Study finds Australian teens welcome religious diversity, but with caution
Teenagers hold positive views of different faith groups and religious diversity in Australia but opinion shifts when it comes to how religion impacts their lives and the lives of others, a new study has found.
“The Worldviews of Generation Z” study was conducted by researchers from the Australian National University, Deakin University and Monash University to uncover Australian teenagers’ experiences and understanding of religion and diversity.
Deakin sociologist Associate Professor Andrew Singleton said understanding how teenagers navigate Australia’s religious and ethnic diversity was essential to ensuring a productive and harmonious society.
“The 2016 census affirmed that Australia’s population had grown significantly in size but even more so in religious and ethnic diversity, with the country now a very multicultural and multi-faith society, while an ever-increasing proportion say they have no religion,” Associate Professor Singleton said.
“We know a lot about what adults think of these changes, but what about the next generation? Are teenagers open, tolerant and inclusive?”
The first round of results from the study have shown that while many teenagers had a largely positive view of religion and religious diversity, a large number were concerned about the impact of religion on life in Australia.
Professor of Sociology at Monash University Gary Bouma said the findings demonstrated that many young Australians had a largely positive view of religion and were accepting of religious diversity.
“In light of all this, Australian teens are awash but not adrift in a sea of diversity. They know who they are and negotiate difference competently,” he said.
“However there is an appreciable proportion who think religion causes more harm than good, are against the construction of Mosques and temples, are concerned about intolerant religious beliefs and think religion has no place in Parliament.”
Associate Professor Singleton said the study found there was some ambivalence about aspects of diversity.
“About half of all teens thought that people with very strong religious beliefs were often too intolerant of others,” he said.
“This is not surprising: the survey was done at the same time as the marriage equality postal vote and parts of that process might have influenced how they saw religions in the public space.”
Study leader, ANU Sociology Professor Mary Lou Rasmussen said the results highlighted young peoples’ awareness of social issues.
“The study results indicate that many young Australians are aware of tensions between religious rights and other human rights, and that the latter should be respected,” she said.
Dr Anna Halafoff, sociology senior lecturer at Deakin, said insights from the study could help inform education policies and programs.
“If we know more about young Australians’ perspectives on religions and non-religious worldviews, and what influences those perspectives, then appropriate educational policies and programs can be developed that will equip young Australians to live productively in their diverse society and help minimise social tensions and threats,” Dr Halafoff said.
Key findings from the study include:
Views about different faiths: Teens were generally very positive about different faith groups. 85% of teenagers had a positive attitude towards Christians; 80% had a positive view of Buddhists; 75% had a positive attitude to Hindus; and 74% had a positive attitude to Muslims. 83% had a positive view of those who have no religion.
Views about religious diversity: Teens affirm and were open to religious diversity in Australia and thought different faiths should have religious freedom. 91 % thought that having people of many different faiths made Australia a better place to live; 90 % thought that students should be allowed to wear religious clothes or jewellery to school; 88% thought that all religious groups in Australia should be free to practise their religion the way they want to.
Opinion was divided when it seemed that religion might impinge on them: 44% thought that religion caused more problems in society than it solved; 50% thought people with very strong religious beliefs were often too intolerant of others; 33% thought religion should have no place in our parliament or official ceremonies; 32% thought that local communities should be able to prevent the construction of mosques or temples in their area if they didn’t want them.
ABOUT THE STUDY
“Young Australians’ Perspectives on Religions and Non-Religious Worldviews” is an Australian Research Council funded national study focused on teenagers’ experiences and understandings of religious, spirituality, gender and sexual diversity. It comprises a nationally representative telephone survey of 1200 people aged 13-18, supplemented by 11 focus groups with students in Years 9 and 10 in three states.