Paul McClure

Young social media users are less likely to commit to one religious tradition than those who do not use social media, according to a new study by a Baylor University researcher.

Young social media users are more likely to pick and choose religious beliefs and practices, even if those beliefs are contradictory, sociology graduate student Paul McClure said in a statement about his study.

“I think technology tends to give individuals so much control over their life’s circumstances and presents so many options before them that people feel empowered to approach religion with a cafeteria-style mentality,” McClure said.

Social media users are between 50 and 80 percent more likely to be flexible about various religious beliefs and practices, according to his findings.

McClure’s findings were based on his analysis of select data from the National Study of Youth and Religion.

He used surveys conducted in 2002 that asked people between the ages of 13 and 17 questions about their faith, including how often they attend religious services. McClure used a series of surveys of the same subjects that lasted until 2013.

“I think there’s something in the technology that subtly encourages people to experiment with all the options that are before them,” McClure said.

He said there has been a significant rise in social media users, particularly from 2008 to 2013, when the survey closed. According to previous research, more than 89 percent of young adults now use social network sites with some frequency.

McClure, a doctoral candidate, expects the trend to continue as technology and social media expand.

“I think technology certainly accelerates the channels through which people are exposed to new material and new religious options,” McClure said. “So that could work for religious groups who want to recruit members to their tradition, but it could also weaken institutions that have typically been able to present their message in a way that gets more traction and appeal among followers.”

The study, “Faith and Facebook in a Pluralistic Age: The Effects of Social Networking Sites on the Religious Beliefs of Emerging Adults,” was published in the journal “Sociological Perspectives.”

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