International students bring spiritual variety to U. Texas-Arlington
By Crystal LaFlash
(U-WIRE) ARLINGTON, Texas -- Although the majority of students at the University of Texas-Arlington are Christian, increasing numbers of international students have helped bring in a number of different religions.
In the past, students with predominantly Christian backgrounds attended here. As international student enrollment numbers continue to rise, students with different religious backgrounds are having a greater presence here. Although the university has greater religious diversity now, only one non-Christian religious organization exists on campus. Other international organizations are addressing the cultural needs of students. In addition, there is an atheist club on campus that was started this semester.
International students hold only a small portion of the population here, but have the largest diversity of religions.
The majority of the 1,093 international students are from India where the predominant religion is Hinduism, international programs coordinator Julie Walkin said.
Walkin said that even with Hinduism, there are four other major religions in India that some students may follow: Islam, Jainism, Zoroastrism and Secism.
"At UTA itself, the majority of international students from India are Hindu, [Muslim] and Christian," she said. "A lot have Christianity in their backgrounds."
The second largest group with 147, comes from the Peoples' Republic of China, which like most cultures entails many types of religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism.
A large portion of international students also come from Iran, Japan, Taiwan, Pakistan, South Korea, Nepal and Thailand. Religions include Buddhism, Shintoism, Baha'i, Islam and many more, Walkin said.
Even with increasing numbers of diversity among religions, about 13 religious organizations exist on campus, with only one being non-Christian -- the Society for Islamic Education, which is currently inactive.
There are many student organizations that focus on the culture of certain international groups, such as the Singapore Student Association and the Middle Eastern Student Association, but they don't focus on the religions of each group. The Baptist Student Ministry with 60 members and the University Catholic Community with 80 members have the highest membership numbers among the religious organizations on campus.
But there are many other types of Christian religious organizations on campus.
One of the smallest groups here is the Latter-Day Saint Student Organization with seven members. The Latter-Day Saint religion combines Christian customs with a mix of Mormon beliefs. In addition to the Bible, the group studies the Book of Mormon. Mike Hoetzl, president of the group, said on average 10 people regularly meet with the group.
Hoetzl said his group joins forces with other groups in the area.
"I believe we do fairly represent our religion," he said. "At least with the members of that faith on campus."
Jonathon Scheffrahn, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship president, said 16 or 17 members regularly attend meetings and help put together various functions that the group sponsors such as a weekly barbecue.
The barbecue, Scheffrahn said, serves a couple hundred students each week at Doug Russel Park, located across from Centennial Court Apartments, on Mitchell and Cooper streets. He said this gets the organization known around campus and may help increase membership within the group. Another group on campus is the Atheist Club, which was formed this semester and held its first meeting Jan. 5. After this meeting, 16 students signed up to join.
The group aims to provide atheists and agnostics a place to gather. Atheist donÕt believe in a deity at all and agnostics question whether God has a direct relationship with the people.
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