How does a college education affect one's religious beliefs? Given that college is a period of intellectual engagement and exploration, many scholars have believed that a college education weakens one's religious beliefs. In 1977 researchers David Caplowitz and Fred Sherrow wrote that college is "a breeding ground for apostasy." In 1983 sociologist James Hunter claimed that it was a "well-established fact" that education, even Christian education, "secularizes."
However, the secularizing effect of higher education has come into question in the past decade with new research suggesting that young adults who never enrolled in college are currently the least religious Americans.
In a study published in 2007 by the Social Science Research Council, sociologists Mark D. Regnerus and Jeremy E. Uecker reported on religious service attendance and religious dis-affiliation among young adults. According to their analysis of data collected by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health:
- While 64 percent of those currently enrolled in a traditional four-year institution reported a decline in religious service attendance, 76 percent of those who never enrolled in college reported a decline.
- Twenty percent of those who did not attend college renounced all religious affiliation, whereas only 13 percent of four-year college students did the same.
But behind this hard data lie rich stories of religious and spiritual transformation in college. HuffPost Religion put out a call to our community to ask how their religious and spiritual outlook changed during their college years. Click through the slideshow below to see their responses.
If you are a college student or a recent graduate we want to hear from you. Tell us how your religious and spiritual outlook has changed in college. Did you increase in your understanding of your own religious practice? Did you lose your faith? Did you convert to another religion? Submit a 100-word response to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your headshot and the name of your school, and we might feature your response on our website. We will accept your submissions until the Sept. 12, 2012.
To learn more about the religious engagement of American undergraduates, visit this website.
Lily Fein, Syracuse University
I am now a sophomore at Syracuse University. At the beginning of my Freshman year of school I decided to begin going to meditation at Hendricks Chapel. This is where my perspective on religion shifted and became much more open. Meditation changed for me the connotations that I had associated organized religion with. The practice itself was overtly focused on the transformation that can occur in one's daily life if some sort of effort is made. Growing I was raised Jewish and still consider myself Jewish through the traditions that I still experience with my family and the long history that accompanies this. However, being Jewish was never a consistent feeling that I had on a day-to-day basis. I do not call myself Buddhist, yet I feel that my meditation practice has changed my daily thoughts and life in a way that I had never experienced before. I am grateful for the openness to trying new things that entering a new world of academia ignites within me. I ended up making meditation a part of my life which has created not only an openness to new religions and practices but also in general, as the practice allows space for many things to show themselves and be seen. Not only has my faith changed, but my consciousness has too.
Masood M Haque, University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign
The most powerful change in my faith while at college was allowing myself to question my beliefs. My parents had taught that having faith meant absolute confidence in your religion, something I struggled with. I felt that I couldn't allow myself to question my own faith. The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign changed that for me. What I discovered was that as I asked, as I searched for answers, my faith grew. It was best said in <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/08/confessions-of-a-ramadan-rookie.html" target="_hplink">Rollo Romig's article</a>: "Faith is misunderstood as a synonym for certitude, but really it's a concept that has doubt folded into it."
Amarra Ghani, University of North Carolina-Asheville
I was the literally the only hijabi on campus and what does a lonely hijabi do? Start a Muslim Student Association. One year later, there are 76 members (and counting) and only four of them are Muslims. This made me become a stronger character in my faith. For one, I learned that in order to restore Islam's fate I must practice my faith to ensure better results of understanding. The Non-Muslim at my school created such a comfortable atmosphere for me that it gives me no reason not so submit so comfortably to Islam & for them I am thankful.
Luke Pigott, William Carey University
I went to a small conservative Southern Baptist college called William Carey University. I originally felt the need to be around other like-minded Christians, instead of on a "secular" campus. As I got into my major to Biblical studies, though, I began to grow extremely disgruntled with some of the other Christian students around me, and their ideas of living for Christ. I left the Baptist Church, and tried several other denominations for months at a time, and enjoyed them. I recently returned to the Baptist faith, but with a different attitude. I'm a Theology graduate student at Villanova (a Catholic school) now, interested in studying Christian ethics, and I'm loving being not only in a diverse Theological environment, but also a diverse city. I suppose I got less religious, but way more into trying to live like Jesus, alongside Jesus. I've been inspired by Bonhoeffer's "religionless Christianity."
