Religion Gaining Ground with College Students

Ashley D’Emo, a student at the University of Florida, says soon after her first year she was persuaded by a roommate to attend a church service.

Eventually, D’Emo began going to service three to four times a week, she told the Gainsville Sun. Now she regularly attends religious student meeting and events almost every night.

Students like D’Emo indicate that they “have found a strong faith community” at their respective colleges and universities.

Richard Horner, director of the Christian Study Center in Florida, says faith is popular again, the Gainsville Sun reports.

“Religion and spiritually have made a comeback,” he says.

A 2005 study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA indicated 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 the St. Augustine Church near UF, says students are “more willing to affiliate with a religious group or a religious denomination” now than in the past.

Like many university and college campuses however, UF’s religious department tends to outline “how things are” instead of what is possible. Harig says that she would like to see secular universities use theology to help students ask “if” questions and allow more investigative and open-ended discussions based on faith instead of reiterating the history of religion and Christianity.

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 says.

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

At the same time however he also believes the class can challenge students and help make build their faith.

“The more you exercise it,” Sandgren says, “like push-ups, the stronger you get.”

D’Emo, a 20-year-old history major now at the University of Florida, indicates that she 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 comments.

She adds that it didn’t have to end that way. “The intellectual environment doesn’t need to hurt our faith,” D’Emo says.