CINCINNATI (Reuters Life!) - The students piling into a
house near the University of Cincinnati are laughing, sending
text messages, and lining up for plates of pizza -- then they
all bow their heads in prayer.
This weekly pizza lunch at Wesley House, a ministry of the
United Methodist Church, is just one of a half-dozen Christian
events Nick George, 19, will attend this week with friends from
the Navigators, a thriving campus evangelical group.
For while public colleges in America were once considered
hostile territory for religious students, a revival among both
evangelical and traditional churches on campus has made it safe
-- and even cool -- to be a college Christian.
"I'm absolutely more involved (in Christianity) than before
I came to college," said George, an engineering student.
Most of his friends are fellow believers who, like
thousands of young Christians, have eschewed private religious
colleges in favor of large secular U.S. universities in a sign
of a wider shift in the United States towards acceptance of
religion in all areas of life.
Eight of 10 college students attend religious services, 80
percent discuss religion or spirituality with friends and 69
percent pray, according to a 2004 University of California, Los
Angeles, survey of 112,232 freshmen at 236 universities.
"The American university system is not so aggressively
asking kids to question their religion as it might have been in
past years, in the 60s," said Mark Regnerus, a sociology
professor at the University of Texas.
That's not to say all students take a straight path to
University of Cincinnati engineering student Brian Fiske
grew up in church but strayed when he hit college. He made new
friends, joined a fraternity, and generally had a good time.
"For I couple of years I partied it up, lived like a
college kid," said Fiske, 22. "But a couple of years ago I
decided I'm done with this."
He joined the Baptist college ministry, moved in with six
other believers, and now spends 40 to 60 hours a week involved
with Christian activities and friends.
"I'm just happier. It's a good environment," he said.
The most visible faith group on most campuses remain
evangelical or conservative Christian organizations like the
Navigators or Campus Crusade for Christ, founded in 1951.
Campus Crusade spokesman Tony Arnold said the group has
grown from 18,000 students on 225 campuses in 1992 to 50,000 on
1,100 campuses, which he attributes to the uncertainty of
"Life in the 21st century seems increasingly fraught with
danger, whether it's a crazy with a gun in a classroom or at
the seat of a plane headed into a skyscraper," Arnold said.
"This generation is hungry for community and connection."
While college Christianity is more popular in southern
states than in the northeast, even that is changing.
In 2002, Matt Bennett founded the Christian Union to bring
"honor and praise to Jesus Christ" at the eight Ivy League
universities. Five years of hard work organizing small Bible
classes and other outreach have started to pay off.
"There's an increasing acceptance that intellectualism and
Christianity go hand in hand," said Bennett. He estimates that
between 3 percent and 9 percent of Ivy League undergraduates
now participate in various Christian activities each week.
Many students attracted to Wesley House are liberals
working for social justice, from the inclusion of gays and
lesbians to outreach with Muslim and anti-war groups.
That one student's view of homosexuality or abortion may
differ from the view of another Christian -- eating pizza
nearby -- doesn't faze graduate student Leland Spencer, 23.
"All people, from the far left to the far right are welcome
to be here," Spencer said. "We have some good discussions."
(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)