Uncovering the Shift of Religion

Maria outside Buddhist Temple

What I’m doing: Organized religions and their (sometimes similar) beliefs have always fascinated me, probably because I didn’t grow up religious and don’t understand most of them. But even more so, looking at why some millennials stray away from religion and change their views on something often cemented from childhood was most intriguing for me. I’m exploring that change and identity quest in my religion piece, which will appear in our upcoming Flux Issue. I’m focusing on these transitions that people go through once they leave the cover of their house, their family and community values.

I’m exploring these changes through people who have converted religions, who have left religion entirely, who have changed sects in the same religion and who have denounced what religion means to them. I am looking at the conversion to Judaism, the path to agnosticism from Christianity and the discovery of a professor’s identity in her Islam faith, among others!

In the photo above, our photographer Maria is outside of the Buddhist Temple of Chicago in Uptown. We visited one weekend in February to meet the temple’s patrons, to speak to Shabana Mir, the Muslim woman (mentioned above) and to explore the community. It was such a welcoming space that brought a lot of guests, from practicing Buddhists to interfaith families, first-time visitors like me and others on school assignments (also me). I will definitely be back soon—and it helps that it’s close to where I live!

What I’m learning: I’m learning so much! Hearing people’s stories on what made them rethink religion, change faiths or become agnostic really propelled the angle of my story. I learned how closeted religious communities can be, and people’s upbringing within that, and how college’s influence and breaking free from what people were always taught gives a fresh look to something previously seen as the only view. Breaking free from what you’ve been taught is often necessary for any capacity of learning and growing, but looking for an identity outside or within the religion, someone was brought up in is crucial to understanding our culture’s obsession with religion. Further investigating our own identities is how we can own our personal narratives.

I’ve also learned a great deal about why our millennial generation is less religious; we tend to drift toward the “spiritual” label, but is that all it is—a label—a way to defy organized institutions and stand out from past generations? I’ve learned that it’s a mixture of both, but generally younger generations are discovering more private and less conventional ways of practicing whatever they believe in, or having no beliefs at all. As you will read in my full-length piece, some people deviate far away from religious structure while some people explore the “other side” and come back to religion, because that is where they feel safe. Their identity aligns with what they were taught, while some discover whole new people through another avenue of religion in their own terms. Through it all, everyone comes to terms with these changes in diverse ways, and looking at those struggles and significances within people’s lives is what is so gratifying to me for this story. I’ve always been obsessed with people and their choices, how they operate and what propels certain actions…with this story, I get to dive into that!

What’s next: I am gathering more study information—like this one about millennials’ spirituality and Pew research on our declining religious affiliations—and I have to restructure my piece to fit more with the shifted angle. It’s coming along well, and I am excited for you all to read it and learn more about the changes, struggles and significance of changing religions and finding an identity through it all.