New decade, new religion

New decade, new religion

by Zoƫ Tuithof

Religion has changed from something you get along to something you consciously choose. Generation Z (born between 1996 and 2015) prefers the term "spirituality" over "religion." This generation is very critical and uses its own values as a guideline for whether or not to commit to certain ideas. They do not simply engage in "pick and mix," but take spiritual and religious choices extremely seriously.

This is consistent with the 2017 PEW survey (the latest in the religion category), which showed that millennials (born between 1980 and 1995) are increasingly seeing themselves as atheists, agnostics, or "spiritual but not religious." They increasingly distance themselves from organized religions. Instead, they experience spirituality in the form of meditation, astrology and tarot.

Crisis in meaning

Decreasing interest in religion has, according to three psychiatrists, led us into a "sense of crisis". In a conversation with the NRC they explain how people shape their search for the meaning of life. The popularity of psychologists and psychiatrists in both sold-out halls and consultation rooms is striking. People are looking for answers to life's questions, higher goals and rituals in large numbers. Nowadays we seem to find these answers in conversations with the psychiatrist. 

De Wachter says about this in the NRC: "Apparently, psychotherapists have a credibility that religious leaders no longer have." He argues that the sense of meaninglessness has been brought about by the consumer society: we try to mask the emptiness with our consumption, which ultimately does not provide the necessary fill. With the disappearance of religion, we now experience the lack of a higher purpose, of communion. De Wachter sees a split in society between winners and losers. This ensures that the connection between people and their solidarity threatens to disappear. 

Lucky Paradox

Verhaeghe sees the decline in the 'social fabric' as the explanation for the 'happiness paradox': we are well and we are aware of this, but we do not necessarily feel happy. The functioning of the neoliberal market has made us more individual: we increasingly register as a self-employed person. This creates freedom on the one hand, but loneliness on the other. And even that freedom can spread into fear, a lack of support. A grip that people used to find in the church: working together towards a common goal. 

"Granting meaning is by definition common," says Verhaeghe. He even sees the jargon of the liberal market reflected in the conversation about social relations: you have to "invest in it." According to Verhaeghe, our relations should not be about investment, but about commitment.

Religion 2.0: three initiatives

Religious authorities are noticing a decline in supporters and are looking for alternatives to keep the ideology relevant to the current zeitgeist. A Japanese monastery in Kyoto deployed a robot monk named Mindar in 2019 to get young people into the Kodaiji temple. Mindar, according to the monks, is able to absorb an enormous amount of knowledge through artificial intelligence. He can then share this knowledge with the human race in various languages. The technological application in the temple should ensure that young people who are "in the technological bubble" get an impulse for reflection - and temple visits. Two years earlier, we saw the unveiling of BlessU-2, the Christian robot priest who made us think about the future of the Church. 

For example, in the Amazon, Catholics are developing a church in the area of the Yanomami tribe. The church has to become a mix of local culture and spirituality and is built with wood and straw according to the Yanomami technique. The open courtyard serves as a connection between the earthly and heavenly church and as the place where one comes into contact with the spiritual world. Here we see how Catholicism and local religions can work together to develop a holistic, open way of giving meaning. 

In Indonesia, the religious movement Shift takes a different approach. She wants to involve young people more in Islam. Shift does not perform the masses with a standard sermon, but makes them attractive to the youth. The movement combines street culture with Islam, a relatively new way of religious implementation. These are true events that attract many young people; Thousands of people gathered for the Shift event during 2019 Ramadan. The most famous priest has more than seven million followers on Instagram; an amount of supporters similar to that of pop stars. Sociologist Najib Azca: "They are creating a new ecosystem of religious significance through social media." Sociologists argue that in times of digitization and social change, youth needs this kind of guidance. 


We observe two developments that are the common thread in the search for meaning. Basically we see the decline in the number of religious. The first development is the popularity of psychiatrists among people who seek refuge in science or who simply need a nudge in the meaningful direction. Secondly, we see religious institutions responding to the decline with new initiatives to appeal to the younger generations in particular and possibly bind them. 

In any case, the three psychiatrists agree on the following: the great attention to the ego and individual success diverts from the real source of meaning - the other.


NRC: Volle zalen voor de psychiater

Volkskrant: Alle hoop is gevestigd op Mindar, de robotmonnik die het boeddhisme in Japan moet redden

Trouw: Katholieke kerk bouwt inheemse kathedraal in Amazonewoud

PS Mag: How Gen Z-ers are remaking religion to suit their values

LA Times: How milennials replaced religion with astrology and crystals

NRC: In Yogyakarta is prediker een popster

CBS: Afname religie