Along with partner organizations, the institute conducted surveys in eight countries, focus groups in 13 nations, and in-depth interviews with young people whom others consider to be "spiritual exemplars." The youths represented more than a dozen faiths as well as nonbelievers.
The results of the report – "With Their Own Voices: A Global Exploration of How Today's Young People Think About and Experience Spiritual Development" – can't be considered representative of the countries or traditions, Mr. Roehlkepartain cautions.
But they "help us understand the dynamics of what is happening with young people. Kids live in a global world today, and to understand them, we need to see them in a global context."
Religion has trumped spirituality as a topic of study in the past, says Roehlkepartain. A study released last spring by the German research firm Berthlesmann Stiftung found that 85 percent of young people in 21 nations called themselves religious, and 44 percent said they were deeply religious.
In the US, a UCLA study of undergraduates from 2003 to 2007 broke some ground on spirituality. It found that while attendance at religious services decreased dramatically for most, their overall level of spirituality – defined as seeking meaning in life and developing values and self-understanding – increased.
When asked what it means to be spiritual, young people in the Search survey most commonly responded: believing there is a purpose to life, believing in God, or being true to one's inner self. In Thailand and Cameroon, "being a moral person" made the top three. "Having a deep sense of inner peace and happiness" was highly valued in Canada and the US.