Social Survey.

The three most common blendings in our student survey:

  • Judaism-Christianity: The Hebrew Bible shares many sources with the Christian Bible. The two religions have similar theology on some points, including the legitimacy of Biblical prophets, belief in angels and demons, and worship of the God of Abraham.
  • Judaism-Buddhism: This pairing dates to the 19th
    century. An estimated 30 percent of western
    Buddhists are of Jewish heritage. Buddhism provides a connection to mystical aspects of theology that some believe Judaism lacks.
  • Buddhism-Christianity: Buddhism’s meditation practices can help Christians find greater satisfaction in prayer. Buddhism allows flexibility of belief, so
    Buddhists can draw from Christian moral teachings.
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Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.