Christ / College / Culture / May 2, 2007

New York Times on the Rise of College Spirituality

The New York Times reports:

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.

The article cites a number of possible reasons for the increase in spirituality on college campuses:

  1. The rise of the religious right in politics.
  2. September 11th
  3. An influx of evangelical and international students
  4. The war in Iraq
  5. The search for answers in crisis
While these may be factors in the increase in spirituality on campus, they are more likely derivative issues coming from a deeper reality: this generation is beginning to echo the words of Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes–‘vanity of vanities, all is vanities’ and ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’
In other words, they have seen the best technology, they have experienced the latest instant gratification, they have ascended to the heights of social network prominence; and in the end, they are beginning to realize that there has got to be something more than this. Each of the above reasons cited by the ‘experts’ points to a deeper issue:
  1. The rise of the religious right in politics–Students realize that politics and faith are inseparably linked. Experiments with secularization have been found wanting. Since they recognize the connection, they are seeking to understand how to integrate the two.
  2. September 11th–Students realize that we live in a broken world. Evil is a constant echo in life. So, students are turning to Spirituality in an effort to make sense of this.
  3. An influx of evangelical and international students–Students realize that we live in a world guided by various faith. Because the global community has not been as thoroughly corrupted by the secularist influence from the west, international students bring an increased spiritual component to college campuses. Furthermore, as evangelicalism has continued to lose its cultural significance, nominal Christianity has shrunk to a degree. Those students who are genuinely engaged in Christianity are actively expressing their faith in college.
  4. The war in Iraq–Students realize that conflict abounds. They are looking for hope and a source of peace in the midst of uncertainty and trials.
  5. The search for answers in crisis–Students realize they don’t have life figured out. There are daily challenges that are forcing them to seek for answers that the culture can’t deliver.

Before we develop too much excitement about these reports, we must remember that a growth in Spirituality does not mean a growth in Christian spirituality. What comes of this generation’s spiritual quest remains to be seen.

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