Study: Strongly Religious College Students Favor More Conservative Positions

An on-going study on the spiritual lives of college students found that highly religious students hold more conservative views on particular social issues such as sex, abortion, homosexual relationshi
( [email protected] ) Jul 29, 2004 05:42 PM EDT

College students who describe themselves as being highly religious tend to identify themselves as politically conservative, leaning toward more conservative positions on sex, abortion, homosexual relationships, and drug issues, reported a study released on July 28.

The results were part of an on-going study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute on the spiritual lives of college students. The study involved 3,680 college third-year college students at 46 diverse colleges and universities.

According to the study, 70% of students agree that most people can grow spiritually without being religious. Although 77% said they pray, only one-fifth classified themselves as “highly religious,” defined as a pattern of behavior in attending religious services, reading sacred texts, and joining campus-based religious groups. One-fifth said they have low levels of religious involvement.

Regarding the issue of casual sex, far more highly religious college students disagreed the practice than least religious students. Ninety-three percent of most religious students disagreed with the study’s statement, "if two people really like each other, it's all right for them to have sex even if they've known each other for only a very short time," while twenty percent of least religious students disagreed.

While only 76% strongly religious students oppose abortion, 21% least religious students do not think abortion is acceptable.

Seventeen percent least religious students support "laws prohibiting homosexual relationships" but more than twice the percentage of strongly religious students support such laws.

Another large gap between the two groups was found on the issue of marijuana. The study reported that 17% most religious students favor the legalization of marijuana while 64% least religious students would want the drug made legal.

Not much difference existed between the most and least religious college students on the issue of gun control. Around 75% of most religious students agreed with the study’s statement, "the federal government should do more to control the sale of handguns,” compared to the 70 percent of the least religious who agreed.

Concerning the death penalty, thirty-eight percent of the one-fifth “highly religious” college students agreed it should be abolished while 23 percent of the least religious wanted capital punishment to stop.

"The nation's cultural and political divide is on college campuses too," researcher Alexander said in the study’s release, "but the study also shows that there is no simple, one-to-one relationship between religious and political beliefs. While highly religious students tend to be more 'conservative' than less religious students on certain issues, they can also be more 'liberal' on other issues."

The study made no distinction in the type of religion practiced by college students.