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Religion's blurred lines

small girl, big ideas

Throughout my life, I have grown up under the influence of Islam. Well...kinda. My mom is Muslim, but because my dad is Hindu, I have never been completely immersed within the strict rules of the former religion, like praying five times a day or fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. Despite this, when I was younger, my sisters and I would accompany my mom to a large mosque in Queens, where I would sit quietly, tracing patterns in the carpet, while a voice would boom over my head in a language I didn’t understand. It was fine, for a seven-year-old who didn’t have much else to do and recognized that many other kids around her also spent time in church or temple. But as I grew older and began to resist these trips, my mom continued to enforce these ideas of how religion was an integral part of our identity and how it was necessary to thank God for what we had given. 

At the same time, all my peers around me stopped mentioning church or synagogue. I suppose many parents gave up on dragging their kids to religious worship as students became weighted with other responsibilities, like academics or sports. It began to dawn on me that almost no one I knew my age was religious; not a single one of my friends went to any type of weekly worship anymore. Religion wasn’t mentioned in school, social settings, or with your friends. It simply wasn’t an everyday part of our culture.

But my mother didn’t know that and quite frankly, probably didn’t care. As she continued to preach to me the importance of religion, the impact of her ideas weakened on me once I began to see the reduced role of religion among my peers and in my society. Maybe her religious piety stemmed from the fact that she was from India. But more realistically, it probably stemmed from the fact that she was from a different generation than me. Time can change a lot, and one thing I believe it has changed is the connection young adults, especially in America, feel to religion. 

Around the world, young people are becoming less and less in touch with religion. They are less likely to be religiously affiliated and less like to attend weekly worship. Specifically in the United States, where Christianity is the dominant religion, church membership has dropped more than 20 percent since 1999 and hundreds of churches have been closing, at a rate three or four times faster than the rate at which churches are being built.  In fact, about one third of young Americans say they don’t belong to any religion

Although these findings made me feel somewhat relieved that I am not a religious enigma that didn’t feel an instant devotion to God, I still wondered “Why is this happening? Why do we, as young Americans, not depend on religion the way our parents and grandparents had?” One common theory about this shift away from religion is the growing economic mobility and status of young Americans. As time goes on, generations are less likely to be constantly worried about day-to-day finances, and thus, less likely to turn to a third party, God, in the hopes of economic security.  Another potential reason for the decline of religion is the growing individualistic culture of the United States. People in our society strive to be independent and self-sufficient. Essentially, why depend on God when you can depend on yourself? But the reason that resonates most with me, one that is not addressed all that frequently, is how the diversity of religions experienced while growing up in the United States may blur the connection one feels to their own religion. 

Growing up as a religious minority in America, I constantly celebrated the glorified events of other religions. During Christmas time, there was a tiny tree in the corner of our living room, embellished with wrapped gifts in the morning. Every Easter, we would race around our family friend’s house to find hidden plastic pastel eggs, filled with treasures of candy. In middle school, the upcoming bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah felt like the most exciting social event of our whole lives...until the next one came around. Simultaneously, my own religion didn’t feel so exciting. The mosques we went to were in the basement of a church or just at someone’s house. Eid was just a day, and fasting was just something I had to do every once in a while.

Being exposed to a diverse amount of religions and even experiencing them definitely lessened the link I felt to my own religion or any at all. In comparison to the shiny, publicized culture of other religions, my religion felt different, like it was hiding in the shadows. I had no steadfast community that I really connected with religiously, but at the same time, surprisingly, many of my friends, religious minorities or not, did not either. 

The question that ultimately comes to me is “Would I be religious if I had grown up in a community that belonged to the same religion as me?” And to that question, I may never know the answer. But I have always been skeptical in nature about information. And centering my life around a book that a bunch of old people wrote a long time ago? Well, that’s no exception. 

Sana Pashankar is a Trinity first-year. Her column, small girl, big ideas, runs on alternate Fridays.

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