4B Wednesday aruary 1D 2014 // The Statement
On the Decline:
Why Religion is Fad ing
by Charlotte Jenkins, Daily Staff Reporter
tion, 300 students attend Friday prayer ser-
vices every week. The organization has active
student committees that range from commu-
nity service and outreach to lectures around
Soubani discussed how the Muslim Stu-
dents' Association has to be mindful about
being inclusive of different kinds of Muslim
"We are realizing that we are a big (organi-
zation), so we are trying to figure out how to
maintain our values but also keep expanding
and doing new things," Soubani said.
However, not all religious groups on cam-
pus feel the pressure to actively pursue more
The Baha'i Club is a smaller campus orga-
nization that practices the faith Baha'i, a reli-
gion that traces its roots to a 19th-century
Persian religious authority, Bahi'u'llih. The
Baha'i Club has no formal recruitment pro-
cess. While membership levels have remained
steady, club activity has increased.
Guidance, ground, direction
Gifford was raised as a Baha'i. His parents
became Baha'i in college after finding the faith
and realizing that its set of core beliefs aligned
with their own. Gifford said that he would
have trouble navigating his undergraduate
experience without his Baha'i faith.
"Religion is a way to help guide you in one
direction," Gifford said. "On college cam-
puses, I have no doubt that being associated
with a religious or spiritual group is helpful
because college is such a confusing time."
Kaur echoed Gifford's beliefs, adding that
her faith has been a steadfast part of her col-
"Religion has been something that has
helped ground me as I've gone through under-
grad, it has been consistent," she said. "I know
if I have a rough day that in the morning I
have this hour to myself to center myself and
A sense of community
At such a large university, it can be diffi-
cult to find one's own community. For some
students, the existing 106 student religious
groups provide a sense of belonging.
"I haven't felt isolated as a religious stu-
dent," Soubani said, "itgives you a community
where there are so many types of people."
Despite the existing sense of community,
others feel that religion could be a larger part
of Michigan culture.
As a freshman from Rochester, Mich., liv-
ing in Helen Newberry, LSA Junior Laura
Fleming was overwhelmed by college life. She
had expected to make friends easily with the
girls on her hall, but found herself lonely.
Fleming was raised as a Lutheran, and had
planned to find a church at college. She tried
out New Life, and immediately found a place
she felt at home.
"I was blown away by the community,"
Fleming said, "I've searched my whole life to
feel like I fit in and am truly loved and cared
for and the people at New Life have done that
The 'invisible divide'
Despite a strong sense of solidarity within
one's belief group, students remain consci-
entious of the boundaries between religious
communities and the rest of campus. LSA
senior Mary Hemmeter, secretary of the Secu-
lar Student Alliance, explained that beingsec-
ular limits her access to other communities.
"Being secular, it can be difficult to speak
to non-secular people," Hemmeter said, "you
feel like you always have to self-center."
Hemmeter speaks to an invisible divide that
many students on this campus may experi-
ence. Like many religious students, she is con-
stantly aware of her identity.
"(I) rarely tell people I'm on the board of
(the Secular Student Alliance)," she said. "It's
not something that comes up often in conver-
sation and I don't feel the need to bring it up
Meanwhile, joining such a tight-knit com-
munity has also left students isolated from
others. As part of her religion, Fleming does
not drink alcohol or swear, and will not have
sex until she is married. She said that these
values are in stark contrast with the popular
culture on campus.
"There have been a lot of people who are
like, 'Why don't you do that,' or don't under-
stand," Fleming said.
Soubani added that students on campus
often refer to stereotypes and have miscon-
ceptions about Muslims. She said she wishes
students were more mindful of what they say,
especially in academic settings that are sup-
posed to be safe spaces.
Nate Ardle has been the Michigan campus
director of Cru, the largest interdomination-
al evangelical Christian organization in the
country, since 1999. When Ardle first came to
the University, he said he expected the stu-
dents to be highly intellectual and philosophi-
cal. Instead, he said he found that students
have less time to be involved because of the
However, Ardle noted that this is to he
expected. "Students here are not different
from students everywhere," he said.
other challenges include trying to fit reli-
gion into a busy schedule.
Fleming has to balance her religious com-
mitments with academic and social ones. As
a pre-health student, Fleming feels the pres-
sure to volunteer and be in clubs to build her
resume before applyingto graduate school.
"Part of me feels like someone who is in an
organization where they're sending money to
kids in Africa, that might be looked at more
highly than being really involved in a church,"
After all, many college students, according
to Chabad House Rabbi Alter Goldstein, are
here primarily to get an education.
"The main obstacle is that spirituality may
not be a priority, academics is the number one
thing," Goldstein said.
Some students deal better with the balance
of academics, religion, and extracurriculars
because they overlap.
LSA sophomore Ali Meisel revitalized the
defunct Jewish Greek Council after Hillel
Director Tilly Shames reached out to her with
the opportunity. Meisel said she has found
it easier to balance her school and social life
with her religious commitments because the
two generally intertwine.
"It's not hard to balance," Meisel said,
"because most of the extracurriculars I'm
involved with - Hillel, Jewish Greek Council,
my sorority - are Jewish."
As religious identification declines, it seems
students have turned increasingly to the con-
LSA senior Farid Dimag, a practicing
Baha'i, views religion as "rules of enforcing
stuff," and spirituality as a "wholesome puri-
Gifford echoed the ways in which religion
and spirituality contrast.
"The modern day connotation of religion
is changing," he said. "Spirituality is like an
independent investigation of something."
Meanwhile, Goldstein emphasized that
spirituality and religion are inexorably tied.
