Students Growing Interest in Spirituality

( [email protected] ) Dec 13, 2003 11:43 AM EST

Student evangelical groups are flourishing in their vital passion but they are not always welcomed in the intellectual, secular world of higher education.

For instance, Campus Crusade for Christ at Northwestern University has been questioned of their promotion of religious interest to students by the school administration and other schools are looking at college chaplaincy as outdated tradition and are trying to eliminate it.

Since the mandatory chapel attendance, the life of the spirit as well as the life of the mind, which serves as the development of a person as a whole has been coming to an end. Even colleges with religious background are losing their incentive to step into higher world of spirituality despite the clear evidence of students’ desire to explore world of faith – college culture is not yet completely secularized as most people might think.

"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. 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 identity.

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.

"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. She says other students wish to learn more conservative values of Christianity. Some students are drawn to Christian groups on campus out of curiosity and also because of fellowship, and opportunities to volunteer.

"God taught me more this quarter than I learned in any of my other classes" a female student at Northwestern gives her testimony.

"I was really encouraged to see there were so many believers," says Lauren Parnell, a freshman, "It wasn't what I was expecting."

There are Christian campus groups like Campus Crusade and InterVarsity that emphasize conservative Christian values and personal relationship with God and Jesus. Some students prefer to come to fellowship gatherings than church.

"People are eager to look at the Bible and study it, and aren't offended that you're inviting them" to meetings, says Terry Erickson, InterVarsity's director of evangelism. "If you invite them to church, it's a different story."

Cameron Anderson, the group's director of graduate and faculty ministries, agrees: "Spirituality is in and religion is out."

The Christian Science Monitor reports that most students love to share personal relationship with God but they feel uncomfortable with the evangelical ideas, for instance, when they speak of on the topics such as intolerance of homosexuality. Within the inclusive culture of secular world, Christianity might seem unfit since it promotes “our way is the only way.”

There were several instances where schools were intolerant of evangelical action of Christians. At the University of Chicago, the campus police was called because of an evangelical speaker and a few days ago, now reinstated, the local InterVarsity chapter was removed when a lesbian student filed a discrimination charge against InterVarsity.

Evangelical groups are making complaints against the school for tolerating many other groups except for Christians. "They're supportive of 'religious diversity,' but not of Christian organizations," says Anna Studenny, a leader at Northwestern's Campus Crusade.

It can be hard to talk about religion without promoting it. The HERI survey addresses the need for discussion over religion but Ms. Linholm said, "I'd really think twice about my role in that context."

Still, some argue that professors can - and should - be more open to allowing their classes to discuss about spirituality and be encouraged to raise questions.

"Faculty are understandably reluctant - they don't want to indoctrinate students,'" says Larry Braskamp, a professor of higher education at Loyola University in Chicago. "But if faculty don't engage students in helping them develop their reasoning abilities, how are they going to learn?"

Mr. Braskamp says that the old idea of educating students is returning, this time with more diverse beliefs and backgrounds.

"It's not a matter of indoctrination," he explains. "A person's growth in faith doesn't have to be anti-intellectual."