College does NOT undermine faith

Glenn T. Stanton, in a useful feature at Gospel Coalition called “FactChecker,” cites research overturning the conventional wisdom that going to college undermines a young person’s faith.  Actually, NOT going to college is much more strongly associated with losing faith.  And 2.7 times more graduates say that college strengthened their faith, as opposed to weakening it.Go to the site for links to the research:

Do the years and experiences of college actually contribute to our young people losing or walking away from their faith? The answer – and the reasons for it – might surprise you.

Leading scholars have examined this question using sophisticated and reliable research methodologies, publishing their findings in premier sociological journals.

In the last few years, social scientists have “found that the religiously undermining effect of higher education . . . has disappeared.” Professor Christian Smith, a world-renowned sociologist of religion from Notre Dame University (and a faithful Christian parent himself) explains that recent investigations published in the Review of Higher Education reveal,

[T]hat among recently surveyed college students, 2.7 times more report that their religious beliefs have strengthened during their college experience than say their beliefs weakened.

Research from the University of Texas-Austin delivers more good news, finding that young people who avoid college “exhibit the most extensive patterns of religious decline” compared to those who do attend college. (2) They explain the loss of faith among the non-college attending young adults has little to do with secularizing ideology, but simply results from a lack of intentionality and direction in their lives. Those who seem to drift through these formative and transitional years with no definite goals or plans likely bring this same attitude and action to their faith life.

Christian Smith explains that one careful and comprehensive review of the research literature on this question over the last few decades shows that a “clearly perceptible change appears to have begun in the 1990s” regarding the impact of college attendance on one’s faith.

Professor Smith observes three primary and very interesting reasons why the university is not the faith-shredder we imagine it to be:

1)    The increase in presence and effectiveness of campus-based ministries like Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and Young Life.

2)    The increase of relativism and the decline of strict scientism, which allows for discussion of faith and spiritual speculation, similar to what Paul experienced at the Aeropagus.

3)    An increase in committed evangelical and Catholic faculty at secular universities in America who can serve as an encouragement and balance for Christian students.

Smith adds this interesting note of explanation,

More broadly, adolescents today are generally quite conventional, and specifically so with regard to religion – less rebellious, for instance than they were during the baby boom generation – and so are generally content to continue in the faith traditions in which they were raised, however much that faith may or may not mean to them.

He continues with a very surprising, but important observation that has great merit,

And at the very general level, American culture and perhaps Western culture seems to have shifted from a secular to a post-secular era in which secularist assumptions are no longer simply taken for granted but are rather on the table for questioning and religion is increasingly considered a legitimate topic of discussion — a cultural shift that has likely much affected contemporary youth.

 

HT:  Jim Rademaker

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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