George Murphy, Tufts University
I came into college a fairly religious person; my Greek Orthodox faith was my support and strength, it tied my to a rich heritage and sacred tradition. My priest, ironically, was one of the few sources of comfort after a horrific coming out experience. One of the first experiences I had at school was going with some new friends to our Hillel Center. The warmth, love, and community in the room was overwhelming and inspiring. I never understood religious community until that very moment, because bickering and church politics have become the norm in Orthodox Christian circles. My friends now love to joke that I am the most religious Jew they know who isn't Jewish. It has been two years since those first moments at Hillel, but every time I walk through the doors for Erev Shabbat or the High Holidays, it still feels like home.
Fatimah Waseem, University of Maryland - College Park
Faith has not and will never change; rather, it has transformed. Ten years ago, the Islamic headscarf was shrouded in a veil of the unknown. And though this veil may not have been lifted in colleges today, it has become sheer - sheer enough that students, faculty, and stuff see us through it and we them. We have begun to have faith in faith.
Lisianna Emmett, University of South Alabama
I would say being in college has decimated my religion, but not my faith. My religion has become convoluted with political and legalistic concerns verses what I believe the Bible really calls us to do; spread the love of God to everyone we meet. Also, the Bible never claims to have all the answers for us here on Earth, so despite majoring in science I have no qualms believing in a Creator-God and evolution. I cannot explain how the two could both be correct, but I do not have to because my faith allows me to believe without seeing. I am currently working on my Master's in Education at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL.
Brook Conner, University of Tennessee
I am currently undergoing my last year at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) as a double major in Religious Studies and German. I'd have to say that coming into college I wasn't "religious". My faith was then strengthened from a Rastafarian class taught by Randal L. Hepner. That course changed not only my religious life but also my academic life. I am now on the path to go to seminary and continue my education of religion. So, it was because of college and learning about other beautiful faiths that has strengthened my own faith in Christ.
Wesley McWhite III, Rutgers University-Newark
To say that my faith has changed in college would be an understatement. In college, my faith transformed into the leading catalyst of my existence. It gave me the comfort of standing on my own and viewing the world through my own faith lenses. Faith is no longer dictated to me. I get to ask and answer the questions: Why do I believe the things I do and how can my faith make me a better instrument of peace, here and after college?
Sarah Elizabeth Briggs, Wingate University
In college, my faith expanded and contracted through Bible study, class, small groups, traditional worship, charismatic worship, mentoring, and just life experiences in general. I have found God is the deepest, darkest times of my life. I have discovered that God speaks to everyone differently. God is much greater than the limits I sometimes give. I have learned that the greatest thing I can do is love all and serve all. My four years of college helped to realize my own calling into the ministry, and I am now entering my second year of Divinity School at Gardner-Webb.
Aaron Conner, Bakersfield College
My second semester in college I left the Assemblies of God, and became an Episcopalian. This was huge change not so much in my faith itself, but how my faith was practiced and expressed. I went from hands in the air with loud music, to praying the rosary in silence. From being absolutely certain that God's truths were absolute, to realizing that what we understand about God is only a fraction of what is unfathomable. My faith hasn't changed, but its face has. Everyone handles the stress of school differently; I just needed something which was grounding for me.
Hidayet Abbad, University Of Ottawa
I went through a total 180 degrees rotation in terms of my spirituality. During my first semester at the University of Ottawa it was my goal to have "fun," live life carelessly and stay away from what I had thought to be backwards Islamic traditions. Yet, somehow by the second semester I ended up becoming this hijabi with absolute unconditional love for true Islam. Being away from those who were closest to me (my family) and being on my own I was able to rediscover my spiritual side. I can definitely say that university helped shape and strengthen my faith.
