- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO For Frank Primus, going home for the holidays can be stressful, with family religious traditions often conflicting with his beliefs.

Mr. Primus, who grew up Baptist but converted to Islam just before leaving for college, was forced to balance the family tradition of Christmas morning services with his observance of the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan a day later.

“It’s a little daunting, explaining things to your parents that you’re not like them anymore,” said Mr. Primus, a 23-year-old biology researcher at Stanford University.

He is part of what analysts say is a growing phenomenon of religious life on the nation’s campuses, as students come home with different beliefs and sometimes feel alienated from their families.

Some students are turning toward a more lasting commitment to religion, while others are looking for a different type of spirituality than their parents, religious specialists say.

“Students are accessing some kind of deep personal dimension of meaning in their life,” said Scotty McLennan, university chaplain at Tufts University. “We’ve just about doubled our traditional religious movement over the last 15 years at Tufts. The Catholic Mass packs the chapel on Sunday nights.”

Mr. Primus decided to compromise this year, giving his family Christmas presents and in return asking for gifts to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“I’m at a new stage,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a problem with respecting other people’s religions, especially my family’s.”

The problem is more difficult for Rachel Suzuki, a senior at the University of California, Davis. Miss Suzuki says she found God the summer before starting college, and she is thinking of working as a Christian missionary after graduation.

Her decision has bewildered her nonreligious family, and her father is trying to discourage her career plans.

“I know that I’m going to be making decisions that are totally not going to make them happy, and in a way dishonor them. That’s the hardest thing, not having the blessing,” Miss Suzuki said. “I feel like I’m choosing between God and my family.

“It’s like, why on earth would you go and be an evangelical weirdo?”

Janice McWilliams, a staff member at UC Davis InterVarsity, a nationwide evangelical campus organization, said dealing with parents who are upset with their children’s fervent interest in religion is a large part of her job.

InterVarsity has 32,000 student members, according to figures for the 1999-2000 academic year. More than 1,500 were new converts to Christianity. The organization is having its huge triennial missions convention for 18,700 students this weekend at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.

The initial stages of conversion are a trying time for all involved, and both sides must learn to accept their differences, said Makin McDaid Abdulkhaliq, a Stanford graduate student who converted to Islam.

“I think when people first convert, they take things very rigidly, and then as they get older, they learn to take all aspects of their life into what they’re doing,” he said. “I think some people don’t do it very diplomatically. I’ve kind of learned from my mistakes.”

Xav Serrato, 19, was raised Roman Catholic and converted to Judaism during the summer. At the University of California, Berkeley, many of his friends are Jewish and volunteer as counselors at a Jewish camp. He decided to join them.

Mr. Serrato said it is important to make sure his family understands that he no longer follows their religion.

“It’s their holiday, but I respect my family as long as they know it’s not my holiday that I’m celebrating with them,” he said.

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