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Laura Olson: How Will Millennials and Shifting Demographics Affect America’s Religious Culture?

Laura Olson, Clemson University political science professor and editor-in-chief of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, offered an interesting analysis of how Millennials are reshaping America’s demographic and religious landscape as part of a panel discussion on the 2013 Economic Values Survey, released at the Brookings Institution.

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Olson speaks during the Economic Values Survey launch at Brookings.

“They are less white than previous generations [and] they are less religious than previous generations,” Olson said. She added that the group is also more liberal than older generations, due in part to their exposure to people of different races, ethnicities and sexual orientations and their perception that religious conservatism is less open to such diversity.

What remains in contention is whether, according to Olson, Millennials “are just engaging in a little youthful rebellion,” or rejecting religion outright because of its association conservative polices. “Are they just saying…‘I don’t want anything to do with my grandparents’ religious right’?”

Olson noted that historically, Americans tend to become more committed to religion and spirituality as they settle down and start families. “As these folks get a little older and they have kids and start to age, might they then say, as generation after generation before them have, ‘I need to figure out what I think about the meaning life and what comes after death,’” Olson said.

She reported feeling more confident in speaking about the continued influence of conservative Christianity. “The one thing that I’m willing to say with great certainty is that, although it seems from PRRI’s data that religious conservatism might to an extent be on the wane, it isn’t going to disappear entirely,” she said, adding that if the group’s numbers continue to drop, it could lead to a future “retrenchment of the culture wars.”

To hear more of what Olson had to say, click here for selected audio clips.  Also, be sure to check out video clips from the event.