Religious/Spiritual Identity among Younger Adults in Canada: A Complex Portrait

  • Peter BeyerEmail author
  • Alyshea Cummins
  • Scott Craig
Part of the Boundaries of Religious Freedom: Regulating Religion in Diverse Societies book series (BOREFRRERE)


Various perspectives in the recent social scientific study of religion posit major transformations in the importance and forms of religion in contemporary society. The research reported here seeks to assess some of these assertions by examining religious identity constructions among younger adults (18 to 45-year-olds) in Canada. Most research that measures religious identity has centred on whether persons identify with and conform to the orthodox beliefs and practices of a (an Abrahamic) religion. As such, it is not well suited to finding religious identity constructions that do not conform to this model. Using an online survey instrument specifically developed to make as few such assumptions as possible, this research analyses patterns of religious identity construction among a sample of about 800 Canadians. From a point of departure that asks how ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ respondents think they are, it analyses three major groupings which differ mainly in the degree to which they conform to the ‘standard’ model. One grouping conforms strongly to this model. Two groupings do not and include significant numbers of people who would be ‘religious nones’ if received ways of measuring were used. The analysis also identifies a further group of strong ‘religious nones’ that have little to no religious or spiritual identity.


Religious identity Spiritual identity Younger adults Canada 


  1. Almond, G. A., Appleby, R. S., & Sivan, E. (Eds.) (2000). Strong religion: The rise of fundamentalisms around the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alwin, D. F., Felson, J. L., Walker, E. T., & Tufis, P. A. (2006). Measuring religious identities in surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70(4), 530–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aupers, S., & Houtman, D. (Eds.) (2010). Religions of modernity: Relocating the sacred to the self and the digital. Series: International studies in religion and society. Vol. 12. P. Beyer & L. Beaman (Eds.). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  4. Berger, P. L. (Ed.) (1999). The desecularization of the world: Resurgent religion and world politics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.Google Scholar
  5. Beyer, P. (2007). Globalization and glocalization. In J. A. Beckford & N. J. Demerath III (Eds.), The Sage handbook of the sociology of religion (pp. 98–117). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bibby, R. W. (1987). Fragmented gods: The poverty and potential of religion in Canada. Toronto: Irwin.Google Scholar
  7. Bibby, R. W. (1993). Unknown Gods: The ongoing story of religion in Canada. Toronto: Stoddart.Google Scholar
  8. Bibby, R. W. (2002). Restless gods: The renaissance of religion in Canada. Toronto: Stoddart.Google Scholar
  9. Bibby, R. W., Russell, S., & Rolheiser, R. (2009). The emerging millennials: How Canada’s newest generation is responding to change and choice. Lethbridge, AB: Project Canada Books.Google Scholar
  10. Bramadat, P., & Seljak, D. (2013). Between secularism and postsecularism: A Canadian interregnum. In B. J. Berman, R. Bhargava, & A. Laliberté (Eds.), Secular states and religious diversity: Secularism, tolerance, and accommodation (pp. 97–119). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
  11. Brinkerhoff, M., & Mackie, M. (1993). Nonbelief in Canada: Characteristics and origins of religious nones. In W. E. Hewitt (Ed.), The sociology of religion: A Canadian focus (pp. 109–132). Toronto: Butterworths.Google Scholar
  12. Casanova, J. (2008). Public religions revisited. In H. de Vries (Ed.), Religion: Beyond the concept (pp. 101–119). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Chandler, S. (2008). The social ethic of religiously unaffiliated spirituality. Religion Compass, 2(2), 240–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fuller, R. (2001). Spiritual but not religious: Understanding unchurched America. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hackett, C. (2014). Seven things to consider when measuring religious identity. Religion, 44(3), 396–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hadden, J. K. (1987). Toward desacralizing secularization Theory. Social Forces, 65, 587–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heelas, P., Woodhead, L., with Seel, B., Szerszyinski, B., & Tusting, K. (2005). The spiritual revolution: Why religion is giving way to spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  18. Houtman, D., & Aupers, S. (2007). The spiritual turn and the decline of tradition: The spread of post-Christian spirituality in 14 Western countries, 1981–2000. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 46(3), 305–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Houtman, D., Heelas, P., & Achterberg, P. (2012). Counting spirituality? Survey methodology after the spiritual turn. In L. Berzano & O. P. Riis (Eds.), Annual review of the sociology of religion. Volume 3: New methods in the sociology of religion (pp. 25–44). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Huber, S., & Huber, O. W. (2012). The Centrality of Religiosity Scale (CRS). Religions, 3, 710–724.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Juergensmeyer, M. (2008). Global rebellion: Religious challenges to the secular state, from Christian militias to al Qaeda. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  22. Kosmin, B. (2008). American nones: The profile of the no religion population. Hartford, CT: Trinity College.Google Scholar
  23. Lee, L. (2015). Recognizing the non-religious: Reimagining the secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lefebvre, S., & Beaman, L. (Eds.) (2014). Religion in the public sphere: Canadian case studies. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lim, C., MacGregor, C. A., & Putnam, R. (2010). Secular and liminal: Discovering hetergeneity among religious nones. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49(4), 596–618.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McAndrew, S., & Voas, D. (2011). Measuring religiosity using surveys. Survey Question Bank: Topic Overview 4. UK Data Service.Google Scholar
  27. Pew Research Center. (2012). “Nones” on the rise: One-in-five adults have no religious affliliation. n.p.: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (
  28. Woodhead, L. (2013). Four reasons why religion has changed and will nNever be the same again. Lecture series: Critical tThinkers in religion, law and social theory. Ottawa: University of Ottawa.Google Scholar
  29. Zeidan, D. (2003). The resurgence of religion: A comparative study of selected themes in Christian and Islamic fundamentalist discourses. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Zwingmann, C., Klein, C., & Büssing, A. (2011). Measuring religiosity/spirituality: Theoretical differentiations and categorization of instruments. Religions, 2, 245–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Classics and Religious StudiesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

Personalised recommendations