From the Editor: Youth venture for alternative forms of spirituality

New Age spiritual practices include meditation, tarot, astrology, and crystal healing. (Unsplash)

New Age spiritual practices include meditation, tarot, astrology, and crystal healing. (Unsplash)

In the 1960s, the New Age culture emerged as an alternative form of spirituality. Unlike traditional religious groups such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism, New Age followers believe in astrology, yoga, crystal healing, energies, auras, and transformation. As interest in traditional religious affiliation decreases, especially among young people, spirituality still prevails but in forms similar to New Age concepts.

Religion and spirituality are usually sandwiched in the same bun, but there are a few differences between the two. Religion is a specific set of practices and organized beliefs, usually practiced among a community or group. On the other hand, spirituality is an individual practice without rules or regulations, and its sole focus is peace and purpose.  

Statistics Canada released a study in 2021 called Religiosity in Canada and its evolution from 1985 to 2019 which found religion was becoming less important among Canadian youth.

From 2017 to 2019, the study indicates that younger people were more likely to report having no religious affiliation. In comparison to older generations, the study found that young people “were less likely to consider their beliefs to be important to how they live their lives.”

This is because millennials and Gen Z, the young people of today, see life differently compared to past generations.

Now more than ever, there is a growing acceptance towards folks who come out as LGBTQ+ compared to older times, partially because more young people identify as part of the community and also because they sympathize with the hardships and scrutiny the community has gone through.

Youth choosing to move away from religion could be due to attitudes of alienation toward LGBTQ+ people, as traditional religious groups often prohibit homosexuality among their followers.

In Canada, young people might also move away from Roman Catholic and Anglican religions as these were the leading religious organizations running the residential schools, which took the culture, beliefs, and traditions from Indigenous children.

New Age spiritual practices like meditation, tarot, astrology, and crystal healing appeal to millennials and Gen Z because they are practices that focus on inner peace, mental clarity, and purpose instead of focusing on an individual’s sexual orientation or cultural background.

Traditional religious groups believe that their followers should give all their attention and love to the Creator, which to them manifests into self-care. In comparison, spiritual rituals focus on self-love and self-care.

Spirituality can lead to feeling more hopeful, be open to new ways of handling anxiety and depression, attitudes and behaviors naturally evolve in a positive direction, and the way a person sees a problem changes, according to Psychology Today

Millennials and Gen Z are more anxious than previous generations. Still, they are also more conscious of mental health issues than their parents, which could be a reason why they might find the spiritual path much more appealing than religion.

A student from the University of Rhode Island built an audience on TikTok, a platform predominantly used by young people, with content on spirituality, energy, and connection to nature and the universe. Their account has more than 200,000 followers and more than three million likes.

In 2014, Marie-Paule Martel-Reny, who is now a lecturer faculty of Education Sciences at the University of Montreal, did her thesis research on youth and the search for meaning and identity. Her thesis found that youth viewed spirituality more positively than religion, especially if they were raised with one of the common religious beliefs.

As youth learn about their religions, they might find that it doesn’t represent their attitudes towards life or represent who they are.

Martel-Reny found that her youth participants were suspicious of “religious institutions, which they saw as outdated, hypocritical and controlling,” and were more open to “the idea of spirituality, which they saw as personal and authentic, and outside of institutions.”

Spiritual New Age beliefs also believe that physical objects like mountains or trees have spiritual energy. This might be another reason young people venture into spirituality. It draws more attention to the need to take care of the environment during a time when hundreds of youth call out to governments and agencies to take climate action.

There is no “one size fits all” for religion, as folks might find that it does or doesn’t align with their personal beliefs. Even though spirituality has a liberalist approach, it might also not be suitable for some but at least there are options for young people to experience what feels right to them.