Freshmen College Students Are Staying Away From Religion in Record Numbers!

According to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, students entering college are staying away from religion in record numbers. Nineteen percent have no religious preference, and more than 23 percent have not attended a religious service in the last year—a new high in the thirty-nine-year history of the survey. The survey also asked about parents’ religion. Almost 15 percent of the students’ fathers have no religious preference (at least according to their children), compared to 10 percent of mothers. The generational lag tells an interesting story. Fathers now are at the level of nonpreference displayed by male students in 1998; mothers are at the level of female students in 1997.

Thanks to Ed Babinski for pointing this out.


bpabbott said...

I haven't look into the details of the poll/survey ... but I have noticed that the incoming freshman are finding greater numbers of foreign nationals among them with each passing year.

... meaning I'm not so sure there is any change in the way U.S. freshman perceive religion.

GordonBlood said...

As a university student who is a Christian I think I can provide some context here. Granted I live in Canada, which is much less religious in terms of church attendence than the US, the number of "professed" Christians is roughly the same, though abit lower. The fact of the matter is, as any sociologist of religion will tell you, religion is not dying out because of some sort of huge intellectual skepticism towards religion, its simply flat out ignorance. Most university students are basically so uninterested in the matter that they just reside in some sort of fuzzy "I believe in something out there" belief. Its not even an intellectual deism, which I possessed for awhile more-less. Ive met persons who call themselves atheists who believe in souls, ghosts, aliens and everything else so it doesnt surprise me that such poll numbers would suggest this.

David B. Ellis said...

I think campus ministries have realized this and stepped up efforts at proselytizing on campus.

At the state college where I live, in Murray Kentucky, campus christian organizations have taken to holding prayer meetings every day in the student center (whereas they used to hold them in their own building just off campus. They have also set up a table for "prayer requests" in front of the student center as well as having students go out to street corners near campus holding up signs for hours with slogans like ARE YOU SAVED? and the like.

I've also been approached on two separate occasions in the past couple of months by young adults wanting to share their "faith in Jesus".

Whether they're having any success in increasing student religiosity I can't say. But I doubt it. The whole thing smacks of desperation.

Dillie-O said...

What I'm interested to know, which the survey doesn't study, is the amount of college students that are becoming more "spiritual", but use things like wicca, or other outlets. Granted I'm nearly 10 years out of college now, but during my time there was a trend towards atheism not in the scientific sense, but more in the "every thing has a spirit/life force" type atheism. I pardon my non-technical qualifications at this point, I need another cup of coffee 8^D

Joseph said...

This is bound to give fuel to many an evangelical parent or pastor who would rather not see their young people "brainwashed" by public universities. What I've never understood (even when I was a dedicated Christian attending college) is why evangelicals are so afraid of having their kids' faith challenged? Is their faith really that fragile? If it is worth it's weight in salt, their faith should stand up quite nicely against the challenges--perhaps even come out of college a bit stronger.

BTW, campus ministries still have decent attendance, but from my experience the successful ones focus less on the intellectual foundations of faith and more on the emotional and social needs of students.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

You missed John and Ed's point. It isn't that students are 'losing their faith' after exposure to college. There's nothing new or surprising about that, particularly for evangelicals who might never have experienced meeting people of different religions or serious discussions of evolution or the Bible, etc.

What this survey is showing is that students entering college have already abandoned faith, or never had it to begin with. And that is new.

Joseph said...

Thanks, Prup. I think my comments were aimed more at the other comments, but point well taken. Do you think it has anything to do with more and more households not raising their children in church. Or, here's a thought, maybe it has to do with the rise of fundamentalism and the number of young people turning away from it by the time they enter college. Now that's a plausible hypothesis.

Joseph said...

I'd like to respond to something bpabbot said earlier. Is the assumption that greater number of foreign students means that these students are non-religious or non-Christians? This is certainly not true with, for example, many of the Korean students in my college town.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I think there are a great number of factors in this. One is that America is following the path of Western Europe, which is already, for all intents and purposes, a post-Christian society.
One, certainly, is the War and the other failures and blunders of the Bush Administration -- most of which have been defended by conservative Christians and defended by 'Christian' arguments. (And the sexual scandals and hypocrisy that has come out has only made this factor stronger.)

But Fundamentalism has played a major part. Fundamentalists who begin to question what they have been taught rarely seem to go to a more liberal form of Christianity. The majority of them seem to go 'straight out the door' to skepticism and agnosticism.
But fundamentalism requires isolating its followers. It has tied itself to at least four positions that cannot stand up to scrutiny and which are rejected by the majority of society, including a great number of other Christians -- in some cases, a majority of Christians.

These four millstones of Fundamentalism are:
Biblical inerrancy,
and 'political Christianity' (meaning both the lies of David Barton and the 'America was founded as a Christian Nation' crowd, and the attempt by some political preachers to replace the Sermon on the Mount with the Republican Party Platform).

These can only be held by people who are, at least intellectually, isolated. They all fall to serious scrutiny -- or, in the case of homophobia -- once a person gets to meet and know gay people.

But someone heading to college is extremely likely to have two things, intellectual curiosity and a computer. They may discover a site like this, but even looking up things in Wikipedia, or Googling certain ideas will lead them to questioning their 'certainties.' (Even looking up a specific Biblical passage may bring them to Bible Gateway, a Christian site. But they may only know of the KJV, and once they get there they will find over 25 different translations, with the NIV -- and its footnotes --as the default. Again, curiosity may lead them to wonder about these and see how ambiguous certain passages are.)
And on evolution, they might find 'Answers in Genesis' first, but they might also find someone like Ed Brayton or the writers of the Skeptic Circle. And even trying to answer the challenges there will shake their certainties.
(And, of course, there are also 'ticking bombs' in all Christianities like the Problem of Evil and the Problem of Communication that will also rob them of sleep.)