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Cultural Change, Contemporary Teenagers and Religious Education


Cultural Change, Contemporary Teenagers and Religious Education Rev Dr Philip Hughes Christian Research Association, Australia – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Cultural Change, Contemporary Teenagers and Religious Education

Cultural Change, Contemporary Teenagers and
Religious Education
  • Rev Dr Philip Hughes
  • Christian Research Association, Australia

Christian Research Association
  • Formed in 1985 to conduct research for churches
    and their agencies of all denominations
  • On the nature of faith in the Australian context

Senior Members Anglican Diocese of
Melbourne Baptists of Victoria Catholic Bishops
Conference ACCESS Ministries Converge
(International) Lutheran Church,
Australia Prahran Mission Salvation
Army Seventh-day Adventists Tabor College
(Victoria) Uniting Church, Synods of Victoria and
  • Major research projects of interest to all parts
    of the church
  • Contracted research
  • 'Clearing house' for research related to faith in
    the Australian context through 'Pointers'

Major product Australian Religious Communities
A Multimedia Exploration Encyclopedia of 174
religious organisations. Used everywhere from
Federal Parliamentary library, to universities,
secondary schools to primary schools.
Christian Research Association
  • An on-going process
  • Rapidly changing world
  • Current major projects
  • General trends in religion and spirituality
  • Responses to spirituality
  • Issues arising from migration
  • Youth ministry in local churches
  • Sports chaplaincy

Recent Books Relevant to Schools
Serving Schools
  • Feedback to schools on the spirituality of
  • Sense of self
  • Sense of purpose
  • Sense of social justice
  • Commitment to principles of life
  • Religious faith and influence in life
  • Have surveyed about 75 schools
  • Survey some annually, bi-annually, 5 years
  • Also surveys of staff and alumni

Attitudes to Religious Education
  • Up to 25 enthusiastic
  • 50 put up with it
  • 25 to varying extents hostile
  • Depends on proportion of immigrants
  • Selective policies of enrolment as the biggest
    influence is that of attitudes to religion in the
  • Little variation with teacher or how taught

Attitudes Vary with Topics
  • Most enthusiasm among most students about ethics
    and social justice
  • Least enthusiasm in topics related to the church
    such as sacraments
  • Not particularly enthusiastic about other
  • Enthusiasm is related to how relevant the topic
    is seen to be

Why is there such negativity?
  • When teaching about the very basic questions such
    as who we are?
  • What is our purpose in life?
  • What is it that gives life and hope ?

2009 More spiritual than religious in Australia
Totals Spiritual 40 Religious 33 Neither 44
Widespread and Growing Suspicion of Religion in
Many Parts of the World but Particularly European
  • Decline in confidence in religious institutions
  • Sexual abuse has been a major issue
  • Belief that religion contributes more to violence
    than to peace
  • Largely because of recent terrorism and role of
    religion in wars
  • 'Discomfort' with some values of religions
  • Particularly sexual ethics environment
  • Belief in God makes little sense for some

To Identify Trends ...
  • Looked at the percentage of people over 60 who
    described themselves as 'religious' and
  • Compared with the percentage under 60 who
    described themselves that way
  • Use '60' because find major differences between
    people over 60 and under 60 (people born before
    or after 1950 people after 'Boomer Generation')

Religious Trends in 44 Countries
Spiritual Trends
Some Observations
  • In almost every country except Israel, young
    people are less likely than older people to
    describe themselves as religious
  • Note that few Middle Eastern and African
    countries were included
  • In some countries younger people were more likely
    than older people to describe themselves as
  • Although in many countries this was not so
    particularly Catholic countries

Major Caveat
  • Many countries have no parallel to northern
    European sense of spirituality (eg Thailand)
  • Many migrants from these countries into Australia
    do not understand the European individualised
  • Churches (and religiosity) are growing primarily
    among migrants in Australia
  • Between 2001 and 2011, migration accounted for
    200 of the growth in numbers of Christians

What Do These Trends Mean?
  • Different meanings of spirituality in different
  • For some (especially in Catholic countries), it
    is a more personal belief in the supernatural
  • For others (particularly in Northern Europe and
    America), it is an individualistic approach to
  • Spirituality growing most where it is NOT related
    to belief in a personal God

Heelas and Woodhead
  • Life was seen in 'life as' terms
  • Identity was given by one's gender, ethnicity,
    social status, etc
  • Identity now seen in terms of fulfilment of
    'subjective life'
  • Life is now what we want to make it as
    individuals and no longer determined by personal
    or social characteristics
  • See this in relationships, occupation, etc.

