The research project "Gen Z and Beyond: A Survey for Every Generation" conducted between 1 July 2021 to 19 April 2023 affiliated with the University of London and privately sponsored, aimed to gather data on Zoroastrian communities globally. It utilized an online survey that allowed participants from any location to answer. The project was conducted by a small team led by Dr. Sarah Stewart, with support from Dr. Nazneen Engineer and Joe Turtle.
The survey sought to understand how individuals in different regions identify as Zoroastrians, their beliefs, religious practices, and devotional life. It also explored social habits, community engagement, knowledge dissemination through familial and communal channels, and interactions with non-Zoroastrian communities in social and workplace settings. With the global Zoroastrian population estimated at around 100,000 individuals, the survey aimed to identify challenges facing the community and provide valuable insights for community leaders to address them. Moreover, it aimed to create a comprehensive dataset for scholars and students studying the Zoroastrian religion, its history, and its people.
“Among young people aged 18-25 who never married, finding a Zoroastrian partner was the preferred option”
The first theme discusses the significance of marriage, intermarriage, raising children, and domestic life in relation to the declining number of Zoroastrians worldwide. Factors such as low fertility rates and delayed or non-existent marriages contribute to this decline. Traditional family patterns have been disrupted by migration and the decline of extended families. Among young people aged 18-25 who had never married, finding a Zoroastrian partner was the preferred option. However, for those who view ethnicity as integral to Zoroastrian identity, the fact that nearly half (49.5%) of respondents in this age group were in a relationship with or married to a non-Zoroastrian raises concerns about the decline of two-parent Zoroastrian households. A small percentage (6.8%) of respondents mentioned that their non-Zoroastrian spouses played a significant role in raising their children as Zoroastrians. Acceptance of intermarried spouses and offspring varied across different communities, with more resistance observed in traditional communities toward women who had married out compared to men. Attitudes toward gender are relevant to the discussion on intermarriage and population decline.
The second theme discussed is the perception of cultural heritage and its connection to literary heritage. The survey included questions about two significant texts: the Shahnameh (Book of Kings) and the Qisseh-ye Sanjan (Story of Sanjan). The Shahnameh, which dates back to pre-Islamic times and incorporates ancient Zoroastrian hymns, holds great significance for Iranian Zoroastrians, Iranians in general, and many Parsis in India and the diaspora. The Qisseh-ye Sanjan narrates the legendary journey of Zoroastrians from Iran to India following the Islamic conquest in the 10th century. Younger respondents (18-25-year-olds) were more likely to be unfamiliar with the Qisseh-ye Sanjan (22.1%) or the Shahnameh (44.2%) compared to older respondents. Surprisingly, immigrants that came from Iran to India were more likely to consider the Shahnameh unimportant (44.7% vs. 33.3%) despite the expectation that they would attach greater importance to cultural stories to maintain their traditions.
Migration is another significant theme discussed in the survey.
The location where individuals settle and their sentiments toward the place they left, whether it is their birthplace or not, has implications for their sense of identity and belonging. As a marginalized and often persecuted minority in Iran, Zoroastrians have a history of leaving their homes and resettling elsewhere. Migration occurred within Iran, such as during the Safavid period when many Zoroastrians were forced to leave Esfahan and relocate to Yazd.
Subsequently, migrations to India and other countries in Europe, Africa, the United States, and Britain shaped the modern Zoroastrian diaspora. It is common to find individuals who have migrated multiple times in their lives, often for educational or professional opportunities. The survey revealed that Zoroastrians adapt well to new circumstances and host communities, with 76.3% of respondents who had migrated considering their current place of residence as "home," where they feel they belong.
The primary obstacle encountered in completing the project within the designated time frame was the surveys uptake. Despite efforts to engage with numerous Zoroastrian Associations in North America and establish a network of ambassadors to promote the project, the response was slow, indicating a prevalent "survey fatigue" syndrome that hindered the anticipated enthusiastic participation. In India, the challenge took a different form, as the team was not permitted to enter the Zoroastrian baugs to distribute leaflets as initially planned. Furthermore, some community leaders in India and other regions did not accept the eligibility criteria, resulting in limited publicity and negative coverage in the Parsi press. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic further complicated matters by making face-to-face communication impractical, leading some to question the appropriateness of conducting such a project and seeking funds during such a challenging time. Lastly, political unrest in Iran prevented any visits or promotions of the survey in that region.
Overall, this project aimed to provide valuable insights into the global Zoroastrian community, its demographics, religious practices, and the challenges it faces. The survey was conducted on a large scale, allowing for global comparisons and contributing to the existing understanding of Zoroastrianism
Written By: Nasha Makujina
Extracted from the GEN Z AND BEYOND: A SURVEY FOR EVERY GENERATION report. You can download the full report on: https://genzandbeyond.com/