Since the dawn of time, mankind has searched for purpose in religion. For many it is the core of their worldview, where truth claims are considered real and binding. For others, religion is a social construct that fits the relative needs of each person. For others, and a growing number in the last few years, they are not affiliated with any religion but prefer the term “spiritual.” For many of the “nones,” (those who answer “none” to the question, “what religion are you?”) religion is a negative word – even blamed for many of the misfortunes that checker human history. Whatever the case may be, and whatever category one fits in, young men and women who attend college will find their worldview challenged. Also worth noting is that regardless of religious affiliation, the role of religion in education is significant. The Puritans of New England created arguably the most literate society in history. From this pedigree, our university system was born. It is a matter of historical fact that many of our most famous colleges started with a religious motivation: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Notre Dame and more. That being said, the role of religion and view of religion has drastically changed. For the religious in particular, especially those who take truth and moral claims seriously, college can be discombobulating and even lead to a loss of identity. Here at Best College Reviews we’ve compiled a tool-kit for the religious (and not). Our desire is that the tool-kit can help all believers and non-believers navigate through the college years in a way consistent with their faith while being respectful of others.
Before we break open the tool kit, let’s get a gauge of religion around the world, United States, and on our campuses.
In the World
The College Religious Landscape
We know that 250 of 325 million souls in the United States are religious, and most of those identify as Christian, but what about college students? There are approximately 4200 public and private universities in the U.S., most of them private. Of those, many are Christian, at least were founded as such. To understand the religious break down, we turned to the most comprehensive survey of religion to date: “Americas Changing Religious Landscape,” published by the Pew Research Center in 2014. Though the report is not specifically about college student’s religious affiliation, it is the most accurate place to start. Here are some highlights:
- The biggest change from 2007-2014 were the growing “nones,” that is those who do not affiliate with any religion. Also significant is the shrinking Christian group.
- Demographics show that 36 percent of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) and 34 percent of older Millennials (ages 25-33) are religiously unaffiliated.
- Less than 40 percent of Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with 70 percent or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers.
- Just 16 percent of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11 percent identify with Mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.
The Religious Landscape Study of College Graduates highlights include:
- Sixty-six percent of college graduates identify as Christian: Twenty-one percent Evangelical, 20 percent Catholic, 17 percent Mainline Protestant, eight percent other Christian groups.
- Nine percent identify as non-Christian: Three percent Jewish, one percent Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, three percent other religions.
- Twenty-five percent identify as “nones:” Fourteen percent as no affiliation, five percent atheist, and six percent agnostic.
- Seventy-six percent believe in God absolutely or fairly certain, and 14 percent don’t believe in God.
Here’s another study that categorizes religion and college students according to three groups. “The American Religious Identification Study” through Trinity College studied 1800 students across 38 campuses and showed:
- Thirty-two percent of undergraduates identify as religious, 32 percent as spiritual, and 28 percent as secular.
These three worldviews (religious, spiritual, and secular) are one way to see the landscape differently. The religious are those who are part of organized religion as we typically think about it. The spiritual are those who tend to reject dogma and but believe in non-material realities. The secular are non-religious and almost all reject any religious or spiritual truth or reality.
What is clear is that many young people are moving away from traditional religion. How young people identify is very important and can shape the rest of life. The college years leads young men and women to question their faith while some retain and strengthen their conviction. Others change or adapt, while others abandon religion and spirituality all together. For those who are religious, how does one navigate through the secular storm that can be the college experience? Believe it or not, a young person can keep their faith and even strengthen it at college. After a brief glance at the basic beliefs of the major world religions, we’ll check out the challenges and tool-kit for the religious (and not):
World Religions at a Glance
For helpful quick facts on dozens of religions, go to this Patheos page for comparing religions.
- Founded by Jesus Christ about AD 30.
- About 2.2 billion followers worldwide (1 billion Catholics, 1 billion other Christians).
- About 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian.
- A total of 66 percent of college graduates are Christian: 21 percent Evangelicals, 20 percent Catholic, 17 percent Mainline Protestant.
