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Digital Religion Among U.S. and Canadian Millennial Adults

Abstract

Background

Although there is a growing body of research on the nature and content of digital religion, we still know little about the prevalence of digital religious and spiritual practices among different populations in North America. To what extent do digital technologies play a complementary role to in-person religious and spiritual activities only, or do they also reach out to and provide important spaces for new segments of the population removed from more conventional forms of organized religion?

Purpose

The goal is to answer this research question and to explore the prevalence of different types of digital religion practices specifically among young adult Millennials in both the U.S. and Canada. Three contrasting hypotheses are tested: that digital religion practices are prevalent among large segments of the Millennial population and are part of a wider turn towards individual spiritualization (H1); that digital religion practices are another set of religiosity indicators showing signs of a secular transition among Millennials (H2); or that both trends are occurring in tandem, in that some Millennials are practising digital religion, mostly but not exclusively tied to in-person religious activities and socialization (H3).

Methods

To test these hypotheses, we generate a series of descriptive and logit regression statistical analyses using novel and high-quality 2019 Millennial Trends Survey data from both Canada and the U.S.

Results

We find that (1) digital religion as measured in this study is a phenomenon present among many Millennials, although it is also not present among all or a vast majority of this demographic; (2) this is especially the case for more passive forms of digital religion, notably digital content consumption, compared with more active forms such as social media posting; (3) social environment does play an important role, with digital religion practices much more prevalent in the generally more religious U.S. context, compared with the generally more secular Canadian context; and (4) digital religion practices are often, but not always, tied to other in-person religious and spiritual activities among Millennials.

Conclusions and Implications

We find support especially for our third hypothesis (H3) with these results. Consequently, we argue that we should understand the individual spiritualization and secular transition frameworks as complementary, rather than in complete opposition, regarding the prevalence of digital religion among Millennials.

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Notes

  1. Quota sizes were based on Statistics Canada Census and U.S. Census bureau American Community Survey data with regards to the size of young adult subpopulations, and are available in the MTS’s technical documentation in the online supplementary materials.

  2. Post-stratification weights were based on Statistics Canada Census and U.S. Census bureau American Community Survey data with regards to the size of young adult subpopulations. Two weighting variables were generated based on young adult (18–35) population age, gender, Census region of residence, level of education, country of birth, household income and race/ethnicity parameters: one for the Canadian subsample, and one for the American subsample. These weighting variables were generated using a sequential iterative technique.

  3. See Figure A.1 in the online supplementary materials for a similar graph for monthly or more frequent social media posting about religion and spirituality.

  4. Separate models with interaction terms between Canadian residence and frequency of religious service attendance, unchurched spiritual activity at least once a month as well as frequency of religious or spiritual education as a child were generated (results not shown here). None of these interaction effects on monthly or more frequent religious or spiritual digital content consumption or social media posting were statistically significant. In other words, the effects of frequency of religious service attendance, unchurched spiritual activity at least once a month and frequency of religious or spiritual education as a child on the two digital religion outcomes do not vary significantly between the U.S. and Canada.

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Correspondence to Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme.

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Wilkins-Laflamme, S. Digital Religion Among U.S. and Canadian Millennial Adults. Rev Relig Res 64, 225–248 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13644-021-00463-0

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Keywords

  • Digital
  • Religion
  • Spiritual
  • Millennials
  • Social media
  • Young adults