Wednesday, February 24, 2010

On Their Own Terms

If you follow this blog, you know that I keep track of the research coming out of the Pew Forum for Religion and Public Life.  Their most recent report examines the religious beliefs and practices of the generation born after 1980 -- the "Millennial Generation."

By some indicators, the report says, this new generation is less religious than older Americans.  Nearly one-quarter of young people are religiously "unaffiliated", which is a higher rate than the two previous generations at comparable ages.  And overall, young folks tend to pray and attend worship less often than previous generations.  It's remarkable, therefore, that the level of this generation's core religious commitments -- belief in God, miracles, life after death, etc. -- are similar to those of earlier generations.  The difference is that they practice differently than their predecessors.

Some will interpret this study as a call for increased emphasis on denominational outreach, as evidence for a mission field ripe for evangelism.  And I'll be the first to say that my own Methodist tradition has much to offer our current cultural climate.  But I also see a context in which the Millennials -- who are already entering our theological schools, by the way -- are seeking new ways of being religious.  Unfortunately, our schools usually aren't ready for them.

recent blog from a Christian campus minister at USC introduced a new term into my vocabulary.  He says some of his (Millennial) students are identifying themselves as "inter-spiritual," as unaffiliated with any particular tradition (or, possibly, the child of multiple traditions).  He explains:
They want to be between and among, and even within, the spirits of those around them, people from all manner of religious backgrounds, or no religion at all.  They don't see their spirits as existing in isolation.  They feel affiliated with people of many faiths or no particular faith, so they don't feel compelled to officially affiliate with any one religion.  They aren't lonely in their lack of formal religious belonging.  They have found ways to connect deeply with others beyond the bounds of sectarian identity.This reflects the aversion of some young people to institutional and traditional forms of religion. 
This confirms the Pew research about this generation, but it also testifies to the need for new forms of education that can help this generation discern their direction in the world in ways that affirm their core commitments -- their "inter-spirituality" -- in ways that are critical and constructive.  This is not to endorse religious syncretism, an wanton blending of religious traditions.  But it recognizes that new generations are religious in different ways, regardless of how it has been done before.  Even those (still the majority) who do identify as adherents of traditional religions will need to understand their peers in order to be effective ministers, priests, rabbis and imams.

As Claremont moves forward, this is another aspect of our culture to which we will pay attention.  This is yet another important facet of the University Project: preparing a new generation for service to the world ... on their own terms.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thoughts from a Student

One of our United Methodist M.Div. students posted a remarkable blog earlier this week that I want to share.  Jonathan Visitacion came to Claremont in 2008 with understandable concerns at that time (we were still under review from our accrediting bodies) about Claremont's stability and ability to educate him toward ordination.  He struggled with the decision to come to Claremont, which he so poignantly explains:
The school has always held ecumenical openness in high regard and has pushed towards the respect of all religions ever since I have attended classes. This has allowed me to be more respectful and culturally sensitive to persons of other religions, as it has been my own personal pet peeve when people from other cultures naïvely step on my toes. On my own behalf, CST has been able to show me that culture has been the key to inviting others to Christ, whether that means by reflecting on the historical Christian missions or through the community presence of Christ.
... More importantly, I believe that it is true that an inter-religious seminary [has] the potential of strengthening Christians because they are more aware of the world around them, and can affirm their own faith against a religiously/ethnically diverse school. After all, I have been here for almost two years and still believe in the salvation of Christ and the presence of God's love in the world.
I encourage you to read his post in its entirety, as it authentically conveys the lived experience of one Methodist student at Claremont.