- Believe in one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
- There is heaven and hell, angels and demons, right and wrong, and miracles.
- The Bible is the Sacred Text.
- Practices include worship in Church, receive the Body and Blood of Christ (Eucharist), listen to sermons, Bible studies, rosaries, baptism, confirmation, prayer groups, and more.
- There are a lot of varieties, the main ones are: Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Protestant Evangelicals, Orthodox. There are also secularized Christians that are less traditional in dress, habit, and theology.
- Founded by Abraham about 2500 BC.
- There are 15 million (six million in Israel, about six million in United States).
- There are six million people, or two percent, in the United States.
- Jews make up three percent of college graduates.
- Believe in one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph.
- The Torah is the Sacred Text.
- Practices include worship in a synagogue, reading the Torah, prayer, bar-mitzvah, and eating Kosher food.
- There is variety in Judaism, but the main divisions are: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist.
- Founded by Mohammed in 622.
- There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.
- There are three million or one percent in the United States.
- About one percent of college graduates.
- Believe in one God, Allah and His true prophet Mohammed.
- Believe in heaven and hell, angels and demons, right and wrong, and miracles.
- The Koran is the Sacred Text.
- Practices include prayer five times a day facing Mecca, the Shahadda, or declaration there’s one God, Allah, fasting during Ramadan, a pilgrimage, and almsgiving. Muslims worship in a mosque.
- There is variety in Islam: Shiite, Sunni, and Sufi are the major divisions. There are also secularized Muslims that are less traditional in dress, habit, and theology. For more information, click here.
- Unknown Founder.
- There are one billion Hindus, with 97 percent living in the world’s three Hindu-majority countries (India, Mauritius and Nepal).
- There are 1.5 million Hindus in the U.S.
- About one percent of college graduates.
- Hinduism is very diverse, but all believe in one Reality or Truth, it is Brahman.
- There are millions of gods, the soul is immortal and is reincarnated after death based on karma.
- Hindus believe in the caste system
- The goal of life is moksha, or liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth, achieved by dharma, or right conduct.
- The Vedas are the Sacred Text, among many others.
- Practices include Puja, a ritual cleansing before breakfast, prayer, meditation, rituals associated with home shrines, festivals, Namaste greetings, pilgrimages, and more.
- There is variety among Hindus who emphasize different gods or goddesses and ways of holy living. For more, click here .
- Founded by Guatama Buddha (who was a Hindu) in the 520 BC.
- There are 500 million Buddhists, or seven percent of the world’s population.
- There are about four million in the U.S.
- One percent of college graduates.
- The Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path were taught by Buddha to overcome suffering, attain enlightenment and achieve Nirvana. The concepts of karma, dharma, and nirvana are similar to Hinduism.
- Practices include meditation, mantras, devotion to deities (in some sects), mandalas (Tibetan), and more.
- Buddhism is also very diverse: Theravada is more atheistic; Mahayana more polytheistic. Buddha taught that nothing is permanent.
- No Founder
- Globally 1.1 billion people identify as “unaffiliated” with any religion. Many of these are spiritual or believe in a higher power, though many are agnostic and atheist. The trend shows this group is growing and getting younger.
- “Nones” now make up roughly 23 percent of the U.S. adult population – of all “nones,” 36 and 34 percent are younger and older Millennials respectively.
- About 25 percent of college graduates are unaffiliated.
- As the “none” category is made up of agnostics, atheists, and others, beliefs vary. About 30 percent of “nones” are atheist or agnostic which leaves 70 percent as “nothing in particular.”
- The most unifying factor is not being part of organized religion, and many “nones” cite being so due to “science” or “rational thought” or “lack of evidence for God” or the hypocrisy of religious people. This doesn’t mean spirituality and religion is unimportant, as many actually pray or meditate and care about spiritual things.
- No sacred text
Top 10 Challenges for the Religious (or Not)
1. Leaving home
The fact remains that most of those who are religious are so because they were raised that way. This doesn’t mean it’s the only reason, however, when a religious believer leaves the home environment that nurtures faith and arrives on a secular campus with a ‘none’ for a roommate in a pluralistic dorm, the result can be challenging.
