College students report a high interest in spirituality and religion, but many are unsure of their beliefs, according to new polling data from post-secondary education institutes.
The University of California at Los Angeles’s Higher Education Research Institute reported that 80 percent of students show high degrees of religious commitment and spirituality. The new data comes from a survey conducted this past year involving 112,232 first year students attending 236 various colleges and universities.
According to the survey, most college freshmen believe in God, but fewer than half follow religious teachings in their daily lives. The survey also said that one-in-four students reported being either “conflicted” or “doubting” their faith.
The survey also found that many students place a large weight on spiritual and religious attitudes when forming political and social beliefs.
Ta`leah Zahier, a senior in the Summer Research Opportunity Program who described herself as a liberal, agreed with the survey’s results.
“Many of my spiritual views relate to being liberal and do not relate to those of the conservative party,” said Zahier.
The report also found that students with high spiritual and religious beliefs were likely to disagree with same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.
Some religious attitudes among students do not match general population trends. The report established that people with strong spiritual and religious beliefs were presumed to disagree with the death penalty, but the survey found that only 42 percent of religious or spiritual students did.
Business School junior Andrew Wong said his spiritual beliefs and political views are independent from one another.
“I don’t like the idea of an organization, like a church, (dictating) how I vote,” he said.
In some cases, religious attitudes do not even unite political beliefs within families. The survey found that 52 percent of students have disagreed with family members about religious issues.Wong said that, even though his family may not share his beliefs, arguing his position makes his faith stronger.
The report also said 83 percent of students believe those who are non-religious can be just as moral as those who are.
Today’s religious students were found to be extremely tolerant of those who are non-religious, despite their personal commitment.
“I have tolerance because I myself was not too religious until six or seven years ago,” Wong said.
Still, some students said they believed that religion can provide structure for morality.
Zahier said that having a spiritual base helps keep her centered while coping with the hectic college environment.
“The college experience strengthens my spirituality,” she said.
According to the study, many students expected religious or spiritual structure to be emphasized by their schools.
Father Tom McClain, pastor at St. Mary’s Student Parish, said that numerous opportunities and resources are available for students, such as “weekly worship, availability of literature and staff members for spiritual direction.”
Miller said he does not believe it is the public university’s role to assist in the spiritual and religious development.
“There are groups on campus that are the service providers for students,” Miller said.
An additional survey will be distributed in 2007 to the first-year students who participated in the research project this past year. The findings will allow the institute to analyze the spiritual and religious progression of the students throughout their undergraduate years.