Bahai News - College and religion: Are they compatible? Updated 12:00 PM ET April 6, 2001

College and religion: Are they compatible?

By Elissa Jacob
Central Florida Future
U. Central Florida

(U-WIRE) OVIEDO, Fla. -- When you walk into a test unprepared, who do you utter a desperate prayer to? The "god of tests," the "god of mercy" or "the lord of extra credit"? What if, while driving, you slam on your breaks to avoid smashing into the car ahead? Who do you pray to then? Or maybe, you don't feel the need to pray at all.

Most people wander through life believing in some Supreme Being, while others rationalize religion as a sign of moral or physical weakness.

What about college students, are they religious? Out of random students polled, 50 percent considered themselves to be, while other half did not.

Are college students at a time in their lives when they even think about religion? Granted, some are deep, philosophical thinkers, but the majorities are just thinking about that upcoming party Friday night or which classes to take next semester. Most 18 to 23 year olds are still searching to find themselves as they wander through college, but many include religion in that search.

Stephanie Burton, 19, has included religion in her college life. Burton, a visiting sophomore, is in the University of Alabama chapter of Chi Alpha, a Christian fraternity. She explained religious indifference saying, "Most students don't really seem committed to anything specific. Then when they get to college, they're confused maybe." She also said, "I don't think it's as important to be religious, as it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."

Chris Burdette also believes in that personal relationship. The 20-year-old University of Central Florida sophomore is involved in the UCF Christian Campus Fellowship and agrees that many students don't remain religious through college. "Statistics show that 50 percent of those who start out religious, fall away from it during college," he said. "Everybody is searching for something -- we all have a void in our lives to fill."

For some, religion fills that void.

Wendi Harris, the director of the Central Florida Hillel, works with both UCF and Rollins Jewish students. "We create a lot of opportunities for Jewish students to interact with each other, and we invite students who are not Jewish to come and learn more about Judaism," Harris said.

When asked, whether it was hard for Jewish students to not have their religious holidays observed by the academic calendar, as a day off, Harris explained that most students understand, because they've grown up used to that. "As long as professors aren't penalizing students for taking those days off," she said, "It can be inconvenient, but it's just a part of life."

Some students recognize it as a part of life, but don't agree with it.

UCF student Jen Brown said she was penalized for taking off a Jewish holiday in high school. "There was one holiday my parents made me miss school for -- it just so happened that we had a big Chemistry lab that day and my teacher refused to let me make it up. I ended up having to drop the course, but that was my only real conflict." In reference to school giving days off, Brown said: "I think it should be all or nothing. If they give one religion days off, then holidays that are of equal importance should also be recognized."

Harris said that in December she took a group of 38 students to Israel, as part of Hillel, and admitted that it impacted them. "I wouldn't say they came back more religious," she said, "But definitely more spiritual, and more in touch with Judaism on a personal level of understanding in their lives."

Religion is a strange thing though; as something that is supposed to bring a person peace and spiritual happiness, is often used as a reason for discrimination and hate against a person of a different faith. It has started wars throughout time, there have been countless martyrs killed for what they believe in, in every religion. In the Middle East, the Muslims and Jews have been fighting over a piece of land for thousands of years, citing religious reasons for ownership.

So, with so much discrimination going on between Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus -- why can't we just be accepting of each other's beliefs?

That's exactly what Dr. Sheri Dressler at UCF wonders. She is a firm believer in Baha'i -- a 150-year-old faith, now practiced by 6 million worldwide. Webster's Dictionary describes the faith as "a religion founded in Iran and teaching the essential worth of all races and religions and the equality of the sexes." Dressler said Baha'i is the fastest growing religion in the world today.

"Baha'i is a message of unity, of one God, and that all religions came from the same source - that they're not in conflict with one another," Dressler said. She believes in what all religions say, and that although different profits in religions came at different times in history, they were bringing the same message.

"We meet in groups and accept what the Bible says, along with the Koran -- we study them all to see how they connect to each other, because they do." Dressler said most students that believe in Baha'i have "grown up in various faiths and are searching for something they can believe in where they can use both their mind and heart."

She explained that it's important to also use your head, when researching religions.

"You should ask questions," she said, "Questions are a reflection of our ability to think, and it's important to think in religion -- the truth will stand out on its own."

She explained that a lot of college students are searching because "they a desire to find a balance between science and materialism -- religion is that balance," she said.

College is a melting pot of diversity, with people of all races, backgrounds and religions. Most college students are at a time in their lives when they're open-minded, as a result of being exposed to that diversity. Hopefully, after they leave college they won't lose that lack of prejudice in their adult life.

UCF Students like Melyssa Bernstein, and Wes Knight, both in the Nicholson School of Communication have a liberal view of religion. Knight stated that although he was raised in a specific religion, he became open minded once in college.

"Fundamentally, I am the same, but I'm probably more tolerable of people who don't believe what I do; after all, it is their right not to believe in the same things I do," he said.

Bernstein said that although she celebrates Jewish holidays she is not particularly religious. "My parents raised me to be open-minded and decide a religion for myself," she said, "I consider myself to be a spiritual person, but I don't let conformity control my decisions."

©Copyright 2001, Central Florida Future

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