More College Students Opt for Religion 101

By Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 1996 | Go to article overview

More College Students Opt for Religion 101


Elizabeth Levitan Spaid, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


In college campuses across the country, God has become a growing topic of discussion in dorms and classrooms.

Chaplains, religion professors, and campus ministry representatives report a renewed interest in religion and spirituality among knapsack-toting students.

The focus is manifesting itself in different ways: *At Pennsylvania State University, the number of student religious groups has doubled from 15 to 30 over the past 10 years. *The religious studies department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville last fall had its highest enrollment ever; 2,300 students took religious courses, up from 2,000 in 1994. *Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., offered its first major in religious studies three years ago and has seen a growing number of ethnic religious groups set up on campus. The move toward religion on college campuses is broad-based and includes everything from Judaism to New Age to Buddhism. It represents a growing interest in religion among Americans in general. Behind the surge is a search for stability in a fast-changing world. With crime and violence rising, job security diminishing, and divorce still high, more college students are looking to spirituality for answers. Interestingly, many of these students come to school without their own religious convictions. "There's a lot of anxiety of what the future holds," says Robert Johnson, director of University Ministries at Cornell. "Roughly half of students come from broken homes. They're aware things are adrift, and they want some kind of anchoring security." Religion scholars say student exploration of spirituality goes in cycles on college campuses. During the 1940s and '50s, for instance, religious organizations such as Hillel for Jews and Westminster for Presbyterians became popular. In the '60s the focus turned more toward peace and social issues. "The pendulum on American spirituality swings back and forth, but I think we're very clearly in a time of spiritual awakening in this culture," says Rebecca Chopp, a theology professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. Just last month, faculty at Candler attended a retreat to discuss student and faculty interest in spirituality. "I could post any class on spirituality and have it filled," Ms. Chopp adds. The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, a Christian group on 560 college campuses, has seen some increase in student participation over the last year or two. "But I don't know whether that's a trend or a bullet," says William McConnell, assistant to the president. Nevertheless, this generation of college students differs from its predecessors, which some point to as a reason for the interest in spiritual issues.

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