The Centre of Excellence in Research YARG (Young Adults and Religion in a Global Perspective, 2015–2018) engages researchers in Finland, Sweden, the United States, India, Israel, Turkey, Ghana, Poland, Russia, Peru and China.

Ruth Illman, the director of the Donner Institute and a member of the steering committee of the research group, notes that religion is becoming increasingly multifaceted for young people. For example, you can belong to a Christian community while practising Buddhist rituals.

Young people create new patterns

– Young persons may identify as secular in some life situations, but in other contexts, they build their religious worldviews according to novel traditions and patterns. For an older generation, it may seem like a fragmented concoction, while the young person can experience this mixture of religious, secular and popular culture as the truest and most meaningful way of life.

YARG has a veritably global perspective as researchers have gathered research data about university students in ten countries. The method used is pioneering. According to Illman, it combines the best of qualitative and quantitative life-view research.

A new research method

Participants have answered a questionnaire about their values, such as whether it is right to eat animals or if they believe in a life after death. Thereafter, some have assessed 101 statements according to a nine-digit scale, from “do not agree” (–4) via a neutral zero to “agree completely” (+4) on a board according to their values, while discussing issues with an interviewer.

– A statement may, for example, say “One can be moral without being religious”. Then, maybe the young person notes that this is an important issue for them personally, because they have a father, who is a very moral person, even though he is not religious. A statement about whether animals have souls may not have given rise to any thoughts at all.

YARG compares patterns among youth

On the basis of this data, the researchers have created value profiles for each country in order to compare the emerging patterns among young people globally. The project will result in four major publications.

– We need to find new ways to talk about young people’s religiosity, because they do not live according to the boundaries or categories that their parents have created, says Ruth Illman.