What makes our generation, the Millennial Generation, unique? For over a year, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown has been attempting to answer this question.

In partnership with the Public Religion Research Institute, the Berkley Center conducted two opinion surveys of about 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 on topics related to “millennial values” and political engagement. In order to foster dialogue around these issues, the Berkley Center invited 15 college students from around the country to participate in the Millennial Values Symposium coinciding with each survey’s release. The first survey results were released in April of this year, and the second survey was released two weeks ago on Oct. 4.

I was among those 15 college students invited to the symposium, and many of us had different opinions on what made our generation unique. Some cited millennials’ skills with technology and social media, others mentioned our global awareness and still others suggested our deep mistrust of government.

While all of these perspectives have merit, I believe that we millennials are unique because of our inherent diversity. Whether we measure diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, religious belief (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or any one of numerous criteria, it is clear that ours is the most diverse generation in American history. Many millennials blur the lines of these traditional categories of diversity; for example, many millennials are the children of interracial, interethnic or interfaith marriages, causing them to either identify with more than one label in each category or to reject these labels altogether.

This diversity is our strength. Our generation’s diversity conditions us to avoid making generalizations about others. As a co-president of the Georgetown Student Interfaith Council, I believe that we can harness our generation’s open-mindedness to bridge religious divides.

One of the growing trends in the Millennial Generation is to identify as “religiously unaffiliated” or “other” in the category of religion or spirituality. For many, this involves growing estranged from the faith in which they were raised. For others, self-identifying as “religiously unaffiliated” or “other” simply means that their personal religious or spiritual beliefs no longer fit into any defined category.

Even millennials whose beliefs do fit into a traditional category are less likely to unconditionally accept dogma, and they may openly disagree with their religion’s official stances on many issues. I think that many of the religious divides present in America today are caused by misconceptions about others’ beliefs simply on the basis of their self-identification.

For example, when someone self-identifies as Catholic, many people’s first instinct is to associate that person’s beliefs with all of the Church’s stances. However, I realize from my own experience at Georgetown that this is not always accurate; among my own group of friends who are Catholic, a person’s belief system can run the gamut from agreeing completely with Church teachings to disagreeing with it on almost every issue. This phenomenon is not restricted to the Catholic Church; indeed, it seems to be common in virtually every religious tradition, especially for the Millennial Generation.

Therefore, any conversation involving religion should focus primarily on a person’s own experience. The Interfaith Council’s dialogue program known as Faith in Conversation explicitly supports this idea and discourages anyone from attempting to be a spokesperson for all members of one’s faith. By emphasizing personal religious experience, people can contribute to a conversation about ethics or values, regardless of whether their beliefs fit into a defined religious category.

The growing trend toward identifying as “religiously unaffiliated” or “other” also poses a challenge in the sense that existing religious categories are increasingly insufficient to describe the Millennial Generation. The recent shooting at a Sikh gurudwara in Wisconsin as well as the increasing number of hate crimes against Muslims indicate that the presence of these so-called minority religions also has a profound effect on American life. Grouping all members of these communities into the single category of “other” is unhelpful because it does nothing to understand each faith’s unique attitudes or beliefs.

One of our main challenges as millennials is to re-evaluate our categorization of religion in the United States and emphasize the importance of personal religious experience. Only then can we help all members of our nation — whether they fit into a defined religious category or not — feel comfortable voicing their own values.
AAMIR HUSSAIN is a junior in the College.

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