Press Releases

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New Online Guide Provides Background on Rise of Religion on College Campuses

Recent studies of college students' attitudes toward religion suggest that the academy is no longer the bastion of secularism it was once assumed to be. According to a 2007 Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) survey, 83 percent of American college students are affiliated with some denomination or religion, and nearly four in five say they believe in God. But these studies further reveal that the spiritual landscape on today's college campuses is virtually unrecognizable from what we've seen in the past. Evangelicalism -- often in the form of extra-denominational or parachurch campus groups -- has eclipsed mainstream Protestantism. Catholicism and Judaism, too, are thriving, as are other faiths.

How to make sense of the plethora of faith communities on today's college campuses? With support from the Teagle Foundation, the SSRC has published a guide, religion.ssrc.org/reguide, which was derived from a series of essays it commissioned from leading authorities in the field of religion and American higher education, as well as from a review of current scholarship.

"Many faculty had simply assumed that religion would gradually fade away with secularization, but reality belies this assumption," explained Craig Calhoun, president of the SSRC and also a project participant. "Increasing numbers of students are insisting that religion belongs in the public square, and many American colleges and universities are unprepared to deal with this. In some cases, the extra-curricular mechanisms are in place, but there is hardly any space for religion in traditional scholarly disciplines. Rather, it tends to be segmented off into specialized areas of study."

"In the Teagle Foundation's work with colleges and universities, we keep finding that understanding students' engagement with the 'big questions' and with religion and spirituality is essential for effective teaching in a wide range of courses and settings," said W. Robert Connor, president of the Teagle Foundation. "This guide was designed to provide the help college teachers need in this important but very sensitive area."

The guide presents the perspectives of leading thinkers such as Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College; journalist Diane Winston, who has co-edited a major work on religion in urban centers; and Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow, an authority on religious diversity. Consisting of eight sections and opening with a preface by Calhoun, it examines basic questions such as whether or not the college experience affects students' religious beliefs and how religion should be incorporated into the college curriculum. It also addresses the current situation on college campuses: How do Evangelical students engage with college life? How open can professors be about their own religious beliefs? Finally, it provides some much-needed historical perspective, tracing the origins of America's many religious colleges. Designed to be read online, the guide also features an annotated bibliography with links to key references.

About the SSRC's Work on Religion

The rising prominence of religion in American public life and, more recently, the religious dimensions of war and terrorism have spurred a resurgence of interest in religion across a range of academic disciplines. But the shortage of specialists and weak connections between academic fields limit intellectual efforts to grapple with religion and the secular in international and public affairs. The SSRC is committed to carving out more space in the social sciences for the analysis of faith, religion, secularism, and related topics. For more information, go to: programs.ssrc.org/religion/.

About the Social Science Research Council (SSRC)

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) engages practitioners, policymakers, and academic researchers in all the social sciences and related professions, as well as in the humanities and natural sciences, on important public issues, with the goal of bringing necessary knowledge to public action. For more information, go to: www.ssrc.org

About The Teagle Foundation

The Teagle Foundation provides leadership for liberal education, marshalling the intellectual and financial resources necessary to ensure that today's students have access to challenging, wide-ranging, and enriching college educations. The Teagle Foundation believes that the benefits of such learning last for a lifetime and are best achieved when colleges develop broad and intellectually stimulating curricula, engage their students in active learning, explore questions of deep social and personal significance, set clear goals, and -- crucially -- systematically measure progress toward them.
For more information, go to: www.teaglefoundation.org

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