More college students seek religionBy Raju Chebium/Associated Press
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -As Alice Forman prepared to graduate from college with a chemical engineering degree, she began looking for guidance that didn't come from a textbook.
She attended Bible study to find out what her atheist parents had steered her away from, and what her relatives had urged her to embrace. At age 23, Ms. Forman was baptized recently as an Episcopalian.
"I was just at a turning point in my life and I felt sort of lost, like I was approaching adulthood and I didn't really know what I was doing with my life," said Ms. Forman, a senior at the University of Maryland.
She is among thousands of college students who are turning to religion to find meaning in their lives. Both secular and church-affiliated colleges report surging use of campus religious centers and increasing attendance at many religious activities.
"It makes your college experience complete. You have your studies, you have your time to go out with your friends and you have God," said Jennifer Rogers, 19, a lifelong Episcopalian who studies French and secondary education at the University of Maryland.
Interest among students in the offerings of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples may reflect the increasing complexity of society and the special challenges of modern students' lives. Many students have borrowed thousands of dollars to meet college costs. Others find themselves confronting for the first time a variety of pressures, from broken families to acknowledging their homosexuality.
"The kind of student I see now... is a student that comes with very heavy burdens," said Sharon Kugler, chaplain at Johns Hopkins University and vice president of the National Association of College and University Chaplains. "I hope that what we see now is a precursor to getting back to living lives that are healthy and are gentle."
Ms. Kugler said when she arrived at the fiercely secular Johns Hopkins in 1993, eight religious groups were active on campus. Now there are 20, representing Buddhism, Hinduism, the Bahai faith, Unitarianism and seven Christian denominations. Later this year, for the first time in its 123-year history, Johns Hopkins will open an interfaith center, using a former Methodist church.
Unlike students of the antiestablishment 1960s and '70s and those pursuing more materialistic goals in the '80s, college students today are asking deeply personal questions about their place in the world, said Richard M. Joel, president of Washington, D.C.-based Hillel, the Foundation For Jewish Campus Life.
"I think there's a recognition that people are on a trip that is not easy, and the question is, 'How do I make it valuable? How do I matter?"' said Joel, whose group maintains 107 Hillel centers on campuses across the United States and also in Canada, Israel and Russia. "I think they are looking for personal enrichment."
The spiritual interest of some students rubs off on others, said Phil Evans, spokesman for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship-USA headquartered in Madison, Wis.
"Students do trust their peers. When they come into a community of students seeking truth ... they're attracted," he said.
InterVarsity has enjoyed a steady increase in numbers in the past 10 years, from 23,000 in 1989 to 30,000 now, according to Evans. The 60-year-old ecumenical Christian group has 700 chapters nationwide.
Students are hungry for religion because many of them were raised without it, said Vincent Krische, a chaplain and director of Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Kansas at Lawrence.
"I think there has been a failure in passing on meaning and value," he said. "When we fail to pass them on, something internally inspires people to search for them."
This resurgence in religious interest is welcome news to people like Donald Shockley, who heads campus ministry programs for the United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn.
"It fills me with optimism because I think that the quality of leadership going into the life of the churches is going to be affected by this positively. When you have people of student age interested in what the church is doing ... many of them will go into the church right away both as clergy and young people," he said. "And that will have an impact on the life of the church. "
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