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The Survival of Spirituality and Religion In Higher Education

by on September 29, 2013

Bob Smith
Director, Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA
Region II, Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education Rep.

There are several challenges facing spirituality and religion in higher education that need to be addressed if this area of interest is to survive and, hopefully, grow. Some of the hurdles are already in place when students arrive and others are put in place by colleges and universities as well as campus ministries.

Students are telling us that they are more spiritual than religious. The number of young people attending church or participating in organized religion has been in decline for years and doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of changing. The result is that a greater percentage of students are arriving on campus with little or no interest in spiritual or religious life.

Students who are interested in spiritual and religious development may have the opportunity to explore their options if the college or university they attend permits this to occur on campus. Most public institutions do not support spiritual and religious activities and private schools vary in their support, leaving students on their own to seek out opportunities when they are trying to manage their time and meet the demands of rigorous classes and other responsibilities. Plus, students often opt for organizations that are related to their major and will look good on their resume to a prospective employer.

Colleges and universities, both public and private, need to work closely with students, places of worship in the community, and campus ministers, rabbi’s, imams, and other religious leaders to provide a healthy spiritual and religious environment where students can explore and thrive.

Institutions of higher learning, especially public, need to accept that spirituality and religion can and should be part of campus life. There is no legal reason for this opportunity to be denied. Penn State is a great example of a public university supporting spiritual and religious development for their students. Penn State is home to the largest interfaith center on any campus in the country and serves as proof that this can happen. Students need to form spiritual and religious student organizations and colleges and universities simply need to treat them as they would any other student organization, welcome campus ministers and other religious and spiritual leaders, and not show favor to any particular organization.

The other piece of the pie comes from the students and religious leaders. They should be willing to work together towards a common goal of growing the spiritual and religious opportunities for students and in turn their individual groups will prosper too. Permit students to explore their options and allow them to interact with other faiths and practices. This can be difficult for some to accept because there is often a friendly competition for members. Still, the largest hurdle can be that spiritual and religious leaders need to understand that these student organizations are functioning on a campus and colleges and universities need to function in ways that may be unfamiliar to churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship. The key to all of this is communication.

All involved should consider the benefits to the students when they are given the opportunity to explore and develop their spiritual and religious needs.

 

 

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