Why are young Finns still attending summer revivals?

While the Catholic World Youth Days with millions of participants have become a feature of contemporary Catholicism, religious youth events on a smaller scale also take place in other churches, for instance in Finland. Togetherness and shared rituals, more than a cohesion of beliefs, are central for young people attending a summer revivalist gathering there, writes Paula Nissilä in Social Compass (June). There is a mixture of leisure and fun along with quite unchanged traditions, from which young participants are left free to choose. Like other European countries, Finland is experiencing a decrease in religious participation and membership, but the summer gatherings of the traditional Finnish revivalist movements under the guidance of the mainstream Lutheran Church remain full of vitality. Their continuing importance distinguishes Finland from other Northern European countries. Ten percent of the Finnish population identifies with a revivalist group, and an equal percentage admits being influenced by revivalism. Thus, it is not surprising that 3 percent of the population takes part in the summer gatherings.

Nissilä interviewed young participants who worked as volunteers at a gathering of the (moderate) Awakening Movement and also followed up with post-event interviews. The festival has taken place every year since 1893 and has included a youth program since the end of the 1960s. This has allowed for a youth subculture within the event, along with the creation of a “spontaneous community.” The majority of the participants mentioned their friends as a main reason for attending. In contrast with those social aspects, only a minority mentioned the religious content of the event. Singing was also mentioned as something important. The break from the daily routine to something more adventurous and the community feeling were clearly enjoyed. While the numerous revival services formed a key component of the gathering, Nissilä remarks that “many of the informants showed a lack of interest”—not that they did not like them and did not sing if attending, but in that they were not the priority, although the occasional appearance of young people hanging around still showed to other generations that the traditions were being passed on. On the other hand, during the youth program the young participants would gather together to sing the hymns, with many of them obviously knowing them by heart. As Nissilä remarks, it remains to be seen what the long-term implications of such continued participation in revivalist summer gatherings will be.

(Social Compass: International Review of Sociology of Religion, http://journals.sagepub.com