Danny Pio Murphy, University College Cork
Before going to college I came from a rural homogeneous Catholic community, with little interest in religion or spiritual well-being. In college I acquired insights into faith and spirituality which made me more spiritually aware of my own faith and the faiths and beliefs of others. This inspired me to become a practicing Catholic alongside being involved in inter-faith dialogue in Ireland. College did open my mind to religion and spirituality to go past the bad press and to see the benefits it can provide for one's self and others.
Celestine Bowman, Sullivan University
As I started maturing and became focused on my Christian faith, different questions began to arise. I began to start asking myself, "What was I really following?" and "Why/for who was I following this for?" I was afraid to ask too many questions. Maybe I didn't want to "know too much," considering the endless controversies. It wasn't too long after that I decided that for religion, it didn't hurt to learn more. Not just with Christianity, but introducing myself to other religions helped me to understand the different philosophies of life which is ultimately an important facet in human relationships.
Nazia Islam, Syracuse University
Religion has always been a topic to avoid during middle and high school, but here in college it is encouraged and I was quite inspired to get involved. My family had a fear of me becoming distant from my faith, Islam, as I decided to go away for college, but the exact opposite happened. I feel like I have gotten closer to my faith through the people and resources on campus. I am discovering the truth about Islam especially in regards to the freedom Islam truly provides for women which is a very important for me to know so I can help others know.
Alyssa M. White, Georgia Southwestern State University
I am a junior at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Ga. I also view myself as a Christian, and I am a member of a Methodist church. Recently I have been dealing with what it means to have faith and be in college, a world in itself full of an eclectic group of systems and beliefs, whether it was placed upon students as children, or grew into through some type of experience in life. Though many I have met have labeled themselves as Christian or having some type of spiritual faith, there is an unspoken and silent question of one's beliefs. Every day, we attend classes based on science and logic and only concentrating on what is seen, not unseen. We are looked at funny because we are so adamantly sure of the existence of this Invisible Force that somehow created us and that knows all and everything. In college, attaining knowledge is at the forefront, and anything that may seem less than that is viewed as childish nonsense. I, for one, know that it is a tough battle being in faith in such a faithless world that's ready to give up. However, Is it so wrong to want to know the answers to things that we have for so long ingested without question from people we have long trusted, such as parents and pastors? Is this "struggle of faith" necessary in building a stronger relationship with our Creator? These things, I feel, are underlying questions in the minds of young college Christians everywhere. We wonder whether or not the world will leave us behind as they adjust to a more modern, technology-driven, realistic and scientific way of thinking, if we don't conform. This is something we all must figure out individually, and I must say, I fight this internal battle daily, and it only makes me much stronger as a Christian youth.
Hannah Miller, Syracuse University
I entered college after 12 years of Jewish Day School. My faith was my comfort zone, so I did all I could to hold onto it, registering for Judaic Studies courses and getting involved with the Jewish Student Union. But in the craziness of college, I joined activities left and right, quickly finding prayer and study, which had formerly defined my faith, no longer priorities. Yet, I maintained a strong connection to Judaism -- but how? In the past two years, I've embraced the cultural aspect of the Jewish faith, understanding and appreciating that spiritual fulfillment comes in many shapes and sizes. My faith isn't what I am, it's who I am.
Tara Lynne Wright, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
I was baptized and confirmed in a Lutheran church. In high school, I fell away from my religion. Entering college, I absolutely hated the idea of religion. I thought that all people who participated in a religion were brainwashed lunatics. In college, I became a religious studies minor. I am currently in my senior year of college and I have completely changed my opinion on religions. I do not see religions as a way of brainwashing individuals. I see religions as a way for people to feel more secure. I currently do not attend church or read the Bible, but I do identify myself as a Christian, perhaps as a Lutheran.
Walker Bristol, Tufts University
I was raised always to appreciate kindness, but growing up, I wed people's hatred in one dimension to their entire value system. No nuance. Through education--foremost beyond the classroom--I've discovered the prevalence of benevolent worldviews, and found sympathy from those I would never expect. While once I considered passion within my own tribe to be the highest virtue, I now draw inspiration from diversity, in thought and culture, and believe wholeheartedly we must appreciate and foster both. I'm an atheist--I don't have "faith." But I certainly have conviction, and today, it lies in empathy, rather than division.