Origins of Change in 1960s and 1970s
  • Change in worldview arose from
  • Change in methods of raising children raised as
    individuals, rather than as part of community or
    even as subject to family
  • Due to smaller families (and the pill) and
    capacity to pay attention to needs of individual
    child plus advice from Spock, etc..
  • Change in early life experiences more
    'pluralistic' due to pluralism in local
    communities, TV, etc.

Post-modern individualism has deep roots in early
Other Influences on Rejection of
Institutionalised Religion / Pro Spirituality
  • Mass media introduced more pluralism and sought
    to develop 'consumeristic' attitudes
  • Protest against institutions, including
    government and church, which seen to have wrong
    values in 1960s and 1970s
  • Failure of government in relation to war
  • Repression by churches of sexuality
  • Both seen to fail in terms of women's rights
  • Increasing options for individuals in relation to
    occupation, etc.

Consumeristic Styles of Thinking
  • Has origins in child-rearing and the focus on the
    needs of each individual child
  • Child begins thinking from the premise of what
    does it mean for me
  • Not necessarily focussed on consumption of
    material goods
  • Joins in activities (including religious) on
    basis of perceived benefits for themselves and

Social Media
  • Increased mobility and availability of electronic
    forms of communication in 70s meant decreased
    significance of local communities
  • Social media in last few years has increased
    contact with specific chosen 'friends' rather
    than people meet face to face
  • Shared assumptions develop in these communities
  • Religious communities have become less
    significant in the formation of community

Three Movements in the Rebellion
Rejection of belief Personal God no longer Make
sense in age of science
Additional Factors in Last 15 Years
  • Terrorism with religious base
  • Sexual abuse and cover-up by religious
  • Concern re exclusion of homosexuals

New Age
  • New Age ideas were influenced to some extent by
    the occult
  • New Age movement was partly a movement against
    some of the values of institutionalised religion
  • Advocated freedom in personal expression
  • Especially sexual expression
  • Advocated linking with nature
  • Focus on wellbeing here rather than after death

Influence of the New Age Movement
  • Asked about various influences on life in the
    Wellbeing and Security Survey (2002)
  • 14 definitely, 19 probably 'God has a big
    influence on how I live'
  • 10 definitely, 32 probably affirm the
    importance of 'being in tune with nature'
  • 1 definitely, 3 probably affirm the influence
    of the New Age movement

Spirituality Today in Anglo Countries
  • Mostly rejected institutional forms because
    spirituality is 'individualised'
  • New Age, Wicca and Pagan ideas have dissipated in
    weakened forms into the general community
  • Thus spirituality seen in nature, but few claim
    power of nature
  • Focus on wellbeing has roots in New Age but
    accepted by many outside the New Age movement as
    an 'aim' in life

Some Characteristics of Contemporary Spirituality
  • Eclectic rather than particular in sources
  • Focus on experience rather than dogma
  • On this-worldliness rather than life-after-death
  • Is practised and owned personally rather than
  • Is egalitarian in approach rather than dependent
    on hierarchies in institutions or in expertise
  • Takes a human-centred rather than a God-centred
    approach to life

In Australia 2 Main Types of Spirituality
  • Eclectic drawing on a variety of resources to
    enhance personal life (8 of population in 2002)
  • 69 believe in spirit or life-force (17 in God)
  • 8 attend a church monthly or more often
  • Nature finds spirituality in nature and
    identity with nature (9 of population in 2002)
  • 53 believe in spirit or life-force (21 in God)
  • 4 attend a church monthly or more often

Is It Likely to Disappear?
  • Lack of institutional forms makes spiritual very
    weak and amorphous
  • Most people ignore the religious / spiritual in
    everyday life
  • Thus, could be a step towards greater secularity
  • However, many people aware that materialism is
    inadequate for dealing with life
  • Spiritual important in relationships
  • And in inner wellbeing

As Something Personal ...
  • People look for activities or events which will
    nurture their spirituality
  • Contribute to their wellbeing
  • Assist them to fulfilment in spiritual life
  • For some yoga, meditation
  • For others art, music, drama, film
  • For some some form of community / small group
  • For many 'holidays', relaxation

