People lose interest in religion

Youth Study"It is a prejudice that young people have no interest in religion"

Christiane Florin: If you believe the current Shell youth study, then a third of 12-25 year olds in Germany believe in God. A new study by the University of Tübingen takes a closer look at the subject of religion. A good 7,200 schoolchildren in grades 11 and 12 as well as trainees from Baden-Württemberg were surveyed. There were questionnaires and individual interviews. How they imagine God, whether they talk to their parents about questions of faith and what attitude they have towards the churches - that is what the scientists wanted to know, for example. Protestant, Catholic, Free Church, Muslim and non-denominational youth took part. A special feature: a year and a half later, the scientists asked the same questions to the same young people again, so we're not just talking about a snapshot here.

I would now like to talk to one of the authors of the study, the Protestant theologian Friedrich Schweizer, who is connected to us from Tübingen. Good morning, Mr. Swiss.

Friedrich Schweitzer: Good morning, Mrs. Florin.

Florin: This isn't the first youth study you've been doing. In your opinion, which finding is particularly striking?

Schweitzer: What is particularly striking and surprising is the large number of young people who say they are praying. That's three quarters of the youngsters. This is a finding that does away with many prejudices that young people have no interest in religion, that they no longer need any forms of religious practice.

Florin: You write: "Today's young people are not simply religiously indifferent or uninterested, they are not religiously illiterate, as is often claimed." Why is this actually being said?

Schweitzer: I think that depends mainly on outdated perspectives and expectations. Religion is still equated with church in public and in youth research in the social sciences. Religious is someone who goes to a church service, whoever can identify with the statements of the church, while not being sufficiently aware that the religion of young people is highly individualized, i.e. related to their own questions and their own forms. You have to be aware of this in order to open up your eyes to young people.

"Life after death - the question plays an important role"

Florin: I would like to come back to the churches later. First of all, something about their beliefs: 22 percent describe themselves as religious, 41 percent as believers, and just under a third do not know what to do with religion. What is the difference between believing and religious?

Schweitzer: We asked the young people about this ourselves. That was not our own thought, but the young people thought it was very important. The difference is that when they think of "religious" they often think of church and they don't really care about church. But many see themselves as believers, it is about their questions of meaning, about their relationship to God, it is also about the fact that they are looking for something like a last hold in life. The question of life after death also plays a very important role for many young people and belief also relates to it.

Florin: A little more than half, 52 percent, say, "I believe in God." Earlier you mentioned prayer as a surprising finding. This God as a conversation partner, is this a personal God whom one imagines as a counterpart?

Schweitzer: For many young people this is a personal counterpart to whom they can evidently speak, to whom they can pray. That even more young people say: "I pray" than "I believe in God" is extremely exciting. This shows that you are often a little unsure about the question of God, questioning and also critical. But then, when it comes to situations, life experiences, then praying is important for you when you are not at all sure what it actually looks like with God. I find that exciting. This shows the trying, trying attitude of the young people.

Florin: Is prayed more often in a happy situation, i.e. out of gratitude, or more often when one feels under pressure or even in need.

Schweitzer: Both are definitely possible. But of course the old sentence: "Need teaches prayer" also applies to young people today. There are always borderline experiences, borderline situations in which someone feels bad. So it makes sense to pray. But it is not the only situation, it also becomes clear, that positive experiences of the beauty of the world, a sunset or what one might think of, make the youngsters pray.

Search for responsibility and freedom of design

Florin: Let's take a closer look at the relationship with the churches, you mentioned it earlier. At first, 61 percent of those surveyed said that the church has to change if it wants to have a future. A year and a half later, it's 71 percent? How do you explain this increase?

Schweitzer: This corresponds to a tendency that can be perceived very clearly: that the older the young people, the further they move away from the Church. However, one must add: It is not only the young people who are moving away from the church, but the church is opening up far too little to young people of older age. On the Protestant side, this is the time after confirmation, i.e. from 14 years of age, on the Catholic side, the time after confirmation. There are far too few offers here that are attractive to young people and far too few opportunities for young people to get involved actively and on their own responsibility.

Florin: And does that affect both churches equally?

Schweitzer: Basically yes. Both churches have too little tradition of giving young people their own responsibility, giving them freedom of action, freedom of action in the church. That is perhaps a little further in the Protestant Church if you ask about possibilities, but basically I would see it that way for both churches.

Florin: We have covered a lot this week about sexual violence against children in the Catholic Church, the topic was on the news earlier. Have you measured how this affects the image of the church?

"The Church must become more contemporary"

Schweitzer: In our conversations with the young people we heard that over and over again, that such perceptions of the Church are disturbing, that a lot of trust has broken. In this respect, it has clearly entered the church image. And yet, when young people say that the church has to change, they think more that the church has to be more contemporary, more open to the beliefs and forms of expression of young people. The abuse discussion then affects the adults much more.

Florin: Have you noticed that denominational differences are divisive? Or also the difference between Christian youth on the one hand and Muslim youth on the other? To put it another way: If you find that religion is important, is it something that divides or connects you?

Schweitzer: One can speak very clearly of three groups of young people. We no longer have great differences between Protestant and Catholic youth. These are the Christian youth who make up about 60 percent of all youth. Then we have the non-denominational, although they are a mixed group. This becomes very clear in our investigation. There is a proportion of those with no religious affiliation who say themselves: We do not believe in God, we are not interested in religious questions. You have to be aware of that and take it very seriously. And the third group is made up of young Muslims with a share of around 5 to 10 percent. These young Muslims are characterized by a much stronger faith, by a much more traditional attitude towards the teachings of Islam and the Koran than one can say for Christian youth.

"We urgently need studies on Muslim youth"

Florin: But that's a group that hasn't been particularly well explored.

Schweitzer: I would say that. With almost 400 Muslim adolescents, our study recorded a significant proportion of Muslim adolescents. But that's not representative. We urgently need representative studies. This can only be achieved by carrying out special research on young Muslims in Germany.

Florin: Many Thanks. There is still a lot of talk to do. Youth without God - a cliché. I spoke to the Protestant theologian Friedrich Schweizer from the University of Tübingen about a new youth study in which he was involved.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.

Youth belief religion. A representative study of adolescents in religious education and ethics classes (faith - value formation - interreligiousness / professionally oriented religious education). 284 pages, 24.90 euros. Waxmann-Verlag 2018.