Gen Z’s rising interest in spirituality

Looking for a deeper meaning in life

What is the meaning of life? Is there a higher power? 

Since the dawn of civilization, the search for purpose has drawn many to the beliefs of religion and spirituality. While both are still practiced, a recent interest in spiritual topics such as meditation and quantum theory, particularly manifestation, has led to a specific uprise in spirituality within the Acalanes community.

Prompted by the combination of quarantine and social media, spirituality has taken a strong hold on Generation Z, becoming a prominent belief system for many. 

Some people use the terms religion and spirituality interchangeably, but they are two different concepts. Religion concerns an institutionalized system of faith and worship of a god or gods, whereas modern spirituality focuses more on one’s personal connection to a cosmic world beyond the physical existence.

“I think religion is based more around rules and how to live your life, while spirituality is more about finding your own path in living based off of what keeps you happy and connects you to your higher self which is different for every person,” Acalanes junior Clea Hansen said.

However, despite its general definition, spirituality may fill a different role for each person due to its principles of personal interpretation.

“Spirituality is a very loose term that we often use when speaking of that non-physical aspect of life,” the Rev. Jeff Anderson of the Oakland Center for Spiritual Living said. “Spirituality is a state of mind and a way of living that incorporates an awareness that there is more to life, to living, more to creation than meets the eye. There is the physical universe and then there is that which is non-physical.”

As a whole, religion takes a greater focus on the externals such as houses of worship, books of scripture, and rituals that impact individuals’ exterior lives. Spirituality commonly leans inward towards one’s awareness of their own soul and their journey to a higher self.

“To me, spirituality is a curiosity of one’s own mind and the way that it interacts with the rest of the world … Spirituality is about knowing thyself, hailing thyself, and taking introspection upon yourself,” Acalanes sophomore Skylar Thomas said.

Due to its self-derivative nature, some practitioners find that spiritual practices are not as restrictive as traditional religious practices, giving them more freedom in how they connect with spiritual ideas. Common practices such as meditation, yoga, and contemplation help to lead individuals on a path of self-discovery.

“I practice spirituality [through] meditation, manifestation, crystal healing, shadow work, tarot readings, just a lot of different things … I really enjoy that it’s very nonjudgmental and there’s no set rules or ways to [go about it]. I also enjoy that it helped me find my gender identity and pronouns I’m comfortable with,” Acalanes sophomore Aura Riegel said.

For some practitioners, creating personal routines as opposed to following those of an organized religion can make spirituality more intimate. Whether it is meditating or going on daily hikes, such practices that allow individuals to connect with themselves can sometimes improve a person’s mental health.

“With the tools that I’ve learned through spirituality, like meditation, the visualizations help you [to] process traumas and understand your own feelings. [That] is incredibly useful to me and it’s really helped me through some rough stuff,”  Thomas said. “Spirituality is a huge part of the way that I process the world and how I process my own feelings … It can be a really guiding force of comfort.”

Despite the recent attraction among teenagers, spiritual practices are not bound to an audience of a certain age, race, or even religious belief. Some people discover spirituality later in life and develop a strong connection to it.

“I didn’t learn about yoga and meditation until I was an adult … [Now], I enjoy the peace and clarity that spirituality brings to me. I feel more grounded, calm, and generally happier when I am regularly meditating and feel connected to myself, my spirit, and Spirit. It helps me immensely in my day to day life,” Spanish teacher Gretchen Schwab said.

With the new interest in spirituality in younger generations, some creators use online platforms such as Youtube or TikTok to teach and share spiritual content. Along with meditation apps such as Headspace, social media created a new interface for younger audiences to connect with spirituality and its community. 

“I saw a video on YouTube called witchcraft Q&A … So I watched that first video and I watched more from [the] channel and more and more, and I started learning and then I worked up to picking up [spirituality],” Thomas said. “The online community of spiritualists has helped my learning journey a lot.”

However, these online forums sometimes act as a double-edged sword and provide low-quality content that lacks depth or supplies misinformation.

“I will say though, I’m not a particular fan of the online spiritual community because I feel like a lot of [the information] gets watered down. Specifically, I have a vendetta against ‘witch tok’, the community of witchcraft on TikTok. I feel like a lot of the information is secondhand spew, spewed and believed without skepticism,” Thomas said.

Due to the long history of spirituality, practices and concepts from several different cultures have come to influence many of today’s spiritual ideas. For example, moshka, a goal in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism to detach oneself from the feelings and perceptions that ties one to the world, is a main concept in spirituality.

“Spiritualist practices are drawn from all around the world. You can find roots of modern spiritualism in eastern esotericism, specifically Buddhism, but a lot in Hinduism as well. … I would not say just Buddhism, you’ve got things from all over the world. You have teachings from Northern Europe, specifically, the Celts, Nordic peoples, Germanic pagans,” Thomas said.

Some people choose to draw concepts from religion as well as spirituality, and believe in a greater being but not a specific God.

“I do believe in some sort of divine energy, but I don’t really think I believe in a God … I think there’s a sense of godliness and divine within everyone and I guess that aligns with some with certain Christian beliefs… but I am not a Christian,” Thomas said.

Throughout the many variants, spirituality and religion hold one thing central; belief.

“The power of belief is definitely huge because it’s your own personal power, your own school of thought to believe in a God, and that can inherently be spiritual,” Thomas said.

The path of spirituality and discovering oneself does not happen overnight. Some students say that although spirituality is a demanding process, it has the ability to improve individuals’ lives starting from within. 

“It’s not easy. I’m not saying it will be, because [spirituality] is a path of self-discovery and self acknowledgment, and if you aren’t ready to acknowledge your full self, both the good and the bad, it might not be for you. But, there is deep wisdom that you can gain through learning about yourself and questioning everything around you,” Thomas said.