- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

Eight out of 10 college freshmen “believe in God” and have “an interest in spirituality,” according to a study of their religious views.

But less than half of them are “secure” in matters of faith and follow religious teachings in everyday life.

Many American youths are “actively engaged in a spiritual quest,” said researchers with the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) of the University of California at Los Angeles, which yesterday released its study of 112,232 college freshmen.

“In some ways, the study took us by surprise,” since today’s youths are presumed to be self-absorbed, materialistic and apprehensive about the future, said Helen Astin, co-author of the HERI study. The data shows the freshmen “are in a serious search for deeper meaning in their lives,” she said.

Most of this generation was raised in families with mothers in the work force, noted New York University professor Claire Gaudiani. Growing up in such busy homes — as well as in families where divorce and remarriage have occurred — may be a big reason why these teens are committed to “balancing material and spiritual interests,” she said.

Yesterday’s findings both confirm and contradict those of another survey of Generation Y released this week by Reboot, a Jewish youth network, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a liberal polling group.

The Reboot study of about 1,400 youths ages 18 to 25 found that 46 percent of youths were “undecided” about organized religion, and 27 percent were so disenchanted with religion that they were dubbed “god-less” by the researchers.

The HERI study also found a substantial number of freshmen who were insecure in their faith — 48 percent said they were either “doubting,” “seeking” or “conflicted” about religious matters.

But the HERI study, which was crafted to examine both spirituality and religiosity, found that 42 percent of freshmen were “secure” in their faith, and vast majorities said they believed in God and the “sacredness of life.” Forty percent said they follow religious teachings in everyday life.

Only 15 percent of freshmen said they were “not interested” in spiritual or religious matters.

Both the HERI and Reboot studies revealed that most of today’s youths are tolerant of other religions and think that nonreligious people can also be “moral.”

The HERI survey involved students from 236 colleges and universities. A follow-up study is planned for 2007 to see how the students’ views change, said study co-author Alexander Astin.

Colleges and employers are well-advised to be more responsive to this burgeoning interest in both academic excellence and “existential questions,” concluded the HERI study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

However, answering religious questions may be difficult for most professors. A March study published in the online political journal Forum found that 51 percent of college faculty say they seldom or never attend church.

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