Over the past few months, there has been quite a bit of talk about the lack of religious identity among young people on college campuses.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2012, approximately 35 percent of adults between the ages of 18-29 identify with no particular religious affiliation or denomination. This percentage is greater than that of all other age groups older than 30 years. Moreover, the study found that the majority of individuals who were more likely to be disengaged from organized religion or faith were men (56 percent). They are also more inclined to be single or living with a person (51 percent), as opposed to being married (39 percent). This is even true among millenials that are married, 23 percent say they are affiliated and 12 percent say they are unaffiliated.
In regard to the reluctance of college students to embrace religion, it is probably surprising that there are a number of scholars and demographers who are disputing such an argument and claiming that religious activity on college campuses is rebounding. These are the academics who have made the case that a dramatic shift in the global landscape has made religion a crucial factor in the lives of a growing number of college students.
The fact is that prior to the 1960s, a number of colleges and universities had some sort of required religious activity that students had to adhere to. This could range from attending chapel, mosque, temple, synagogue, mass, etc., or some other once a week on-campus religious activity, or at the very least, volunteering to work part time with a Judeo-Christian or other religious organization.
This began to change by the mid-1960s, when more than a few campuses (save for religious-based ones) became hotbeds of anti-religious activity, or at the very least, citadels where those who advocated a deep religious faith were often marginalized, ridiculed or dismissed as being outlandish, fanatical and in some cases, just plain weird. At least right now, to quote legendary folk singer and septuagenarian, Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changing.” The following are examples of evangelical activity:
- Officials at a number of universities have reported that at least a third of their student body is involved in regular religious activity.
- At a growing number of colleges, students are booking clergy to talk about their faiths.
- A growing number of students from different religious faiths are interacting with one another in worship services.
- The number of Christian-oriented reading book clubs in college towns are soaring.
As someone who grew up in a religious household, I am not all that surprised. My late mother was a devoutly religious woman. The same can be said for my older sister. In fact, I would argue that religion is the focal point of her life. I currently live in a town and region of the nation (more commonly referred to as the bible belt) where religion is a mainstay in the lives of many people. Wednesday night bible study groups, Sunday morning and afternoon (and in some cases, Saturday evening) services are regular fanfare. Interestingly, this trend has undoubtedly transformed itself throughout the nation.
The fact is that young people today are the products of a world that is marred with severe economic uncertainty, ever-changing events, social unrest of all sorts and a host of unpredictable factors that would cause any sane and alert person to wonder what’s going to happen next and how to maintain sanity.
For some, a deep spiritual faith and commitment is most likely a form of reassuring and psychological retreat from an increasingly dark and ever-uncertain society. Thus religious engagement is a form of affirmation that makes total sense. After all, it can be a cold and cruel secular world at times.