2. The social environment
In addition to leaving the home structure, college social life can be a huge obstacle. Many religious parents see this as the greatest challenge. When seemingly everyone is drinking and partying, but religion teaches that is dangerous to the soul, what is the religious to do? Often the desire to be accepted as “cool” or “normal” can undermine and erode faith severely.
3. Finding a place to worship
Organized religions have places of worship. If one is raised going to the synagogue, or church, or a mosque down the street, it can be quite disconcerting to find a similar place on campus or nearby.
A huge part of the change from home to a college social environment is the many opportunities for dating and relationships. This can be difficult for the religious. First, is there anyone of like mind around? Second, where does one meet people? Thirdly, the party scene is usually not the best place for this, but many end up there resulting in the same challenge as #2.
5. Physical differences and stereotypes
Crucifixes, head coverings, and religious clothing can make one stand out. This can be uncomfortable for the religious person. Sometimes these differences of dress and appearance can make the person of faith the target of judgement, ridicule, or stereotypes. This challenges the faithful to consider giving up some of their traditions in order to fit in.
6. Finding community
Though many schools have clubs, organizations, and support groups set up along religious lines, finding community is not as easy as it sounds. Leaving home, meeting new and different people, and making deep connections takes time and patience, not to mention, pain.
7. Having beliefs questioned and challenged
Secular universities can feel hostile to the religious. Professors are less religious than the general population and more agnostic and atheistic as well. (Source can be found here .) This can lead to a situation that makes it difficult to express religious belief in class or in small academic groups. In addition to experiencing views in the classroom that challenge faith-claims, the social environment is secular and pluralistic in beliefs.
8. Finding a calling
For people of faith, there often involves discerning a divine calling or purpose for life. When beset by the many other challenges, focusing on God’s will, or emptying oneself of desire in meditation can be very hard.
9. Committing time to religion
This is not only a challenge for college students, but for all religious people. In college, though, with demanding academics, papers, study groups, social outings, games, and activities, finding time is extremely difficult. Many souls find themselves simply too tired to get up and go to a religious service.
Since the dawn of time, mankind has attempted to invent and develop tools and techniques to improve life. Every one of these has led to blessings and curses as the late cultural critic, Neil Postman once said. Smart technology, video games, and instant streaming of everything can consume the consumer. How the faithful use technology can either undermine belief or strengthen conviction. If it is the latter one seeks, a total committed intention and strategy is required.
The All-Purpose General and Specific Tool-Kit for the Religious (or Not)
With only 10 challenges listed, and knowing there are many more, what is the religious person to do? A construction worker with no tools is a worthless construction worker. Henry the Navigator would not have his name without his maps, and Columbus wouldn’t have sailed the ocean blue and come back. So then, if the ultimate destination sought is heaven or nirvana or something else, a map, guide, and tools are essential. Frodo without Sam wouldn’t have made it half as far. Harry Potter without a wand, invisibility cloak and his friends would have died at Voldemort’s hand. Luke Skywalker without a lightsaber is a contradiction in terms. So then, consider us your dear Sam, your wand, or your lightsaber.
The Ten Tip Tool-Kit
Pray before, during, and after college.
Every religious believer finds this activity at the center of their life. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and more have a practice of connecting with God, the Divine, or even meditating to gain spiritual focus. Prayer and meditation is the most important activity you can engage in to keep your faith in college. Start by praying about the college that’s right for you.
Visit the school in person.
Learn first-hand if it’s the place for you. Go to the places you’d go to if you attended – dorms, library, cafeteria, student union, classrooms, etc. Explore and take the time to do it right. This is vitally wise for the believer. How will the college campus and facilities help in keeping your religious obligations and supporting your faith?
Find a peer group right away.
This cannot be underestimated as the social pressures of campus life are most often the key ingredient in losing faith. Finding a faith-based fraternity, fellowship, association, or small group is of utmost importance in the tool-kit.
Consider your roommate carefully.