What are the Implications for Christiansand for
Religious Education?
Heelas and Woodhead, The Spiritual Revolution
(2005) Churches Feeding the Subjective Self
Doing Better
  • Greater focus in the churches on the subjective
  • Mainstream churches focus on social justice and
    the community which does not necessarily feed
    the subjective self
  • Many evangelical churches have rigid ideas about
    how the self should be
  • Charismatic churches often doing better in
    nurturing the subjective self

How should respond depends on theology of
mission, not on sociological description
Emphases in contemporary spirituality with
connections to Christian tradition
  • Spiritual recognises there is 'something beyond'
  • Sees this in mystery in human life and in
  • Sense of mystery in line with the mystics of many
    religions including Christians (Antoon Geels)
  • Antidote to Protestant tendency to
    anthropomorphise God and 'take out' the sense of
    mystery (Karen Armstrong)

Recognition of Mystery in Natural World
  • Present in the Psalms and prophets
  • Problem arises when nature is seen as inherently
    mysterious rather than pointing to a transcendent
  • Contemporary spirituality reminds Christians to
    recapture respect for creation and dedication to
    its care

Experience Rather than Dogma
  • Many Christians traditions have emphasised
    experience rather than dogma
  • True within the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox
  • In a different way, also true within Pentecostal
    and charismatic Christianity
  • Hence Pentecostals and charismatic have connected
    better with post-60s people than other
    denominational traditions

Protest against Institutionalism of Religion
  • Has occurred frequently in Christian history
  • Left-wing of the Reformation included such a
  • Also present in Restorationism
  • Need that protest again to lighten the weight of
    Christian institutional baggage

But the radical individualism of spirituality is
a step too far!
Agree with Contemporary Spirituality
  • Need to re-charge our batteries and care for
  • Need time for reflection, time to step aside from
    business of life
  • Need to express ourselves through music, art and
  • In functionalism of Protestantism, have lost
    sight of these reflections and celebrations of
    roots in the Mystery of God

Protest against Contemporary Spirituality
  • Find fulfilment not in focus on self-realisation
    through obeying 'inner impulses'
  • Through contributing to one's relationship with
  • In contemporary society, all can develop own
  • Biography becomes meaningful as make contribution
    to wellbeing of others and wider society

But not stay with focus on self
  • Most people recognise that fulfilment found in
    relationships with others primarily friends and
  • Also in contributing to wider society, through
    paid occupations and through voluntary activities
  • Surveys and interviews with teachers enhance
    spirituality through international or national
    aid, pilgrimage, theological study, with family

In Jesus' terms
  • Purpose of Christian mission is to call people to
    love God and to love their neighbours as
  • Primary means of fulfilment of this is not
    attendance at worship services
  • Numerous ways in which churches could open up
    ways for people to develop the relationship with
    God and with others

Individualistic approach to life means ...
  • People will increasing connect with Christian
    churches and other organisations through
    short-term involvements
  • Through specific task groups and activities
  • Through festivals and one-off events
  • Less involved in long-term involvement in

Churches need to prepare for this in training of
leaders, development of communication systems,
and in change in financial systems
Growth in Chaplaincy Fits Contemporary
  • Chaplains in schools, hospitals, sporting clubs,
    prisons, even local councils
  • Non-denominational
  • Non-demanding
  • Often care unconditionally
  • Focus on the wellbeing of the individual and
    their immediate community

Should 'religious education' become 'spiritual
  • Simply trying to 'pass on' the tradition no
    longer works
  • Young people are convinced that they must own
    whatever they believe and how they live
  • Yet, we are generally not doing much to prepare
    them to make their own wise decisions about faith
    or spirituality

What is needed for 'spiritual literacy'?
  • Some understanding of the varieties of faith and
    understanding of spirituality
  • See this not in terms of 'world religions' but
    different ways of understanding the world
  • Capacity to evaluate these
  • Ability to understand the consequences of
    decisions of faith
  • Willingness to make commitments and live by one's
    principles and understanding

Spiritual Education Needed More than At Any Other
Time in History
  • In individualistic age, young people WILL make
    own decisions
  • Tendency to base these on 'short-term'
    consumeristic preferences
  • Education can give young people the capacity
  • Develop own ways of making sense of life
  • Ethical principles by which to live
  • Develop communities in which continue the
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