What, if anything, is sacred?

 In Research

As we embarked on this year’s report, we asked young people that initial question. Their responses transcended narrow categories and painted an expansive picture of how sacred experience can take shape.

The State of Religion and Young People 2023: Exploring the Sacred highlights what we’ve learned from the more than 4,500 young people we surveyed and dozens more who participated in in-depth interviews. Our findings illustrate what young people know about the sacred, if and where they experience it, what those encounters are like, and how they impact their lives. For the purposes of this report, we defined the sacred as “those things, places, or moments that feel special and set apart from others—experiences that evoke a sense of wonder, awe, gratitude, deep truth, and/or interconnectedness.”

In short, young people’s experiences of the sacred aren’t confined to specific spaces or places but instead are more often found in moments that foster interconnectedness with themselves, with others, and with something larger than themselves.

Here’s a snapshot of what we learned from listening to young people about their sacred moments:

More than half (55%) of the young people we surveyed report experiencing a sacred moment. Sacred moments happen for young people who are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, Jewish, nothing in particular, and more.

Sacred moments are personal, relational, and extraordinary. These moments feel tailor-made to the person, hold deep feelings of interconnectedness, and seem set apart from everyday life. See below for young people’s recollections of their own sacred moments.


At my bar mitzvah, there were like 200 people. There was my temple community, and my family came from abroad. I was already feeling happy before. And then I read a ton of the Torah portions and the Maftir, Haftarah, all of that. That was meaningful. Just seeing everyone’s pleased reactions was also pretty meaningful. . . . It just felt really special.


We were up at two o’clock in the morning eating Twizzlers and watching crime shows. . . . It was one of the first times that it was just me and my mom. I felt super happy not only eating Twizzlers at 2:00 a.m. but also finally getting to spend time with my mom.


I was in Greece on a study-abroad program, sitting out on the coast and watching the sunset. It was a powerful moment just to have that space.

Interested in learning more? Read the full report and get the whole story of how young people are exploring the sacred!

Want to hear young people describe their sacred moments? Tune into Season 8 of The Voices of Young People Podcast, where members of our Springtide Ambassadors Program talk about their experiences that went from simply special to sacred.

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