Religion on campus and in millennials’ lives
Jessica Guerrucci — Managing Editor
When it comes to religion, Rabbi Barbra Paris said it is not about “fitting people into a box.” The definition of what it means to be “religious,” she said, is changing.
“It’s very hard to pin down exactly,” said Paris, adviser for Hilel, “like, if you said you were a ‘none’ and I said I was a ‘none,’ but we dug what does that really means, it might be very different.”
A Pew Research Center study confirmed the decline of Christianity at a rapid pace. After conducting telephone surveys in 2018 and 2019, it found that only 65 percent of American adults define themselves as Christians, which is a decrease of 12 percent over the past decade.
However, this decline is not confined to Christianity. Pew found that both Protestantism and Catholicism are experiencing losses of population share. The only number on the rise is what Paris said are people who call themselves “none,” or those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” which is now 17 percent of Americans identify as, compared to 12 percent in 2009.
“It’s not really commonplace to believe in something,” said secondary education and mathematics major Dawson Sabokta, a sophomore. “Especially nowadays, where a lot of people won’t believe something until they see it. It’s kind of hard to put faith in something.”
According to Pew, the decline in number has to do with a large generational gap in American religion. It found that 40 percent of millennials, or people born between 1981 and 1996, are “unaffiliated.” This gap is something that Chaplain James Furlong, who works in the Interfaith Office, said breaks his heart.
“There’s a huge generational gap,” he said. “My children, my daughter hasn’t had her children baptized. Unheard of. I haven’t been to a church wedding in five years. People are leaving behind the cultural and spiritual traditions of their ancestors.”
Exercise science major Letitia Adumoah, a junior, said she believes the decline is due to college students not caring about the spiritual aspects of life as much as the physical. When on campus, she said, focus is on work, parties and being independent — meaning church is not a priority.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Adumoah. “I haven’t gone to church a lot this semester, like, the past two years that I’ve been here. This semester has been very busy for me, so my work comes first.”
However, Furlong said, it is a fascinating time to be a part of the church. He said it has not changed in about a thousand years, and now it is changing before people’s eyes, as the number of people going to mass on a regular basis is way down.
“It’s not even on the stove, never mind the front burner,” said Furlong. “Economic security comes first, physical comfort comes first, and all that’s important, but a responsibility to tradition and respect for longstanding institutions is changing.”
The numbers will keep declining, said Paris, if studies like Pew’s continue to do quantitative rather than qualitative studies that have people choose if they are one thing or another. She said what it means to be religious means different things to different people, and just because one does not identify with a particular religion, does not mean they do not believe in some higher power or are spiritual in other ways.
“I don’t know if that tells the whole story,” said Paris. “I think it’s going to be a different paradigm maybe in 20 years religion will look completely different, but that doesn’t mean it won’t exist anymore.”
Photo Credit: Jessica Guerrucci