"If it feels good, do it, there is no consequence."
That's what society is telling college students, according to
Mike Judge, the co-founder and organizer of a weekly Catholic
worship event that caters to 18-25 year olds. For decades, college
campuses have been a symbol of youthful decadence and a haven
for bad decisions in the eyes of many religious conservatives.
Between the influence of liberal academia and the temptations
of Greek life, the role of faith in the lives of college students
on some campuses becomes a thing of the past -- or so the story
The past five years, however, have witnessed a surge of religious
life, both on and off campus.
Judge is part of this movement.
According to a 2005 study by the Harvard School of Public Health,
college students spend $5.5 billion on alcohol a year, more than
what they spend on books, sodas and coffee combined. In 2004,
a different study by Harvard found that many binge drinkers on
college campuses reported unprotected sex, academic problems or
injury as a result of their alcohol use.
To combat these dangers facing college students, Judge, 31, founded
On the Deck as a summer refuge for Catholic students.
Thursday over the course of the summer, young Catholics (around
50-70 of them) gather in Marietta, Ga., to eat, pray and discuss
their faith. The Archdiocese of Atlanta funds the On the Deck
program, but only after Judge was able to prove that it helped
keep Generation Next, those between the ages of 16 to 25, involved
in the Catholic Church.
"The Catholic Church does a very good job with [young children]
and older members," said Judge. "When someone leaves
the youth for the realm of the unknown which we call college,
they can leave the Catholic world. A lot of college towns don't
have funds for a Catholic ministry, and so there is not a strong
presence there for the students."
Judge believes these barbecue socials appeal to college students
because "it is a boost; it's a place where they can meet
other Catholics their age." After the meal, attendees engage
each other on relevant social issues and listen to Christian crossover
During the fall and spring semesters, Judge takes On the Deck
to college campuses and to Catholic centers at schools such as
University of Virginia, Auburn and Emory.
On the Deck is just one incarnation of what is becoming part
of a national trend: religious organizations looking to keep the
faith alive on college campuses. More often, these organizations
are seen as an anti-institutional alternative to the on-campus
Different lifestyles for the religious and the secular
In a 2003 study titled "The Spiritual Life of College Students,"
the Higher Education Research Institute examined the religiosity
on campuses in a survey of over 110,000 college students from
236 different institutions.
According to the survey, 79 percent of respondents said they
shared a belief in God and 81 percent frequently or occasionally
attended religious services -- statistics that appear to debunk
Judge's fears about college students.
The majority of students (69 percent) also agreed (strongly or
somewhat) that religious beliefs provide strength, support and
guidance. Yet when asked about their current views on spiritual
or religious matters, only 42 percent said they were secure in
their beliefs and 23 percent said they were still seeking answers.
Researchers also found that those students who displayed high
percentages of religious commitment and involvement were often
the same ones who abstained from alcohol use. Those students who
were not as devoted to a religious life were much less likely
(by nearly 30 percent) to have never drunk beer or wine.
It's those latter groups -- including the nearly 60 percent of
respondents who did not consider it "essential or very important"
to follow religious teachings in everyday life -- that religious
groups are so eagerly courting.
Even though the researchers behind the HERI study found that
four out of five incoming college freshmen had attended religious
services in the past year and more than two-thirds said they pray,
other studies indicated that they drop their religious engagement
once at college.
In a September 2006 report, the Barna Group, an evangelical research
and advocacy organization, found that "despite strong levels
of spiritual activity during the teen years, most "20somethings
disengage from active participation in the Christian faith during
their young adult years -- and often beyond that."
According to the Barna study, only 20 percent of 20somethings
kept the same spiritual activity as they had in high school.
University of Wisconsin-Madison senior Matt Kammerait began his
college career as one of those typical 20somethings. Kammerait,
21, had been involved with his church while growing up, but he
compartmentalized that part of his life and didn't initially pursue
it in school. "I put [church] in a separate box," he
said. "It was something you did to be a good person."
high school, he said he was involved in the party scene and abused
drugs and alcohol, a trend which continued into his freshman year
as a student at the university's Au Claire campus. While there,
Kammerait's residential adviser encouraged him to attend Bible
study with the school's chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ.
He joined the group and began to change his partying habits.
"My friends confronted me about my lifestyle and the hypocrisy
between what I said and what I believed," said Kammerait.
"One night, I realized that I was headed toward serious trouble.
... I thought I would die. ... So that night I dropped to my knees
and had no option but to turn to God."
Since that night, Kammerait has fully involved himself in CCC,
or Student Impact, as it is called at the Wisconsin campuses.
Every Thursday night he is a co-emcee of a religious pow-wow
where anywhere from 250 to 500 students show up to pray, meet
other Christians and listen to a worship band. These "Primetime"
events are held on what is considered a big party night in part
so "students who are looking for something else can get away
from the [party scene]," he said.
Kammerait also is a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity, but
doesn't see the two activities as contradictory. "When it
comes to the fraternity lifestyle, it's not quite the stereotype
that you'd see in movies and TV shows," he said. "There
are redeeming aspects where guys and girls who are supporting
each other for common causes on campus. You can still be in [the
party] scene and still have meaningful relationships with those
For Kammerait, it's part of a balanced lifestyle. "As long
as you stick to your guns when you're in a party situation, you
can get a lot of it," he said.
