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
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. …