Most schools match roommates based on preferences filled out regarding smoking, sleeping, and life choices. Being aware of how colleges do this is important for getting a roommate of the same faith. Then again, perhaps you feel prepared to live with someone of a different faith, and perhaps that would strengthen your faith the most.
Commit to OWNING your faith.
Seriously, if you’re not living your faith, why say you have one? Learn why you believe what you believe. Be ready to share with others in a civil and respectful manner. This is what will help university life be, well, university life.
Check the cafeteria.
Be sure it has dietary considerations that are part of your religious obligations. It may be wise to talk to the food service manager about the options available at each meal, and ask them to ensure that there is acceptable food available.
Be positive there is a place of worship that fits.
It would be a shame to get to college and find that there aren’t any options for worship nearby.
Be open about your beliefs.
Remember it goes both ways. Most people will respect your faith if you respect theirs. Remember there are intolerant people in every group too, and don’t judge the religion by the people in it. More importantly don’t be one of those people!
Get involved in weekend fun that helps grow your faith.
Fun doesn’t have to be hedonistic. There are many parties that avoid alcohol and other activities forbidden in many religions. Many campuses offer various religious groups where you can socialize with other like-minded students.
Maintain a connection with your parents.
This is counter-intuitive in a campus setting, but vital for success. Honoring them and their wisdom is an important part of many religions, and should you want to keep your faith, you’ll need their wisdom and guidance.
What non-Christians need to know about Christians:
- Traditional Christians view marriage as between one man and one woman because God revealed it to be so. Due to the current political environment it makes it difficult for both the Christian who holds this position and someone who sees marriage as more fluid.
- Sexual purity before marriage. Again, being as Christians believe in a revealed religion (where God reveals truth and morals) this is a matter of obedience to God for traditional Christians.
- Moderation or abstaining from alcohol, cursing, and other partying activities is part of pleasing God, who is the final judge of each individual.
Specific Tips and Resources for Christians
- Don’t forget the Ten Tip Tool-Kit!
- Here’s some ideas for getting plugged in:
- a. Christian fraternity or sorority
- b. Newman Center for Catholics
- c. Fellowship of Christian Athletes
- d. Campus Crusade for Christ
- e. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
- f. Bible Studies/Groups/Fellowships specific to the college or denomination
- Learn apologetics so that you can “Be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15).”
- A daily prayer routine and habit is a non-negotiable. Get up and pray for 5 minutes a day, it can be simple and quick.
- Don’t make sleep a priority over worship. Go to church on Sunday.
- Use technology for God! Download some Christian apologetic podcasts or books such as Ravi Zacharias , How to Stay Christian in College , Catholic Answers Live , or other great resources out there.
What non-Jews need to know about Jews:
- Kosher laws – Especially eating pork. Many Jews have a prohibition regarding eating pork. Instead of assuming someone’s beliefs, asking politely and directly is better. Don’t offer up bacon to a believer, and don’t assume they’re vegetarian – you’re probably wrong on both counts.
- Hanukkah and Christmas are not the same things for different religions. Hanukkah is something stretching back centuries. It is a celebration of the rededication of the Temple in the 2nd century BC.
- Jewish is not a language, that’s Hebrew.
- Passover is the most important celebration of the year – it trumps everything else because it’s commemorating God’s rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt.
Specific Tips and Resources for Jews
- Don’t forget the Ten Tip Tool-Kit above!
- Check to make sure the cafeteria has good kosher options.
- Be positive there is a synagogue that will work for you.
- Get involved on and off campus: Hillel and Chabad are wonderfully supportive of Jewish students, and find some off-campus groups as well.
- Make visiting home, celebrating with family, and other Jews a non-compromiser.
What non-Muslims need to know about Muslims:
- “Muslims are violent extremists and terrorists.” This is obviously a stereotype and misleading. There are some extreme Muslim groups who promote violence and terrorism, but there are also millions of Muslims who don’t. A case can be made that the Koran, like the Bible, promotes peace and only allows violence for self-defense. Like Christianity, there are pacifist sects within Islam as well.
- “All Muslims are Arabs.” This is not accurate, an Arab is a person who speaks Arabic as his or her native language, which is the majority language of twenty-three nations. About 15 to 20 percent of Muslims are Arab, which means there are many Arabs who claim other religions.