Amelia Blanton, Saint Louis University
College drastically shifted my faith. As a freshman, my faith was safe and secure in the conservative bubble I grew up in. College shook this foundation, hard. It challenged everything I had learned and believed. In college, I questioned my faith and delved deeper into my prayer and my studies, discovering new, unforeseen questions. Five years after moving into college, as a master's student studying theology, my faith has changed drastically. My faith now helps me put pieces of my life as a Catholic, a feminist and an ally together, helping me to see how they create a beautiful picture.
Azhar Ali, Syracuse University
Prior to college, my faith didn't take precedence over much of anything in my life given my elementary understanding of it. During the past few years, I have grappled with my own beliefs and understandings in an attempt to make sense of a world religion I identify with. Now, I am able to appreciate the beauty of Islam and the intricate nuances which exist within it. My faith has put my life in perspective by helping me understand that I'm not inherently and perpetually flawed, but rather, am simply forgetful of my life's purpose at times.
Kaylyn Walton, Tufts University
I recently graduated from Tufts University with a double major in Middle Eastern Studies and Religion. My personal faith was definitely impacted by my friends, experiences and classes during my college years. Through my own research and asking tons of questions, I found myself denouncing the religion I was raised in, and converting to another. Religion will never cease to fascinate me, because I find faith such a beautiful thing. At the core of every religion is the idea of being good to yourself and other people. It's this idea that I hope to spread to my fellow man.
Russell Goolsby, Fresno State
I came to Fresno in 2008 and thought I was comfortable in my Christian beliefs. After leaving a small, religiously indoctrinated town (Wasco, CA) and experiencing new perspectives, I now consider myself atheist. My reasoning is simple: higher education enables people to think on their own and experience new things. My faith is gone because I need proof, my life doesn't revolve around the fictitious feeling of faith. I'm curious and I want to keep learning and religion usually stops people from being able to learn more once you get through the bible. Doesn't make sense to me. I am now 100 percent comfortable in my views and I'm glad I was allowed to think for myself.
Nina Raspa, University of Delaware
I'm a Junior in college and I've been a Catholic all of my life. Living away from home has given me freedom, but it's only increased my faith. I choose to go to Mass every Sunday and to practice Catholicism although my parents may not know otherwise. College is a center of diversity, and I welcome classes and discussions that may question my faith, because I know these challenges will only make it stronger. I believe that it's fairly easy to continue in your faith during college if you have a strong foundation, which I've been lucky enough to have.
Kenny Masters, Northern Illinois University
My girlfriend was a hyper-religious valedictorian whereas I was a slacker. My mother is a devout Protestant; my father called himself a skeptic, but his Vietnam issued USMC dog tags said Methodist and he would never deny that label. I spent very little time at NIU, but it opened me up to an amazing variety of viewpoints. Though I labeled myself agnostic, NIU exposed me to both religious folks and atheists. I argued both for and against 'Creationism' as a freshman and I met both opponents and apologists. My life shaped me, but college helped shaped my religious self. I consider myself an informed, rational skeptic that believes in the beauty and power of some sort of God, and my NIU experience played an invaluable role in developing that part of me.
Michael Carper, Wabash College
I began freshman year at a small, secular, liberal-arts college without expecting much spiritual change. A history of Christianity course changed that. As a cradle Catholic, I had never been exposed to the intellectual tradition of the Church, and was struggling with moral teachings that seemed old-fashioned in a college environment. However, this religious history course, expertly taught by a renowned church historian, showed me how much thought and effort had been put into 2,000 years of theology, and that every problem I was struggling with had come up before. For the first time, Christianity seemed to "make sense." Reading writers like Augustine and John Henry Newman, and discussion with fellow academically-inclined Catholics, has solidified my faith in ways I couldn't have imagined. I now lead the Catholic group on campus and will hopefully go to graduate school to continue studying church history.
