The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA released a study this week citing that students profess a high level of spirituality in their lives at school, although a majority of students said their professors never encourage discussions of religious or spiritual issues.
HERI asked 3,680 students at 46 colleges nationwide about their spiritual and religious lives both in and out of the classroom. Seventy-seven percent of the students said they pray at least somewhat frequently and agreed that “we are all spiritual beings.”
Alexander Astin, one of the principle investigators in the survey, said he did not find it surprising that 62 percent of students said their professors do not talk about religion in class, particularly in non-religious universities. Astin said he was surprised by the large majority of students who considered themselves spiritual or religious.
“The conclusion is that in most institutions, this still pretty much is in the closet,” he said. “Students don’t feel particularly comfortable talking about it.”
Investigators questioned students in focus groups across the country, he said. Although HERI plans to release statistics comparing students in different fields of study, Astin said the sample was not large enough to merit geographical distinctions.
Yale University Chaplain Frederick Streets said he applauded HERI for doing the study and in response sent a copy of a similar survey conducted at Yale in 1999.
“The study we did of Yale did put 39 percent of the Yale student body in some sort of religious group,” he said.
Streets said he thought Yale’s student body would mirror the findings in the HERI survey. He said he does not think it is necessary to have religious discussions in most classes, though, since students can find fora for religious expression in extracurricular activities.
“There are so many other places where religious ideas can be substantiated,” he said.
The Chaplain’s Office receives funding directly from the University and in turn is responsible for supporting the Yale Religious Ministry, which helps organize the student groups on campus, Streets said. But this funding may not be enough for the groups themselves, he said.
“I’m sure the student groups would always say they need more money,” Streets said.
Courtney Amos ’06, a member of both the Yale Christian Fellowship and the Yale Gospel Choir, said she thinks Yale should financially assist religious groups more than it currently does.
“I don’t think the University does what it could,” she said.
Fund-raising can be an arduous task for any student group, Amos said. The YCF has two staff workers at the Chaplain’s Office who raise funds for the group through the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which helps support Christian groups across the country.
The Yale Gospel Choir has to support itself with the help of community, which Amos said can be tough for college students with already-busy schedules. Each year the choir has to raise about $280 per student — including dues — as well as another $17,000 for their annual tour.
“We have to raise money through our engagements and concerts,” Amos said.
Amos said religion is her number-one priority right now, and she wants students to change their views of Christianity as an “institution imposing rules on our lives.”
“It stabilizes my life,” she said.
Astin said HERI will conduct a large-scale study this coming fall, in which investigators will track the progress of incoming freshman at 150 universities nationwide.