Speaking of the Pew Forum, the religious research center’s home page features a lengthy Q&A with a leader of UCLA’s “Spirituality in Higher Education,” which I wrote about for the fall cover of UCLA Magazine.
The study found that nearly three-of-four students who are now juniors agreed that “most people can grow spiritually without being religious.” That’s up 12 percent from when these students were freshmen. I think you have to realize that we have, on the one hand, the students’ individual faiths and practices, and on the other hand, their viewpoints about students who might follow a different faith or no faith. To us, this is a positive finding in the sense that students display a good deal of tolerance for differing approaches to religion and spirituality on the part of their peers. In other words, they’re not imposing their own standards upon their fellow beings. Does that mean that they’re seeing the world in more relative terms and in less absolute terms? Yes, I would say so, and this is consistent with the finding that their tendency to embrace an ecumenical worldview also increases during college. This would seem to be bad news for many organized religions, especially the ones making truth claims. Not necessarily. We have organizations like the National Council of Churches and other worldwide religious organizations that try to think about how to enhance understanding across different religions and faiths. Looking ahead to the condition of the world down the road, one would hope that this kind of understanding and tolerance would increase with time. That, of course, may not fit certain belief systems, but I think, on balance, that it’s reassuring to see that the college experience is associated with an increase in this kind of tolerance and understanding of the other.