Dur-e-Aden, University of British Columbia
My mother says that my first word was Allah. This is the kind of environment that I grew up in. There were numerous mosques close to our house which called to prayer five times a day and elders of my house were very strict in making sure that we all followed Islamic injunctions in the best way possible. However since I have started university, one of the most astonishing things which I discovered as I started learning Islam from a perspective of a scholar, is that there is nothing in religion that can be called an absolute truth. The religion has been interpreted and modified so many times by so many people living in so many different areas of the world that there is no one version that can be called true Islam. This realization has made me very comfortable in accepting various interpretations as I understand that all are humans who are trying to figure out what God wants from us. Therefore, now my religion is my faith (as opposed to an ideology) and I follow it the way it suits my situation, as opposed to a dogma that I am supposed to follow, no matter what. Moreover, if there can be different Islams that can lead to one God, similarly there can be different religions who can serve the same purpose
Allegra Wiprud, Princeton University
I arrived at Princeton a dedicated "seeker." Raised in a progressive Christian household in New York, in high school I decided religion was not for me and dove headfirst into yoga, meditation, and studying philosophy (Eastern and Western). Over the course of my freshman year, I began to go deeper into the teachings and practices of yoga, both on and off the mat, as it were, and also started spending more and more time with the small Hindu community on campus. At some point, something clicked. After much soul-searching, discussion with my mentors, and faith-building experiences, I shared with my parents and friends that I was converting to Hinduism. The last year and a half or so has been an interesting one, for sure, full of beautiful and nourishing experiences, thought-provoking and confusing experiences, and an awful lot of reading. Challenges include dealing with a strict vegetarian diet on a college campus, balancing my time and energy to maintain an active spiritual practice while taking five classes, and representing Hinduism while sitting largely outside Indian culture. But I've got a lot of help from friends and mentors. I've become deeply involved in faith-based organizing and interfaith work on and off campus, and am considering going for an M.Div along with a Masters in Public Policy. I think, had I not been at Princeton, I wouldn't have been in the circumstances to explore faith in this way. The supportive environment of our Office of Religious Life -- and the deep wisdom and great personalities of our 15 or so chaplains alongside our interfaith group and many religious student organizations -- makes it easy!
Geri Harding, Louisiana State University
My name is Geri Harding. I am a senior at LSU in Baton Rouge and I attend Healing Place Church. I have become more religious during my college years. I have attended church my entire life but I do not think I fully experienced God until recently. I did not attend church at all my freshman year although there were various churches and college ministries available. I realized my life had a major void during this time and I had not been living right. I began looking for a church in the Baton Rouge area and found one. I have been attending Healing Place Church for two years. I have become very involved at my church and encourage my peers to come weekly. I have brought at least 10 different friends to church with me this year. My faith is no longer my parents' faith, it is my own.
Samantha Ratley, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Did higher education change my faith? No! But it did solidify it. I have been a stout non-believer since I was 10 years old. Attending college as a biomedical engineer solidified my lack of faith. College provided me with tools to understand the world, a working knowledge of physics, biology, and mathematics. Being an engineer, I look for truth in numbers, and the numbers have shown me that my doubts have reason. Darwin's theory of evolution, Pascal's wager, Newton's Laws, Einstein's theories, all these things and more were taught to me during my undergraduate career, and all confirm my belief to not believe. If anyone can gain a "higher education" in the fields of math and science and come out with their faith still intact, then in my opinion, they have not learned anything.
Christopher Seigel, Rowan University
I am a senior in college, and believe that because college requires us students to make independent decisions, we can allow our faith to weaken and slip away, or we can use it as an anchor as we move forward into adulthood. Being Catholic at school can be difficult sometimes, but I try to use the challenges I encounter here to strengthen my faith, while simultaneously using it as a path to guide my actions. I was raised with a strong Catholic background, and my challenges at school have only increased my faith and my reliance upon it.
Brian Harris, Willamette University College of law.
