For the Future of Religion and Global Affairs, Look to Youth and Technology

By: Tim Rosenberger

October 29, 2015

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, the Council on Foreign Relations featured a conference call hosted by Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs Senior Fellow Katherine Marshall. The call brought together students and practitioners from around the country for an important discussion on the intersection of religion, faith-based groups, and international affairs. It specifically focused on what the future holds for organizations that work at the nexus of faith and social justice.

Professor Marshall spoke candidly about the important role of young people in society. Observing that “the youth are the future” is largely an unhelpful platitude, she asked those on the call to think about the implications of that statement. She noted that we are all aware that young people are going to be the policymakers and religious leaders of the future. Despite this fact, older people are sometimes slow to think about how young people will shape the institutions they are inheriting. Professor Marshall pointed out that young people view religion, and its role in the world, in a different light than older generations. Specifically, young people have grown up in a world equipped with better tools to foster empathy and development as part of these important discourses.

Professor Marshall also argued that technology has facilitated a revolution in the way that people relate to one another. Young people can, and often do, form friendships despite being separated by large geographic distances. Entertaining technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have allowed young people to retain, and strengthen, relationships around the world. This has created unprecedented access to more cultures and religious traditions. She noted, “Young people are curious about their traditions, and they can travel virtually to any corner of the world. You can go to Bhutan, Mongolia, Lesotho, so young people have empathy that was very difficult not that long ago.”

The implications of this openness to religious traditions means that young people can better serve across cultures and are more inclined to accept and celebrate others. Therefore, we should take this revolution in technology as a sign of hope in an often dark and confusing world.

When the talk concluded, I was struck by the opportunities I have to learn from others and to better serve. I am interested in hearing more about how we can harness modern technologies to facilitate lived service and learning.

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For the Future of Religion and Global Affairs, Look to Youth and Technology