Let’s grapple with religion and identities

As religious affiliation among millennials declines, we must examine what this means for us.

Alia Jeraj

Among my circle of close friends, I think I could count on one hand those who consider themselves practitioners of one faith or another. It’s common in our generation to identify as nonreligious. 
More specifically, 35 percent of adult millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) say they are unaffiliated with a religious organization. This number is significantly larger than that of people from previous generations. For example, only 23 percent of Generation X identifies as nonreligious. 
According to the evidence, declining religious affiliation is not a phenomenon of age but one of generation.  I don’t think this development is inherently negative. Rather, I think many conflicts in our society stem from religious beliefs and that abandoning these beliefs carries the potential to create a more peaceful world. 
To be clear, I’m also not saying that abandoning religion is necessary for attaining peace. I do think, however, that the absence of religion in many of our lives is something that we as a generation need to consider. 
For many of us, religions are deeply imbedded in our cultural and familial histories. By not affiliating ourselves with a specific religion, we lose some of our heritage. This can create a real sense of personal loss. 
As we struggle with the effects of the constantly shrinking world on our senses of culture and identity, so too must we consider its effects on our religion. 
I think Tara Loeper, a local musician and University of Minnesota alumna, has found a way to do just that with her newest commission. Loeper comes from a very Catholic upbringing, and she attended Catholic school through to her high school graduation. 
Upon entering college, Loeper began to distance and separate herself from Catholicism. However, in recent years, she has begun to question what this separation has meant to her as an individual. 
She has chosen to explore her family’s religious history by writing a piece of music titled, “Aurelia.” 
When I contacted her, Loeper told me, “I am interested in embracing and exploring how deeply the Catholic Church has been integrated into my aesthetic. How have Catholic ritual, philosophy, community and education shaped my values as an individual?”
Whether or not we want religion to play a part in our personal lives, I think this sort of personal exploration is vital if we want to own our sense of identity.
By delving into our personal religious histories and really examining the ways they have shaped us as individuals, we can further understand our present relationship with religion (or our lack thereof). This understanding of ourselves can also make way for a better understanding of others’ relationships with religion (or their lack thereof). 
As our generation grapples with questions of identity and culture, we must be sure to direct some thoughts toward our religious histories — if we have them. Oftentimes, we may come to realize that it’s difficult to separate religion from culture. 
Alia Jeraj welcomes comments at [email protected].