When I started college, I was desperate for some direction. I tried everything. From becoming an avowed evangelist, to joining the LDS church, I tried to find my answer. Yet the answer remained elusive. I eventually gave up and embraced that life is nothing but pointless randomness destined for peaceful oblivion. Or perhaps not? Despite my darkest hours, an avenue of escape always mysteriously materialized. Even when everything seemed lost, and the challenges insurmountable, a path would suddenly emerge to guide my broken spirit away from the miry clay. Maybe there is a light in the all-encompassing darkness.
Camilla Karvonen, Kentucky Wesleyan College
While in college most people learn to question traditions, beliefs and society and examine what we "thought we knew" from different perspectives. I went to a church-affiliated liberal arts college where the religion professor challenged our views. Most of us came from the "bible belt region" and were not used to examining faith from a logical perspective. My faith is strong because of the foundation that my upbringing brought but I also recognized the imperfections and flaws in my beliefs thanks to my college religion 101 class. Being faithful is like a marriage: loving someone thoroughly but realizing that they are full of imperfections.
Aila Johanna, University of Indonesia
Growing up in Indonesia, I had to take formal religious classes for 12 years and always had a teacher to answer any questions regarding my own faith. When I attended med school, which has no obligations to provide such classes, it became clear that it is up to me to learn more about my religion. Granted, there had been times when I simply stopped learning. But practicing my religion got trickier as more assignments and heavier study schedules came along. During my clinical rotation, for instance, I ended up having to hasten my daily prayers every now and then. Being a Muslim, I have to pray five times a day, so these repetitions of quicker prayer even got me thinking that I became less spiritual. Aside from a busy schedule, university is the first place which put me in such high cultural diversity. Being the place to constantly discuss various matters, it isn’t rare that people from different religions ended up sharing their religious point of view. Despite all these, I actually do feel like I’m walking out of university being closer to my faith. Faith is not just about praying. It is nice to be doing that, but there are other ways to practice my faith. Corresponding to my belief, it’s also about the willingness to share joy with everyone else. And I’m in the perfect field for that – I got to give a little something each time I face a patient. Perhaps it is also the lives I’ve seen in fragile states, which subconsciously make me think of a Higher Being. Faith, I suppose, can ultimately only be measured in quality. As a bonus, now I have best friends from other religions who actually remind me to perform my prayers.
Nathan Garza, University of Texas at Austin.
I have been an agnostic and then outed atheist since around 8th or 9th grade and college has only solidified that fact. Being around like-minded people has helped me come to terms with my lack of religious faith but empowered my love for science and the universe! The quest for the unknown has always been more interesting than receiving the "facts" from a 2000-year-old work of literature.
Rochelle Thewet, CUNY: Hunter College
I'm currently a double major in Religion and Philosophy, and I'd say that college helped me develop a healthy spirituality. Being in college stimulated my curiosity in my environment, the world, and the workings of the universe; and it taught me how to think critically about the workings of the world. I am not led by blind faith as many followers of organized religion do, and I don’t regard phenomena as meaningless or valueless, as do many scientific thinkers. Religion and science are both modes of knowledge and I don't have to choose one over the other. What science can't answer, religion does; and what religion doesn't answer, science does.
Anna Cole, Bryn Athyn College
My religious understanding increased greatly when I attended the small private religious institution of Bryn Athyn College. It had weekly mandatory worship services and required students take eight religion classes to graduate. They had excellent theologian scholars who made for effective learning of the New Church. I am grateful for the God centered focus of from my college career. It has helped shape my life to be humble, positive and look to the greater good.
Katie Wilson, Capital University
Becoming a religion major at Capital was never my intention. Upon entering college, I was done with institutional religion. However, as I am now at seminary, I can say that college changed everything about religion for me. Two things had the biggest impact: interfaith dialogue/service, and discovering the requirement of my faith to care for the poor. Within other faiths’ texts and practices, a beauty and love for religion was revived within me and in caring for the poor I found a purpose for my life. My experiences at Capital were essential to this 180 transformation in my life.
