From left, Cardus president and CEO Michael Van Pelt; Andreae Sennyah, Cardus director of policy; Angus Reid Insitute president Shachi Kurl, and Ray Pennings, Cardus vice-president, Nov. 11 at Ottawa’s Westin Hotel. Photo courtesy Cardus

Younger Canadians embrace religious authenticity: study

By 
  • November 20, 2021

While 70 per cent of  participants in a recent survey believe God and religion should be completely kept out of public life, a data point suggests a Canada more open to public figures speaking and acting based on their religious beliefs is a possibility.

Every age demographic above 30 years old had at least a 70-per-cent affirmation that God has no place in the civic square in the survey jointly commissioned by the Angus Reid Institute and the Christian think tank Cardus. But 41 per cent of the 18- to 29-year-olds designated as “leaders” (a total of 190) and 44 per cent categorized as “others” (533) said Canadians in public positions should feel free to have their decisions guided by their belief system.

Translating these percentages into hard numbers, 313 of 723 surveyed in this age group favour intermingling religion with politics.

“Younger Canadians value increased religious authenticity,” said Ray Pennings, Cardus’ vice president, in reaction to the data. “Ironically, that openness to religious expression comes from some of the Canadians who are least likely to have grown up within a religious tradition.”

Cardus is poised to build upon this data through the non-profit’s NEXTGen Fellows Program that launched in June. This mentorship program is aiming to equip 12 Christian leaders between the ages of 25 to 34 with the knowledge and resources to discover their vocation and serve God in public life.

One member of the NEXTGen crew, Andreae Sennyah, was featured in a panel discussion alongside Pennings, Cardus president and CEO Michael Van Pelt and Angus Reid Institute president Shachi Kurl to discuss the revelations of the survey. This conversation was the centrepiece of Cardus’ 20th anniversary gala in Ottawa Nov. 11.

Sennyah, recently named the new director of policy for Cardus, was pleasantly surprised by younger Canadians being more tolerant to public religious practice.

“That was surprising for me. This is perhaps a very silent group who is not on the ‘Tweeter’ all the time,” she said with a chuckle. “This is a better statistic than I would have expected.”

Van Pelt inquired of Kurl if this attitude captured in the data could have potential staying power. She believes it can.

“It tracks with me. Think about these folks and where they are in their lives,” said Kurl. “This youngest cohort is much more likely in the last five-10 years of their life if they were at home with a family of faith to have been attending services, and perhaps they continued that while attending university.

“The question is do they stay that way? And what we’ve found through studies we’ve done together through the years is that younger cohort who tends to be a bit more faithful, and more faith-accepting, tends to fall away in their 20s and 30s. The determinant in what brings them back is are they having children, and do they want to raise their children in the faith?”

While these numbers are encouraging, others are not so much. Cardus and Angus Reid co-developed a Spectrum of Spirituality model in 2017 to chart religious belief in Canada. Based on their responses, participants are designated either non-believers, spiritually uncertain, privately faithful or religiously committed. A ninth snapshot was collected this past August, and it revealed the spiritually uncertain faction leading the way at 42 per cent. The number of non-believers rose to 23 per cent — the first time this group crossed the 20-per-cent threshold.

Perhaps the most striking development is that 16 per cent of people identified as privately faithful compared to 30 per cent in 2017. Nineteen per cent of the surveyed identify as religiously committed.

The data is available at angusreid.org/young-leaders-restructure-society/.

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