A new study finds that college students get more interested in spirituality between their freshman and junior years, but their interest seems to be the vague and hazy kind.
The UCLA study surveyed over 14,000 students in their freshman and junior years. The study found that juniors became more interested in "integrating spirituality into my life," "attaining inner harmony," "seeking beauty in my life," and "becoming a more loving person." Students become more interested in "improving the human condition," and in learning about other cultures and countries.
Students are less interested in traditional religion, however. Frequent church attendance drops from 43.7% in high school to 25.4% in college. The number of non-attenders almost doubles, from 20.2 % to 37.5%.
Gordon Govier, spokesperson for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), applauds increased spiritual interest but told WoW that students may be embracing what Robert Bellah called "cafeteria religion:" "People liked to take the good parts of different faith religions and put them together into their own little package that they were comfortable with. … People are used to picking and choosing and it's a feel-good kind of thing. Whatever they're comfortable with, they're going to go with that."
How can Christians guide these vague spiritual yearnings towards truth? The survey found that students believe in the importance of "helping others" and "reducing pain and suffering in the world," so IVCF's Urban Projects invite students to participate in disaster relief or inner city ministry. Evening Bible studies "show how the Bible specifically addresses the issue of justice, inner peace … the broader themes the students are interested in," Govier said.
Denny Brogan, an IVCF staffer, told WoW that students seek a spirituality they can apply to their lives - a practical, not just a mystical or historical religion. Brogan suggests that personal testimonies can move a spiritually interested student to seek Christianity specifically: "They need to see that it is something that impacts somebody's life."