"When someone is seeking a higher spiri-
tual level, they must also understand God,"
Goldstein said. "Good values and spirituality
The trend of modernity
Sitting in the secluded quiet of the Chabad
House in the early morning, Goldstein
explained the pattern of society's movement,
"The world is a heartbeat, and everything
comes in trends," he said.
Accordingto Goldstein, the trend of moder-
nity is one of informational access. Today's
students utilize the Internet, and as a result,
have instant access to information - including
immediate access to religious resources.
"We used to have at our front entrance
a huge display of all kinds of information,"
Goldstein said. "Today, it is there with a click
of a button - the website has a wealth of infor-
The trend of modernity has led to a change
in student attitude and background, according
to Ardle, the Cru campus director.
"Students are less 'churched' than they
have in the past," Ardle explains, "It's become
prevalent for students to not have gone to
church growing up."
Ardle believes this decline in "churched
students" impacts the level of student involve-
ment on campus.
"In the late 90s and early 2000s, students
would come in and say 'I should get involved
(in religion)', and some wouldn't, but many
would because they thought they should,"
Ardle said, "And now that sense of thinking
you should is gone."
A (non-religious) 'coming out'
The trend to modernity has, indeed, left
fewer religious students on campus. Mean-
while, secularism - the belief in the separa-
tion of church and state - has a solid, while
Just as religious students may feel that they
have to defend their religion and values to
others, secular students can have a hard time
"coming out" as atheist. Students who come
from religious families face losing support
from their loved ones if they reveal this part
The Secular Student Alliance meets every
Thursday night. Meetings include discus- -
sions, such as reviewing recent court cases
that have to do with separation of church and
state. Over the summer, board members trav-
eled to Skepticon, the largest secular confer-
ence in the Midwest.
Hemmeter said Student Secular Alliance
has racial and ethnic demographics consistent
with that of the University, but also has strong
representation from many members of the
LGBTQ community. She added that Skepticon
also had many LGBTQ activists and feminist
"I think there are a lot of students who
identify as secular or atheist or agnostic who
do not feel the need to be involved in a secular
group," Hemmeter said.
College is a time in everyone's life where
students are actively trying to figure out who
they are. As a result, religion - or lack of reli-
gion - can be a shaping factor in this stage of
student life, Gifford said.
Within the religious community at the
University, some students are religious due
to familial background. However, students
stress college as a time where one can seize
and shape one's own religious ideology. Sou-
bani was raised Muslim.
"You're raised something and you do that
because your family does," Soubani said, "but
once you're in college you have opportunity to
take ownership of your own beliefs."
Kaur's expression of her religion has
shifted significantly while in college. As a
freshman, she was less involved in the Sikh
Students' Association and did not wear a tur-
ban. Kaur felt very affected by the August
2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wiscon-
sin that killed six people, and following the
incident, made the decision to start wearing
"I wasn't sure how to talk about it with my
roommates," Kaur said, "People may look at
me differently and think that I'm coming from
a different place than them."
Regardless of the social challenges, Kaur
holds steadfast to her religion. "I'm sticking to
my identity and mybeliefs," she said.
t was past midnight on a cold Fri-
day, the weekend of Halloween,
and LSA junior Harleen Kaur,
an Honors Resident Adviser and
Michigan Daily columnist, had to
make a decision. On duty in West
Quad, she had spent most of the evening
dealing with noise violations and drunken
decisions of her freshman residents. Students
returning from their respective Halloween
parties, clad in minion and cat costumes, had
kept her busy all night.
By the time Kaur had completed her shift
and filled out the required duty logs record-
ing all the night's incidents, it was around 5
a.m. She soon found herself wondering if she
should stay up and pray, or sleep. If she slept,
she knew she would be taking a risk. The
morning was already only four hours away,
and she might not have enough time to pray
After deliberating, Kaur chose to pray. She
showered and returned to her room to pray,
going to sleep around 7:30 a.m. Soon after, she
woke up to attend her 10 a.m. resident adviser
As a practicing Sikh, Kaur is required to
pray five times daily. Sikhism, the world's fifth
largest religion, is a monotheistic faith estab-
lished in northern India in the 1400s. Like
many religions, practicing Sikhism requires
time and effort. And like many religious stu-
dents, she has to make decisions on how to
balance the obligations of her faith with the
demands and rigors of a modern university.
Kaur is part of a group on campus that has
been declining in recent years. The CIRP
Freshman Survey, administered by the Coop-
erative Institutional Research Program, given
to all incoming students at orientation, shows
that in 2012, 27.2 percent of incoming fresh-
men self-identified themselves as having no
The latest results are consistent with a
long-running trend. In 1998, only 19.7 percent
of incoming freshmen identified as non-reli-
Broadening the definition
Although insightful, surveys fail to capture
depth and complexity of religious beliefs on
campus. Because of the noted decline in reli-
gious students, student groups are broadening
their required levels of devotion to keep mem-
The main focus of the Sikh Students' Asso-
ciation is to unite the Sikh community on
campus. Two to three times each semester,
the organization hosts faith-based events and
community service events. The group has
50 active members, and despite the campus
trend, membership in the group has remained
Kaur explained how the Sikh Students'
Association is inclusive to students who prac-
tice varying levels of Sikhism.
"A big facet of Sikhism is that religion is
a journey," Kaur said, "so we accept where
everyone is on that path."
Even organizations with a larger student
population on campus have made similar
efforts to recruit more students.
According to LSA junior Nour Soubani,
president of the Muslim Students' Associa-
2012 INCOMING FRESHMEN RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE
2 = 27%