April 13, 2005


US freshmen reveal their spiritual side (Stacy A. Teicher, 4/14/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

College life requires just the right balance between study, work, and play. And for many, there's a fourth essential: prayer.

Nearly two-thirds of American college freshmen pray at least weekly, according to the first comprehensive nationwide survey about their spiritual and religious views.

On public and private campuses alike, spirituality has moved beyond the chapel. Whether students prefer meditation, sacred music, or grappling with meaning-of-life questions around the dinner table, many schools are responding by making more space for spiritual exploration.

"We've been inclined to say, 'Well, these issues are very personal, they don't fit into the sort of scientific objectivist framework of higher education,' ... [but] there's a lot we can do to address students' spiritual concerns without ... promoting any particular sectarian religious point of view," says Jon Dalton, director of the Hardee Center for Leadership and Ethics in Higher Education at Florida State University.

Forty-eight percent of freshmen say it's "very important" or "essential" for their college to encourage their personal expression of spirituality, reports the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles. Yesterday it released "The Spiritual Life of College Students," a study of more than 100,000 American students, weighted to represent all first-time, full-time freshmen at four-year schools.

It reveals many facets of students' inner lives, including:

• Why they pray. Frequently it's for help solving problems, for forgiveness, and to express gratitude.

• Their level of confidence in their views about religious or spiritual matters. Forty-two percent identify themselves as "secure"; 23 percent "seeking"; 15 percent "conflicted"; 10 percent "doubting"; and 15 percent "not interested" (respondents could check off more than one).

• Correlations between spirituality and well-being. Although students who score high on scales of religious commitment or spirituality aren't immune from feeling depressed or overwhelmed, they are more likely to say they frequently feel at peace, and that they can find meaning in times of hardship. They're also more likely to have a healthy diet, abstain from alcohol and tobacco, and avoid staying up all night.

These are some of the key findings of a survey conducted last fall of 112,232 freshmen attending 236 colleges and universities. The study, carried out by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), also analyzes how varying degrees of spirituality and religiousness translate into differences in students’ political and social attitudes, psychological and physical well-being, and religious preference.

Some of the findings include:

* 80% are interested in spirituality

* 76% are searching for meaning/purpose in life

* 74% have discussions about the meaning of life with friends

* 81% attend religious services

* 80% discuss religion or spirituality with friends

* 79% believe in God

* 69% pray

According to a report on the survey, entitled “The Spiritual Life of College Students,” students “are searching for deeper meaning in their lives, looking for ways to cultivate their inner selves, seeking to be compassionate and charitable, and determining what they think and feel about the many issues confronting their society and the global community.”

Which is why it's so amusing that folks think they can heal the breach between the U.S. and Europe--our differences are widening, not narrowing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 13, 2005 10:40 PM

They'll drive the faculty crazy.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 14, 2005 12:46 AM

This isn't really news. Most college students reflect their parents not some purported teen rebellion. If you were to go to elite institutions, you might find that a much lower percentage of the student body was active in religious organizations, precisely because their parents are more secular. The fascinating trend at elite institutions is the increase in observant behavior over recent years among students, especially Jews.

Some of the polling data here is just meaningless. What does 'attend religious services' mean? I go to High Holy Day services and to a few other services during the year but I hardly consider myself religious. Lumping me in with someone who goes to shul every morning is just inexact. What sort of college kid is such an annelid as to be uninterested in 'spirituality', 'a search for meaning in life', or don't discuss 'the meaning of life' with friends? What else do you do at a Guyana Punch Party after you've had a couple of pints and before the projectile vomiting starts to kick in? What does 'believe in God' mean? Is that a transcendent or imminent deity? And as long as there are math tests, there will be prayer in school.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 10:11 AM