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May 2, 2007

Imaginary friends

Not just for younger kids, apparently:

Peter J. Gomes has been at Harvard University for 37 years, and says he remembers when religious people on campus felt under siege. To be seen as religious often meant being dismissed as not very bright, he said.

No longer. At Harvard these days, said Professor Gomes, the university preacher, “There is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years.”
Across the country, on secular campuses as varied as Colgate University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, chaplains, professors and administrators say students are drawn to religion and spirituality with more fervor than at any time they can remember.
More students are enrolling in religion courses, even majoring in religion; more are living in dormitories or houses where matters of faith and spirituality are a part of daily conversation; and discussion groups are being created for students to grapple with questions like what happens after death, dozens of university officials said in interviews.
… Compared with 10 or 15 years ago, “there is a greater interest in religion on campus, both intellectually and spiritually,” said Charles L. Cohen, a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who for a number of years ran an interdisciplinary major in religious studies. The program was created seven years ago and has 70 to 75 majors each year.
… Some sociologists who study religion are skeptical that students’ attitudes have changed significantly, citing a lack of data to compare current students with those of previous generations. But even some of those concerned about the data say something has shifted.
“All I hear from everybody is yes, there is growing interest in religion and spirituality and an openness on college campuses,” said Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame. “Everybody who is talking about it says something seems to be going on.”
… Lesleigh Cushing, an assistant professor of religion and Jewish studies at Colgate, said: “I can fill basically any class on the Bible. I wasn’t expecting that.”
When Benjamin Wright, chairman of the department of religion studies at Lehigh, arrived 17 years ago, two students chose to major in religion. This year there are 18 religion majors, and there were 30 two and three years ago.
At Harvard, more students are enrolling in religion courses and regularly attending religious services, Professor Gomes said. Presbyterian ministries at Berkeley and Wisconsin have built dormitories to offer spiritual services to students and encourage discussion among different faiths. The seven-story building on the Wisconsin campus, which will house 280 students, is to open in August.
… The number of student religious organizations at Colgate has grown to 11 from 5 in recent years. […] Among the new clubs is one created last year to encourage students to hold wide-ranging dialogues about spirituality and faith. Meeting over lunch on Thursdays in the chapel’s basement, the students talk about what happens when you die or the nature of Catholic spirituality.
Called the Heretics Club (the chaplains were looking to grab students’ attention), the group listened to John Gattuso talk about his book, “Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer” (Stone Creek Publications, 2006), a collection of essays and photos about prayer in world religions.
“Do you need to believe in God in order to pray?” Mr. Gattuso asked.
The discussion was off and running, with one student saying one needed only to believe in “something outside yourself” and another saying that “sometimes ‘Thank you’ can be a prayer.”

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Posted by Stephen at 2:01 PM in Education | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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