- “Muslims oppress women.” Again, a stereotype and misleading. In Islam, there is a strong male and female distinction and traditional roles within the family. Sometimes this can lead non-religious people to assume they “oppress” women when really it’s just traditional gender roles in the family, something common to the vast majority of the world. There are also many Muslim women who are scientists, inventors, and politicians.
- More on misconceptions? Click here .
Specific Tips and Resources for Muslims
- Don’t forget the Ten Tip Tool-Kit!
- Find a Muslim peer group right away. Consider the Muslim Student Association and school Student Affairs Offices.
- Check on halal food options and Ramadan considerations
- Prayer times and class times – is the school aware and flexible? Will the campus provide the necessary locations for you to fulfill your prayer?
What non-Hindus need to know about Hindus:
- “The caste system is discrimination.” There is some debate here, but most modern Hindus see the caste system as a cultural, not religious problem.
- “All Hindus are vegetarians.” About 30 percent are, but the majority aren’t. The idea comes from the belief that all living things are manifestations of God. Violence against them is considered contrary to the natural balance of the universe.
- “Hindus worship cows.” Hindus believe every living thing has a soul, so all life is sacred. Cows hold a special place because of the value and symbolism. They are gentle and maternal and literally life-giving, thus they represent the feminine of the Divine.
*( click here for source)
Specific Tips and Resources for Hindus
- Don’t forget the Ten Tip Tool-Kit!
- Make the time and priority to meditate and pray.
- Find a location or student Yoga group that works for your schedule and specific practices.
- Hinduism American Foundation is an excellent resource.
- The Hindu Student Council can be a great place to get support.
- The Hindu Student Association provides support for Hindu’s in college. Check out their network for good advice and tips.
What non-Buddhists need to know about Buddhists:
*The following was taken from an excellent article by two professors from UCLA. Click here to see the full article.
- “All Buddhists meditate.” Meditation has traditionally been considered a monastic practice, and even then, a specialty only of certain monks. It is only since the 20th century that the practice of meditation has begun to be widely practiced by laypeople.
- “All Buddhists are vegetarians.” In the centuries after the Buddha’s death, vegetarianism began to be promoted in some Buddhist texts. However, even today, not all Buddhist monks and nuns are vegetarians. For example, in China they are, in Tibet they are not.
- “All Buddhists are pacifists.” There have also been wars of Buddhists against non-Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhists fought bravely against British forces that invaded Tibet. During World War II, many Japanese priests, including Zen masters, supported the military expansion of the Japanese empire.
Specific Tips and Resources for Buddhists
- Don’t forget the Ten Tip Tool-Kit!
- Make it a priority to meditate and pray.
- Find a great location or student yoga group that works for you.
- The Five College Consortium offers some resources for choosing a Buddhist friendly college in a variety of ways.
- Soka Gakkai International is an exciting global initiative worth checking out.
- Dharma Net International offers academic resources on Buddhism and also has a list of colleges with great programs.
What non-“nones” need to know about “nones:”
- “All ‘none’s are atheist or agnostic.” This is not true, as 70 percent of “nones” believe in a “universal spirit” and 65 percent say “religion is important.” Another word that comes up in conversation and articles is that “nones” are “seeking.”
- “’Nones’ are just another name for secularists.” Again, most “nones” are religious if by ‘religious’ one means ‘spiritual.’ The vast majority are interested in spiritual things, but not so much organized or traditional religions with a traditional language about reality.
- “The ‘nones’ are a monolithic group.” As seen by a glance at the Pew Study, the group is diverse.
Specific Tips and Resources for “nones:”
- For the “nones” who identify as Atheists or Agnostics, check out American Atheists and The Secular Student Alliance .
- For those who are seeking but want to help bring about good for humanity, check out The American Humanist Association for a hub to more.
- For others, my best recommendation is to find the spiritual group, class, association, or organization that fits with your search.
- Depending on how important it is to you, here’s a list of the most and least religious colleges from Patheos based on the Princeton Review.