Religion, Bible Popularity on Campuses Still on Rise

( [email protected] ) May 07, 2007 05:28 AM EDT

Colleges across the nation are finding more students engaging in religious activities and conversations on campus.

"All I hear from everybody is ‘yes, there is growing interest in religion and spirituality and an openness on college campuses,’" Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, told The New York Times. "Everybody who is talking about it says something seems to be going on."

Some of the nation's largest campus ministry groups have expanded to more secular campuses and have recorded increasing numbers of student membership and decisions for Jesus Christ.

Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) has grown to 1,163 American colleges and universities and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is on a five-year course to add 75 more campuses to its list of over 565 colleges where it is already established.

But even before the launch of InterVarsity's expansion model last year, growth was already happening. "In the last two school years we have seen exciting growth in the number of students who have come to faith in Jesus Christ," said Terry Erickson, director of evangelism for InterVarsity.

Large increases of students accepting Christ were seen in the last two years during a period when conversion numbers were relatively stable for much of the last decade. InterVarsity reported 1,025 student conversions through their ministry events in the 2006-2007 school year, and last fall 1,466 students studied the life of Jesus Christ in InterVarsity GIGs (Groups Investigating God).

“Approximately one quarter of students in InterVarsity are self-identified non-Christians,” said Erickson. “That shows some basic interest in exploring spiritual issues that we believe is widespread among the student body.”

UCLA researchers found that more than two-thirds of students entering college said they prayed and almost 80 percent believed in God. The 2004 research surveyed 112,000 freshmen, nearly half of whom said they were seeking opportunities to grow spiritually.

CCC spokesman Tony Arnold said there's a "deep hunger for something in their lives," according to an interview with CBS.

Harvard University professor Peter J. Gomes, the university preacher, told The New York Times that “there is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years.”

Not only are Christian campus ministries seeing a surge in interest and participation, but religion courses are also being filled up.

"I can fill basically any class on the Bible," said Lesleigh Cushing, an assistant professor of religion and Jewish studies at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., according to the New York Times. "I wasn't expecting that.

Even seminaries are seeing record enrollment numbers, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The flagship institution of the Southern Baptist Convention reached an all-time high in enrollment this semester with more than 4,200 students, SBTS president R. Albert Mohler Jr. announced last month. That's double the number since 1995.

While SBTS houses future pastors, more evangelicals have been taking their faith to secular campuses, including Ivy League schools, where reports of a surge of interest in religion began around two years ago.

"This is the unintended consequence of having a more diverse student body. As these elite institutions have recruited geographically…they've also produced religious diversity, so there are more evangelicals going to places like Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, than there were in the past," Michael Lindsay, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, said earlier.

"Students are looking for answers that define themselves spiritually as well as shape their careers,” stated InterVarsity president Alec Hill. “The campus is the strategic point where you can impact the world because of who these students will become. We want to develop students and faculty to change the world.”