Religion gains ground with college students, study says


Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

In Ashley D'Emo's first year at the University of Florida, she joined the Equestrian Club and the English Society.

Facts

College and religion

  • A 2005 study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA shows that 81 percent of students surveyed said they attended religious services at least occasionally.
  • Forty percent said they thought it was important to follow religious teachings in everyday life.

She skipped church on Sundays.

But in her sophomore year D'Emo's roommate persuaded her to go to Mass at St. Augustine Church.

Now D'Emo attends Mass three to four times a week and goes to student meetings and events there almost every night each week.

"Here I have found a strong faith community," she said.

D'Emo is part of a majority of students at UF and across the country that studies say are expressing an interest in faith and spirituality.

Richard Horner, director of the Christian Study Center, across the street from UF's campus, said faith is popular again.

"Religion and spirituality have made a comeback," he said.

A 2005 study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA shows that 81 percent of students surveyed said they attended religious services at least occasionally. Forty percent said they thought it was important to follow religious teachings in everyday life.

Sister Margaret Harig, campus minister at St. Augustine Church near UF, said students are "more willing to affiliate with a religious group or a religious denomination" than in the past.

But she said she observes what she sees as a flaw at UF. It has a religion department that outlines how things are instead of what is possible. She would like to see secular universities use theology to help students ask "if" questions.

And Horner of the Christian Study Center also sees a lack of deep thought on faith.

"One of the greatest challenges to faith is that people aren't willing to think," he said.

Rabbi Jonathan Siger from the Hillel Center near UF's campus said in the three years he's been there, he has seen students hungry for spirituality.

"Whether that is more than has always been the case, I don't know," he said.

Leo Sandgren, who teaches religion at UF, said most of the students in his New Testament class at UF already have a strong Christian background. He said that because the class presents the text from an academic viewpoint students can sometimes experience crises of faith.

But he said he believes the class can challenge students and help make their faith stronger.

"The more you exercise it, like push-ups, the stronger you get," he said.

D'Emo, a 20-year-old history major, was warned at the beginning of her Bible as Literature class that it could negatively change her faith.

"I was almost kind of afraid at first that it would," she said.

But, she said, it doesn't have to be that way. "The intellectual environment doesn't need to hurt our faith," D'Emo said.

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