Spiritual Interest High Among College Students

A 2004 national survey of more than 112,000 college freshman, released April 13 by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, found high levels of spiritual interest and involvement. During focus group interviews, students often expressed their spiritual concerns with questions like, “What kind of person do I want to be?” or “How is everything I’ve worked for up to this point going to contribute back to society?”

Some of the findings about students from the study include: – 80% have an interest in spirituality – 79% say they believe in God – 74% have discussions about the meaning of life with friends – 69% pray – 48% say it’s important that colleges encourage their personal expression of spirituality – 47% consider it important to seek out opportunities to help them grow spiritually – 26% say they are born-again Christians

“College students appear to put a premium on their spiritual development,” says Alexander Astin, one of the principal investigators for the project.

Just two days previous, another study was released called “OMG! How Generation Y is Redefining Faith in The iPod Era.” A survey of 1,385 18-to-25 year old Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, found 27% were highly religious and 27% were avowedly secular. Almost half of the Generation Y respondents (46%) identified themselves as “Undecided,” young people who value faith, but prefer to express it informally.

“The religious establishment is failing to connect with Generation Y, the most diverse and individualist group in American history,” says Roger Bennett in a news release on the study. “iTunes, Tivo, and MoveOn have shown this generation that it is possible to bypass the ‘middleman’ and take control of their own experiences, whether it’s a song list or politics. Religious institutions have to recognize this reality if they want to be more meaningful to them,” he said. Bennett is a co-founder of Reboot, a Jewish renewal organization which commissioned Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research to do the study.

The introduction to this survey says that it “paints a composite picture of a generation who are seekers far more than they are drifters…actively considering questions of identity, community, and meaning – negotiating how important their religious identities will ultimately be – but doing so with their own friends, in their own homes, and in their own ways. Because of this, the generation presents a remarkable opportunity for religious denominations and organizations to contemplate. The demand for ritual, learning, value, and spirituality is there.”

InterVarsity president Alec Hill says this is why InterVarsity is working on 564 U.S. campuses and seeking to expand to more. “Students are looking for answers that define themselves spiritually as well as shape their careers,” he said. “The campus is the strategic point where you can impact the world because of who these students will become. We want to develop students and faculty to change the world.”

Mission Network News interviews Alec Hill about this story.
For more on the HERI study, go here
The Reboot study is here
A USA Today story about the two studies is here
A related USA Today story from Christian Science Monitor is here
Another story in the Los Angeles Times quoting an InterVarsity student.