Aubrey Lee, University of Michigan
I was born to a religious family. I grew up in a Lutheran church, went to an Assemblies of God school and later ended up at a non-denominational church. I chose the Assemblies of God denomination and, yes, they're very charismatic. We spoke in tongues, practiced faith healing, and evangelized. I never really spent much time outside the church. When I got to college I was exposed to the real world and experienced life outside Christianity. My best friend was an atheist, and we would always have debates about the existence of god. As I listened to his side, and got more educated in school, I started questioning my own faith. I never thought it would have happened, but I was becoming more and more skeptical. I allowed myself to read books like, "The God Delusion" and "God Is Not Great" and became an atheist after that. Who would have thought that college and a friend could change my life in two years? What a change college has been, and for me it has been for the better. (Photo: I'm the one on the left)
Siti Sarah Shamsul, Mara College, Malaysia
I was born and raised in a Muslim family. There’s no doubt that I was given ample exposure and knowledge regarding my religion. Entering college and staying away from home exposed me to a completely different lifestyle. It was as if I lacked fuel that keeps me close to my God. But the good thing was that I knew a lot about my faith and was longed to find and know God. College taught me to become an initiator in order to build my own spiritual connection with God.
Tracy Brätt, Vassar College
I came to Vassar College in 2009 after having attended Catholic schools my entire life. Suddenly, it was now my decision to attend Mass every Sunday; no one was going to encourage (or occasionally force) me to go. That is precisely why I became involved not only with the Vassar Catholic Community, but also with interreligious dialogue on campus. I best connect with God through music, so thankfully I have been able to sing with my fellow students every Sunday afternoon. These experiences have allowed me to strengthen my own faith while also learning about other religious practices. I doubt I would have grown in my faith had I attended a Catholic college – it would have been too familiar, and I needed the spiritual challenge in developing my own faith.
Natalia Guerrero, MIT
In college, I was introduced to an amazing Catholic community on campus that I became actively involved in, a family of friends while I was away from home. My relationships with many of my friends in the group helped me through my most stressful times and inspired me to seek growth in my relationship with Christ. I started to pray more often and more openly and my prayers slowly changed from a list of intentions to something more like a conversation. I definitely think college is an great time to grow in faith because of the community often found there.
Blake MacKenzie, Concordia College
I came into college with a fundamentalist Christian faith that offered little wriggle room. During my first year I came out of the closet, and this questioned and challenged my faith for the first time in my life. Fortunately, Concordia was a safe space for curious conversations and interfaith dialogue, and for most of college I was comfortable having many unknowns in my faith. I became co-president of our college’s Better Together organization through the Interfaith Youth Core, and was inspired by people, motivated by their differing faith traditions,accomplishing amazing things for the common good. And, I was able to identify what I love and value within Christianity, and reconcile my faith and my sexual orientation. Now I identify as a proud, gay Lutheran who has a faith I can excitedly share and a church I can call home—with plenty of wriggle room.
Conrad Marshall, Colorado State University
I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic tradition. I believed the theology growing up as a child, and I didn't doubt much of what I was taught. In high school I started to see some of the stuff that never went answered as faith-based and very vague. I found little to no solace in the "Word of God." Death scared me. I was afraid of the unknown. Religion was inefficient. Now I can look back at the way my world views have changed throughout my childhood. I went from irreligious to deist to agnostic, and inevitably, atheist. It took me a long time to come to grips with my disbelief. With people I know I am quite vocal about my atheism, but I still hide the fact in public. Atheists are considered by many as untrustworthy, angry, immoral people. I find that quite close-minded of them. When I read about people's faith becoming stronger after they go to college I find myself quite baffled. I recognize that people want comfort and meaning in their lives, and that there is somehow an omnipotent being following their lives; to me it is all a pipe dream. Nothing more. Life is beautiful without that, and even more free once that idea is vanquished from ones mind.
