- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Black students have the highest levels of religious practice on America’s campuses, according to a survey of 112,232 students at 236 colleges being released today.

The study, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute, which is affiliated with the University of California at Los Angeles, said black students led white, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and Hawaiian students in seven out of 12 spirituality categories.

One-third of the black students polled said spiritual growth and following religious teachings are both essential, compared with fewer than one-fifth of the white and Asian students polled. Black students also reported higher levels of church attendance, prayer and belief in God.

Phil Bowling-Dyer, director of Black Campus Ministries for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a college student ministry based in Madison, Wis., said he sees “a lot” of black students involved in spiritual pursuits as a way of replacing absent parents.

“There’s a high amount of spiritual involvement among black students,” he said, “plus a high amount of community involvement among the religious students.

“Spirituality is just part of the black community,” Mr. Bowling-Dyer added. “It plays out with college students, too. For instance, whenever the NAACP meets, they always start out with a prayer.”

Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders came in second in four of the 12 categories: charitable involvement (27 percent), spirituality (25 percent), ecumenical worldview (24 percent) and religious struggle (15 percent).

Asians were the least religious, leading in only one category — religious skepticism — and polling at the bottom of five other categories, including spirituality and religious commitment.

White, Hispanic and American Indian students polled in the middle of most categories. Whites were the lowest in charitable involvement, helping others, ecumenicity, spiritual quest and compassion. Hispanics were the lowest in religious struggle and religious activities.

Funded by a $1.97 million grant from the Templeton Foundation, the survey is the largest done to date on the spiritual lives of college students.

Rhys Williams, a University of Cincinnati sociology professor who has researched the church involvement of black students, said black collegians tend to re-create on campus the church life they knew back home.

“Church is an enormous social and psychic support for these students, especially if they are on white campuses,” he said. “So they try to re-create at their college something similar to the church where they grew up.”

White students, in contrast, tend to separate themselves from anything to do with their parents, including the church they grew up in.

“They wish to distinguish themselves from their parents and establish their own religious identity,” he said.

He also professed some surprise at the low rates of religious behavior reported by the Asian students in the survey.

“Considering the high amount of Christian Asian student groups on campus these days, those should be higher,” he said. However, he added, if middle-class students from India and Japan — who tend to be more secular — are included with the more devout Koreans, “that might have pulled down the Asian numbers.”

The study, administered in fall 2004 to college freshmen, reported that four of five students are “interested in spirituality,” three-quarters said they are “searching for meaning or purpose in life” and 79 percent said they believe in God.

A follow-up survey will be given to the same students in 2006 to measure whether higher education increased or decreased their religious beliefs and activities.

Forty-seven percent of the black students were Baptist, compared with 11 percent of the white students and 5 percent of the Hispanics. Thirty percent of the white students and 53 percent of the Hispanics were Catholics, compared with one-tenth of the black students.

College women outscored the men in all categories except for “religious skepticism,” where the men polled at 21 percent and the women at 14 percent.

Although Jennifer Lindholm, co-director of the project, said, “We expected there would be larger gender gaps,” the only ones in the results were among black students.

Among blacks, there was an 18-point difference — 53 percent of women compared with 35 percent of men — on religious commitment and a 13-point difference on religious engagement.

Of the students surveyed, 76 percent were white, 8 percent black, 7 percent Asian, 5 percent Hispanic, 2 percent American Indian or Alaskan, and 1 percent Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders.

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