“Today’s college campuses are hotbeds of religiosity and prayer,” according to a 2005 study conducted at the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California.
The survey, which included 112,232 current freshmen attending 236 colleges and universities, found that 85 percent of the participants responded with an interest in spirituality and that eight students in 10 attended religious services during their freshman year.
Freshman Jeffery Chrabaszcz was skeptical. “While I don’t think being in college precludes spirituality, I don’t know that religion is necessarily the top priority for most college students,” he said.
According to another study conducted at Loyola University in 2004 that measured the religious values of college students in comparison to their beliefs while in high school, “There was a significant decline in church attendance, belief in a supreme being, and belief in a religious dichotomy between good and evil.”
Essentially, while the survey conducted by the University of California suggests that spirituality on campuses is increasing, both studies confirm that affiliation with mainstream religions is declining. The study differentiated spirituality from religious commitment to a particular belief. Spirituality was defined as an association with a spiritual quest, an ethic of caring, a compassionate self-concept and an ecumenical worldview.
Among the liberties of college life is an abundance of divergent perspectives that can affect one’s religious views; spirituality can be defined in terms of philosophy as well as religion. The University of California survey also found that 76 percent of respondents said they are searching for a purpose or meaning in life and 74 percent discuss philosophy of life with friends.
Freshman Elizabeth Ramey said a philosophy class she took during her second semester changed her entire perspective about religion.
“I went to church every week in the beginning of the year and I don’t anymore for personal, spiritual and intellectual reasons,” she said.
Many students feel that the wide variety of religious, theological and spiritual perspectives offered at GW make it interesting to view old beliefs in a new light. Without parental pressure, students find it easier, enlightening and more permissible to explore different convictions and challenge former tenets of thought.
Freshmen Taylor Brown said, “I wasn’t spiritually connected … I felt hypocritical – I want to approach religion in my own way.”
Students have additionally expressed their concerns (and joys) about the influence of college-induced quasi-autonomy.
“College life is very undisciplined. It’s a completely different world,” said more Meera Arumuganathan.
The lack of routine lends students the ability to prioritize, and as Arumuganathan notes, “Religion kind of slips from priority.”
For some, college life fosters certain habits that conflict with religious doctrines.
“College students don’t live religious lifestyles, so most of them realize they can’t pretend to be pious. They realize they can’t be holy and party animals (at the same time),” freshmen Chris Singel said.
Some students, however, have contributed their relaxed practices to more than just partying or loss of personal obligation.
“At home there’s a lot of different factors that help you adhere to your religious traditions and beliefs. There’s such an open atmosphere here, it’s so easy to get caught up in everything else,” said sophomore Sonia Gupta.
Staying up late and sleeping in – even on Saturday and Sunday – are now unobstructed options.
“It’s a time thing. Sunday, I’m doing work,” said freshmen Alexandra Aaron.
Freshmen Peter Letzler said, “I just don’t wake up on Sundays anymore. I don’t have my parents here.”
Without the presence of Mom and Dad, attending religious services, to some students, appears contrived.
“There’s a family atmosphere about going – it’s a habit,” freshman Jessica Ratka said.
Living outside the scope of parental influence, the practice of attending religious services loses its routine nature, such that students feel less pressure to adhere to the rules, said freshmen Christian Turak.
Although there appears to be a decline in strict adherence to religious obligations that students honored in the parental home, some are quick to note that religion still plays a major role in their lives.
“There’s a lot of stress in college and without my family here, I can depend on my religion,” said Gupta.
In fact, some students feel that the stress and experiences of college life have increased their devotion to their faith. Freshman Carrina Scotti said, “I’ve seen a lot of immoral things here … I go to church because I want to go to church, so it has become very personal to me – it’s something I want to do and something I choose to do.”
The local trend appears to follow the results of the University of California study. While most students admit that they don’t actively practice religion, they still consider faith and spirituality a significant part of their lives.
Sophomore Karen Hussein said, “Even though I don’t attend religious services, I still believe that spirituality plays a strong role in my life during hard times.”