It's a rainy Thursday night, a few days before finals, and
Northwestern University's campus is deserted. But students can hear
the raucous music emanating from one old stone building long before
they step inside.
"Blessed be Your glorious name!" sings a throng of 100-plus
students, led by amped-up guitarists, a drummer, and backup singers
It would take more than rain or exams to keep them away from
these Thursday nights of singing, praising God, and sharing their
relationships with Jesus.
Religion on campus - particularly evangelical groups like this
one - is thriving these days, but it doesn't always find an easy
home in the intellectual, secular world of higher education. For
instance, Campus Crusade for Christ, which sponsors the Thursday
gatherings, has butted heads with the administration here over a
questionnaire on religious interest that the group gives to
freshmen. Other schools are dropping the college chaplaincy, seeing
it as an outdated tradition.
The notion of the university as developer of the whole person -
the life of the spirit as well as the life of the mind - has faded
since the days of mandatory chapel attendance. Even colleges with
religious ties are often reluctant to step into the highly sensitive
terrain of spirituality. But as students express more interest in
questions of values and faith - and a frustration with how little
those ideas are explored in the classroom - it's clear that college
culture, at least for students, isn't quite as secular as some
"Higher education is kind of founded on that maxim of 'Know
thyself,' " says Jennifer Lindholm, director for a recent survey on
spirituality at UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute (HERI).
"It's nice to see that students are so ... interested in these
intangible aspects of themselves."
The survey she directed is the first step in a multi-year study
of spirituality in higher education. And its findings are
surprising. Of 3,700 college juniors surveyed, 77 percent say they
pray, 71 percent consider religion personally helpful, and 73
percent say religious or spiritual beliefs have helped develop their
Fewer - just 55 percent - said they were satisfied with how their
college experience provided "opportunities for religious/spiritual
development," and 62 percent say their professors never encourage
discussions of spiritual issues.
The survey is more a snapshot than a measure of change, but those
on campuses say the trend is noticeable. "The pendulum continues to
swing up," says the Rev. Alison Boden at the University of Chicago.
"It was a very different scene in 1991."
Part of the interest may be simple curiosity, particularly among
students who weren't raised with a lot of religion. "They start
experimenting with everything from hair, to what they're going to
major in, to not wanting to be a CPA like Dad," explains Ms. Boden.
Other students, she says, crave religion's structure and guidance -
a desire that often leads them to more conservative practices. Those
who grew up as Reform Jews, for instance, might try Orthodox
And then there are the Christian evangelical groups, like Campus
Crusade and InterVarsity, which emphasize conservative Christian
values and a personal relationship with God and Jesus - and which
seem to be flourishing just about everywhere. …