A Third Of Gen Z Doesn’t Trust People Of Other Religions, But They’re Willing To Try
March 10, 2021
“Today’s generation of young Americans is the most progressive, thoughtful, and inclusive generation that America has ever seen. And they are pulling us toward justice in so many ways,” Joe Biden told reporters before signing an executive order on racial equity.
Though there is some truth to this, a recent study from Springtide Research Institute suggests that when it comes to navigating religious differences, there’s more to the story.
The State of Religion and Young People 2020 surveyed over 10,000 young adults between the ages of 13-25 and discovered that 1 in 3 young people don’t trust people of other religions “very much” or “at all.”
When broken down further, those unaffiliated with a religion (e.g., atheist, agnostic, nothing in particular) are more distrustful of people of other religions (39%) than those who affiliate (30%), but not by much. For some young people, being religious doesn’t automatically imply that they will trust those who worship differently.
There appears to be something unique about religious difference that drives up distrust. When we asked about their level of trust toward people of different nationalities, distrust dropped to 1 in 4 young people (26%).
A New Hope
While trust may be an issue for some young people, there is less apprehension about having trust-building conversations. A majority want to have open conversations about differences (77%) and agree it is important to educate oneself about the views of others (84%).
This openness to dialogue across differences may be a response to the behavior they’ve seen adults in their lives exhibit around politics. Over the last several years, young people have watched their parents, grandparents, teachers, and religious leaders approach politics in ways that are aggressive, dismissive, and disengaged (65%) nearly twice as often as they are considerate and inviting (35%). Many young people have felt alienated from these conversations — 45% wish the adults in their lives would let them into conversations about politics more often.
Yet, politics may actually provide fertile ground for young people of different faiths to express themselves and broach areas of distrust. A majority of young people (65%) indicate that their faith affects their involvement in politics, at least a little, and many are not finding a home for these conversations in religious institutions (42%). Discussions about how faith and politics have intertwined in recent years — for better or for worse — present an opportunity for young people to explore and express deep values that emerge from their belief systems.
Our study suggests that for young people, trust is built through relationships that go beyond a first-time encounter. While only 30% of young people say they would trust someone they’ve met for the first time, this number jumps to 88% if it is someone they “know personally.”
Of course, this finding isn’t particularly surprising. It could, however, present a challenge when it comes to building relationships and trust across religious differences. This means that along with visiting a mosque one time and listening to a presentation, an evangelical Christian student living in the South should be encouraged to spend quality time getting to know a Muslim student. Along with viewing a webinar featuring an interfaith panel, a young atheist in the Northeast should be encouraged to attend several meetings of an interfaith club and make friends there. In other words, to promote trust-building between Gen Z and people of other religions, we’ll need to do more than one-off diversity programs and experiences can provide.
To be clear, trust isn’t built with a young person simply because they know someone personally. All parents of teens know this. We discovered that for young people to develop trust for others, there are certain behaviors or practices that must be present: Listening, transparency, integrity, care, and expertise – together what we call Relational Authority. As our society is increasingly glued together by impersonal bonds and transactional exchanges, young people are eager to make relationships with people who care about them, and who can guide them and relate to them as they navigate life’s complex questions and experiences. People who exhibit these qualities and behaviors are more likely to earn the trust necessary to influence a young person.
With this in mind, those who have an opportunity to introduce young people to people of other religions should consider how they might bake practices like listening, transparency, and care into these encounters from the very get-go. Oftentimes, interfaith programs are organized around the presumption that expertise alone – “tell me what you know” or “tell me what you believe” – can do the heavy lifting toward building trust, but our research shows that young people need to know how much someone cares before they care how much someone knows.
As America moves into smoother waters after a climatic and fiercely divisive election season, it is very good news is that young people are eager to broach differences and see the value in trying to understand others. In the same address before signing an executive order on racial equality, President Biden said, “It’s time to act because that is what faith and morality call us to do. Across nearly every faith, the same principles hold. We’re all God’s children. We should treat each other as we would like to be treated ourselves.” With enough time and opportunities to engage America’s rich diversity, Gen Z is poised to make these words come to life.
Kevin Singer (@kevinsinger0) is Head of Media and Public Relations at Springtide Research Institute.
Dr. Josh Packard (@drjoshpackard) is Executive Director of Springtide Research Institute.
Originally published on Religion Unplugged. Religion Unplugged believes in a diversity of well-reasoned and well-researched opinions. This piece reflects the views of the author and does not necessarily represent those of Religion Unplugged, its staff and contributors.
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