Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion

Denver 2009

Session title: Shoring up the foundations:  the large-scale international youth festival as a strategy for the retention of Catholic youth.

The papers in this session report findings from a three-year study of the most recent World Youth Day held in Sydney. This recent Catholic strategy employing huge international youth rallies is examined to discover whether it promises to be effective in retaining youth involvement in the church.


The impact of World Youth Day on belief and behaviour

Andrew Singleton, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

The experiences of youthful participants from the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Asia, New Zealand and Australia were studied before, during and after they took part in the Sydney World Youth Day. This first of four papers from the study describes the aims and methods of the project: "before" and "after" interviews and surveys and participant observation at the event; and then examines the extent to which pilgrims' prior hopes and expectations religious or social were realized. The particular focus is on those pilgrims who showed signs beforehand of being open to further faith development at WYD. While these youth greatly enjoyed the social and community aspects of the event, a significant proportion of them also reported that attending strengthened aspects of their faith, religious identity and behaviour. The paper explores some of the reasons why such changes took place for these youth.

Keywords: youth religion; religious change; faith development

The underlying dynamics of World Youth Day

Michael Mason, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.

Participants at these very large rallies report that the strongest impact on them is made by the experience of being part of a community based on shared faith.  This paper enlists anthropology, religion studies and theology to complement sociological analysis of the multiple layers within that experience: a) the predispositions participants bring to the occasion, based on their family religious nurture, their previous religious experiences and the spirituality these and other influences have shaped; b) the 'collective effervescence' generated by joining in symbolic performances enacting the group's sacred identity; c) the intense communitas experienced in ritual processes; d) the experience of resurrection / rebirth through participation in sacramental 'mysteries' in which timeless sacred actions become present and efficacious.  These underlying dynamics are shown to explain the attitudinal and behavioural outcomes of WYD.

Keywords: youth, ritual, sacrament

Religious involvement and civic engagement of World Youth Day attenders

Ruth Webber, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.

This paper explores participants' social concern and civic engagement, before and after World Youth Day.  First, it examines whether WYD had any real impact on their view of themselves and relationships with others. Were they more altruistic after than before? A large proportion of young participants said they were striving to be more caring and tolerant of others as a consequence of attending WYD.  Over a quarter were anticipating getting involved with a group working for social justice and half were anticipating giving time as a volunteer in a helping organisation. Second, the paper explores the extent to which pilgrims' social concern and civic engagement were linked to their spiritual experience at WYD, and how they themselves understood this link.

Keywords:  social concern, civic engagement, volunteering.