Millennials hungry for deep connection are creating new spiritual communities even as they turn away from organized religion, the authors of two new studies said recently at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). As a result, secular groups are discovering the value of religious resources, and faith communities are innovating in new and unexpected ways.
The remarks by HDS students Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile—authors of the studies “How We Gather” and “Something More”—came during the morning session of the 2016 Dean’s Leadership Forum. The event, held annually at HDS, brings thought leaders together with faculty, students, alumni, and friends of the School to explore issues in religion, ethics, and contemporary life.
Thurston and ter Kuile told the crowd in Andover Hall that “How We Gather” looked at secular organizations that provided an experience of community traditionally associated with religion. These groups included Daybreaker, an early morning dance party held in seven cities on three continents around the world; the Dinner Party, which convenes young men and women over potluck dinners to talk about the recent loss of a loved one and the ways in which it continues to affect their lives; and CrossFit, a fitness community that Thurston described as “a combination of agony and laughter.”
Each group has similarities to traditional religious communities, Thurston and ter Kuile said. CrossFit’s members are “evangelical” in their efforts to recruit friends to the group and also ritualize grieving with workouts named after the deceased.