By Ainsley Trunkhill / Managing Editor of Content
Lillianna Lamagna, a student at Hutchinson Community College, stepped through her room, deliberately watering each plant hanging from the window or inhabiting the shelves. As she spoke, miniature crystals dangled from her ears, mimicking the larger collection she cleansed and displayed, and the subtle scent of burning sage permeated the space.
Lamagna, a sophomore from Hutchinson, is one of many individuals of a younger generation who identify as spiritual, but not religious.
Kelby Accardi-Harrison, a philosophy professor at HutchCC, defines religion as “a formal set of dogmatic beliefs and worship rituals as defined by authoritative and governing bodies.”
Today, migrating away from structured practices, many people find satisfaction in individual spiritual experiences as opposed to organized religion.
“Based on my definition of religion, there is no such thing as religion outside of organized religion,” Accardi-Harrison said. “But it is very common, recently, to hear the phrase ‘spiritual but not religious’ as a way to identify that one is following their own intuitive sense of what feeds them spiritually without worrying about religious affiliation, or even being opposed to religious affiliation.”
Lamagna aligns herself with this movement, guiding her life by an individual set of beliefs and moral codes, as opposed to conforming to a religious text.
“I would define my alignment with spirituality as trusting in the universe and karmic reactions,” Lamagna said. “If I put good energy into the universe, I will receive it back.”
While Lamagna identifies her lack of a religious upbringing as a contributing factor in her current spiritual beliefs, Maggie Bourell, a current student at Trinity Catholic High School, who also takes some classes at HutchCC, falls into the category of people who have turned to these beliefs as a direct result of a religious upbringing.
“I was brought up Catholic, I went to mass every Sunday, we prayed at home,” Bourell said. “In prayer, the words can bring you peace … as opposed to spirituality, you can meditate on your own and do more self-reflecting, which can bring you to more peace than any words can.”
Lamagna and Bourell are not alone in their beliefs, as statistics show that younger generations are increasingly moving away from religious affiliation. A study performed by the American Survey Center reveals that Generation Z is the least religious generation yet, with 34% identifying as religiously unaffiliated, in comparison to 29% of Millennials, 25% of Generation X, 18% in Baby Boomers, and 9% in the Silent Generation.
Acardi-Harrison attributes this trend to an inability of religion to “keep up with the changing needs of American culture.”
“We have longer periods of adult dating, we’re exposed to more ideas and diverse communities of people, and human sexuality is broadly understood to be more complex than it was understood to be 50 years ago,” Accardi-Harrison said.
Generation Z is, to date, the most ethnically and racially diverse generation, the most educated generation, and the most socially progressive generation, according to Pew Research Center. As a result, they tend to critique the conservative beliefs and exclusivity of many religious affiliations. Despite opposing upbringings, both Lamagna and Bourell find fault with the perversion of religion.
“It has been twisted in people’s own perverted views and their own personal gain,” Lamagna said. “A lot of younger generations, as they move towards more progressive and free routes, they don’t support the way organized religion has forced their views, or condemned others to damnation because of their views.”
Bourell, similarly, finds spirituality much more inclusive than religion, which aligns with the tolerant views of younger generations.
“When people think of religion, they think it’s very exclusive to a specific group of people,” Bourell said. “I don’t think it’s something people are wanting to do anymore.”
An important aspect of younger generations’ spirituality lies in its connection to the natural world. In connection to their social progressivism, Generation Z also finds themselves as the strongest advocates for environmental change, which is reflected in their spiritual beliefs.
“You can connect with the elements and the earth itself,” Lamagna said. “It’s just as beautiful to have something special with what’s here right now.”
A 2022 survey from Springtide Research Institute found that 44% of individuals ages 13-25 practice herbalism or engage with crystals as a spiritual exercise.
Zoie Jordan, a freshman from Hutchinson, finds satisfaction in connecting with crystals.
“I almost use them as vessels to harbor whatever energy I’m needing most help with,” Jordan said. “Like a boost from my spirit guides.”
Jordan echoes Bourell and Lamagna’s thoughts on the inclusivity of spirituality.
“As I started to research, I realized spirituality could be anything I wanted it to be or believe in,” Jordan said. “There was no right or wrong way.”
Regardless of religious affiliation, spirituality, or lack thereof, younger generations are continuously finding ways to engage with both each other and their surroundings.
“I think all of us are inherently spiritual,” Accardi-Harrison said. “And so we can’t walk away from that.”
Despite a trend away from organized religion, many still believe in traditional ideas of love and acceptance.
“No matter what, you should always respect everyone’s beliefs, whether you agree with them or not, as long as they are not acting with malicious intent,” Lamagna said. “All faiths and beliefs are very beautiful. Act with kindness and love.”