He acknowledged that experimentation is part of the college process.
"I think that people take risks that they probably wouldn't
take by themselves," he said. "People can make lifestyle
decisions that will affect them for a long time, both in positive
and negative ways."
A place for the de-churched on campus
The Barna researchers also found that Christians in their 20s
were 70 percent more likely than older adults to say if they "cannot
find a local church that will help them become more like Christ,
then they will find people and groups that will, and connect with
them instead of a local church."
Among those who were able to find a spiritual outlet in their
new location was Andrew Tucciarone, a 22-year-old engineering
student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Tucciarone, along with his wife Latoya, are a part of the growing
contingent of Generation Next who are "de-churched."
He defines the term as "those who had a bad experience with
the church and saw it as a religion, not a relationship."
He attends services at Midtown Community Church, which instituted
the Midtown InSight program so college students could live their
lives mindful of Christ and their community and have a place where
their "paths intersect with our fellow church goers and with
neighbors at our schools, in our city and around the world."
He also is involved with the local CCC branch and has found friends
there who also felt disenchanted by their hometown churches. In
Tucciarone's case, he felt the church had become too corporate.
His wife Latoya, a 26 year old also involved in Christian organizations,
had experienced discrimination in her home church.
Andrew Tucciarone said he appreciates CCC because, while it encourages
its members to attend church, it has no formal structure. He said
he finds that more informal setting more spiritually fulfilling
-- a sentiment echoed in other religious communities as well.
A religious home away from home
"There seems to be a trend today that people are kind of
stepping away from institutionalized Judaism," said Rabbi
Tzvi Backman. "People may have an interest in Judaism, but
they kind of don't want to be a part of the formal structure.
The stress of the institutionalized, cookie-cutter Judaism, is
tough. [Students] relate to a more relaxed setting."
In Somerville, Mass., Backman, 31, founded a Chabad House on
the perimeter of the Tufts University campus, where close to 20
percent of the 5,000 students are Jewish.
houses have grown exponentially. In 2000, 36 Chabad houses were
on campus, and now there are 98. The organization believes it
reached over 34,000 Jewish students over the recent High Holiday
season -- the eight days surrounding the Jewish new year and Yom
The tradition of the Chabad house comes out of the Hasidic strain
of Jewish orthodoxy, and focuses on an educational and outreach
program that encourages non-observant Jews to strengthen their
commitment to their faith. Ideally, the house becomes the seed
for other observant Jews to plant themselves nearby, thereby creating
a larger Jewish community.
Like most other Chabad houses, Backman's house is also his family's
home. The appeal of Chabad for college students, according to
Backman, is the focus on family. When Tufts students attend services
-- around 30 to 40 on a weekly basis -- they learn how to live
a Jewish life, observe the Jewish dietary laws in a kosher kitchen,
and how to "keep the Shabbos."
"It just happens to be [at Chabad], we don't only have our
family at the table, we have the local Jewish community,"
Even though Tufts already had a thriving Jewish life in the campus
Hillel, Backman believed that there was still room for a different
way for students to express their faith.
"There are many students who haven't yet found their connection
to Judaism, so different opportunities must be presented to allow
the students to connect," said Backman. "Chabad adds
more to the Jewish community, more vibrant with more opportunities."
Big tent Islam
"We're probably the most active Muslim student group in
the country," said Nura Sediq, president of the University
of Michigan-Ann Arbor's Muslim Student Association.
While other Muslim communities around the country may quibble
with that statement, the association is indeed a strong force
on campus. According to Sediq -- a 22 year old triple majoring
in political science, communications and Near Eastern studies
-- around half of the school's undergraduate Muslim population
is part of the association.
association acts as a big tent group encompassing students of
varying degrees of observance. While some students come from the
large and insular Muslim community in the Detroit suburbs (home
to the third largest number of mosques in the United States, according
to the Council on American-Islamic Relations), others come from
schools where they had few, if any, fellow Muslims.
"Depending on your background, coming to college might be
your first instance of meeting other Muslims," said Sediq,
who went to a high school with only four other Muslims. "But
at the same time it could be the opposite, and you are coming
from an Islamic school, and you are given the opportunity to develop
your own Muslim identity."
The Muslim Student Association tries to bridge the gap between
the two. By building acceptance and open-mindedness among Muslim
students, Sediq hopes to build a vibrant Muslim community.
The Muslim students in Ann Arbor tend to stay within the university-funded
student organization and eschew the area mosque, Sediq said. Ann
Arbor's Muslim community is mostly filled with newer immigrant
Muslims who are more conservative in their religious practices,
she explained. Their mosque has a partition between male and female
worshippers and relations between the two groups have never developed.
So students look to the association as a spiritual outlet. Every
Friday, about 250 students attend their mandatory prayer services
and afterward gather at a local halal eatery, where food is prepared
according to Islamic law, she said.
But much like the On the Deck or Primetime events, Thursday nights
at the Muslim student association provide alcohol-free activities
Each week, around 50 students come together for Halaqa, meaning
"gathering" in Arabic for events which "challenge
your spirituality," said Sediq. The student association hosts
speakers who spur discussion about topics regarding Islam. Other
activities include movie nights and sporting events, she added.
-- By Brian Wolly, Generation Next