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On Campus: Religious Rights

Study: more students turning to religion in college

 by Grayson Steinberg  published on Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ian Elias is just one of the many ASU students devoted to his religion. Elias is the founder of Sigma Alpha Mu, a Jewish fraternity on campus./issues/arts/694088
Shaina Levee / STATE PRESS MAGAZINE
Ian Elias is just one of the many ASU students devoted to his religion. Elias is the founder of Sigma Alpha Mu, a Jewish fraternity on campus.
 

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Ian Elias is the founder of Jewish fraternity chapter Sigma Alpha Mu, a public relations intern for the Hillel Jewish Student Center and the vice-president of the Hillel student board. Elias' laundry list of activities quickly makes apparent his commitment to Judaism.

"My life revolves around my religion," says the 19-year-old pre-business sophomore.

Elias is not alone in his spiritual commitment. A 2004 survey of college freshmen conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles found that 80 percent of students expressed interest in spirituality while 47 percent of participants wanted to develop it. About four in 10 students believed religious teachings should be applied to their everyday lives.

Elias loyally practices his religion, attending services at least once a week, including Shabbat services honoring the weekly Jewish day of rest every Saturday. He also takes off time from work and school for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the holiest days in the Jewish calendar. This stands in contrast to other Jewish students at ASU, who are generally skeptical of religious questions and traditions, says Rabbi Barton Lee, executive director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center.

"Jews, particularly, live in a very secular time," says Lee.

Most Jewish college students are more interested in making friends and preparing for future jobs than searching for universal truths, he says. But others do get involved in the Jewish community through Shabbat services and other activities, Lee adds. They may have grown up in Jewish homes or been involved in youth groups and want to relive their childhood experiences. Some simply want to discover if Judaism is relevant to their lives, and they occasionally come to services expressing some knowledge of religion, he adds.

Elias fits into all of these categories, he says. He is very dedicated to his faith, but also questions his beliefs. But Elias is just one of many ASU students focused on spiritual involvement.

Christian students have also become more closely connected with their faith in recent years, says Jack Perrine, director of Campus Crusade for Christ's ASU chapter. Rather than practicing religion in an organized church setting, students are more interested in forming personal relationships with God, Perrine says. They want to apply their religious beliefs to their lives and discover how faith affects day-to-day concerns like dating practices, friendships and schoolwork, he says.

ASU Christians also seek a sense of community that is difficult to find at a large university, he says. With everyone distributed across tightly-defined groups, it's hard to form deep, long-lasting friendships, Perrine adds.

"[Christian students] are looking for a community to belong to that's caring, loving and accepting," Perrine says.

He adds the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused students to reconsider what truly mattered to them in their lives. ASU Christians began more seriously focusing on faith-based issues such as the existence of an afterlife and how human beings should relate to God, he says.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also inspired ASU Muslims to learn more about their own faith and spread that knowledge to others, says Al-Bara Awad, president of the Muslim Students Association and a microbiology senior.

Muslim students, with the help of various speakers on campus, try to educate students on the basic aspects of Islam, he says. They want to eliminate common misconceptions about Islam and distinguish themselves from those portrayed as terrorists in the media. At first, though, Muslims fearing retribution were afraid to speak out or even publicly practice their faith, Awad says.

"Some people were afraid to say that they were Muslim," Awad adds.

But as students became more accepting of Islam, the Muslim community became less anxious about expressing itself, Awad says. Muslims feel more comfortable praying, even on campus, and wearing Islamic clothing.

"The community here has been very welcoming to Muslims," he says.

Despite differences in the paths ASU religious groups travel, Perrine says organizations like Campus Crusade encourage strong relationships between students and religion and others seeking spiritual fulfillment. Their presence may help young people find their own niches in the enormously diverse world of ASU.

"[Students] want to be part of something that matters to [them]," he says.

Reach the reporter at grayson.steinberg@asu.edu.



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