Aamir Ahmed Khan, University of Notre Dame
I was born and raised in Pakistan as a Muslim with good morals and religious upbringing. Before going to college, I never got the exposure to question and ponder upon my faith. Going to one of the elitist colleges of the nation for my engineering degree and studying with people from diverse family backgrounds enlightened me a lot. I got exposed to different interpretations of Islam and started questioning that my version might not absolutely be correct. Living in Europe and US for my graduate studies further enlightened my world outlook. For the first time in life, I got exposed to other religions and cultures and experienced the western values of human rights and liberty. But the heinous side of the same society, the ever increasing lewdness and hedonism which cannot help the high levels of personal discontent among masses, made me think that something must be wrong with this lifestyle. Also witnessing more and more people converting to Islam from other religions and from their hedonistic pasts drew me closer to my faith. Armed with the exposure and intellect owing to my college and graduate education, I took a step back and pondered upon Islam and its fundamental principles. Being a student of science and a researcher myself, I couldn't help but wonder about the scale of universe and the creations of God. The more I pondered, the closer I found myself to God and the more I found solace in practicing my religion. I can certainly say that now I practice my religion with a purpose and with a greater zeal than I ever did before going to college.
Sarah McIlvried, Capital University
When I first entered college I was afraid to question anything about my religion. Becoming a religion major not only forced me to ask the difficult questions but helped me to become comfortable and even at peace with the not-knowing and uncertainty of the mystery that is God. When I finally let go of the certainty of answers I realized that faith is not something you think, it is something you do. College helped me to realize that my Christian faith isn’t about thinking the “right” things. It’s about seeing the face of Jesus in the poor, the suffering, and the marginalized, realizing the brotherhood and sisterhood that exists between all people, and actively working to create a more just, loving world.
Sierra McConnell, Emmanuel College
I went to "Jesus Camp"-esque church and the same denomination's college. I thought I would be praying and worshiping more than learning. I started slowly falling away for no reason that I can pinpoint. Just growing, I suppose. Then my best friend died in an accident during my junior year. A few months later, my pastor told me God was unhappy with me since I was too grieved to participate in church. I officially quit then. Three years later and I'm still trying to figure out if I believe in God, but I did start attending a not-Jesus-Camp church. I'm still questioning, but I'm happy.
Robert Nielson, UCD
My name is Robert Nielsen. I am currently in my third and final year of college studying Economics and Politics in UCD. I was born and raised a Catholic. As a child I was more religious than most. When I entered college I believed in God. College has greatly changed the way I think about religion. It encourages you to think about new things in new ways. It encourages you to challenge establishment thinking. Most importantly it teaches you to support your claims with evidence. It played a part in the ending of my belief in God and I now consider myself an atheist.
Mary Beenken, Concordia College
I grew up in a Lutheran family with strong ties to Midwestern Lutheran ELCA institutions. But in Northern Colorado, where I was raised, my family struggled to find an ELCA faith community in which they truly felt comfortable. While they searched, I became rather disenchanted with the church of my upbringing. I saw how some people—even “good old Lutherans”—found ways to ostracize others despite the teachings of Jesus. But my time at Concordia changed all that. I became deeply involved in the emerging interfaith movement on campus and co-founded an organization called Better Together. As I learned more about different faith traditions, I started to realize that we’re not all the same, and we shouldn’t have to be. But we’re all human—and there is tremendous power in that truth. For me, college was a journey of learning again what the Lutheran tradition—my tradition—truly is. And oddly, I do not believe that I could have arrived back at my roots without the journey of interfaith dialogue. Learning about the beliefs of others allowed me to closely examine my own, and helped me rediscover how dear I hold the very tradition in which I was raised.
Christine Fifield, Concordia College
During my first year at college, my religious foundation tremendously shaken by Christians telling me that unless I accepted Jesus as my savior then I would not be saved. I grew up devoutly Lutheran in a Minnesota suburb but my best friends from high school were Hindu, Buddhist, and agnostic. I felt betrayed that the religion I identified with apparently rejected these people I grew up with and loved. However, an interfaith miracle occurred when my close friend (a Buddhist) asked me about God and Jesus. Through conversations with her, I was able to reconcile my spirituality with Christianity with a healthy appreciation of the complexity and variety of religious ideology.
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