Religion on campus – do students care?

Does size matter?

While that question may seem more applicable to matters of anatomy, the same can be asked of the religious atmosphere on the College campus.

There is no doubt that a large number of students affiliate themselves with a certain religion, whether it is Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, etc. The College Campus Ministries is composed of 10 different religious organizations, which include Catholic Campus Ministries (CCM), Gospel Choir Ministries, Hillel/Jewish Student Union, New Jersey Christian Fellowship, the Islamic Society, Presbyterian Campus Ministries, the Protestant Bible Fellowship/The Navigators, Coptic Orthodox Fellowship, Chabad and Unitarian Universalism Campus Ministries.

Although the exact number of students who consider themsleves religious at the College is unknown, a study done by the Higher Education Research Institute at University of California- Los Angeles found that among 112,232 freshmen at various universities, 80 percent had an interest in spirituality, and the same percentage had attended religious services in the past year.

If so many students make an effort to incorporate spirituality or religion into their lives, why does it appear that a relatively low number of students at the College actively participate in campus religious organizations and events? Is this trend just part of general student apathy resulting in indifference across the board, or can the problem be traced directly back to religion?

Take, for example, Tuesday’s “Ask a Priest” discussion in the New Residence Hall main lounge, which was sponsored by CCM. The event involved anonymously writing questions on pieces of paper, which were then answered by Father Joe Hlubik. The topics of discussion ranged from celibacy to the role of women in early Christianity to the conservative Catholic sect Opus Dei, which gained attention from its role in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

The students who did attend were highly enthusiastic, rifling through personal Bibles, mouthing along to Scriptures and engaging in spirited debates and discussions with each other and Hlubik, who mentioned several times that his answers reflected his own opinions, which tended to be more liberal than official Catholic doctrine.

On the rule that Catholic priests are not allowed to marry, Hlubik admitted he had “mixed feelings” on the subject.

“If I didn’t want to be celibate then I never should have been ordained,” he said, but opined that celibacy for priests should be optional, noting that historically sex was seen as a sin, especially among monks and priests, but that “sexuality isn’t negative in today’s day.”

When asked why the Eucharist, the Catholic practice of receiving Jesus Christ’s body and blood during mass, was so important, Hlubik said, “The role of the Eucharist calls us to be better people than we are,” and stressed the notion that the Eucharist has always been the center of the Catholic Church.

Despite the attendees’ unabashed interest in the subject, there were only about 20 students present, seemingly giving credence to the notion that many students remain indifferent to religion on campus.

Jeff Kornitzer, junior biology and Spanish major and president of Chabad, a Jewish organization, disagrees.

“I believe that most students are, in fact, involved in one way or another with a religious organization to which they can identify,” he said. “Affiliation comes in many shapes and sizes . From our perspective, a Jewish person does not have to ‘affiliate’ to be Jewish. He or she just is.”

Reverend Dick Kocses of the Protestant Bible Fellowship, on the other hand, agrees that low numbers and participation remain a problem. According to Kocses, many people indeed identify themselves with a particular religion, but more in an ethnic and cultural sense. Few, he said, commit themselves 100 percent to their chosen denomination.

According to the study “Exploring Religious America” conducted by the Public Broadcasting Service, 64 percent of Americans cite religion as being a “very important part” of their lives. However, Kocses believes that disinterest in religion is not contained to college students, but many Americans as well.

“I believe it goes back to the nature of what man is, not just at (the College) but throughout the world,” Kocses said.

“Religion is regional,” he said, noting that religion is often more widely practiced in the southern U.S. states, as opposed to in the Northeast, and that “Christianity is even more dead in Europe than here.”

Kocses said he would like to see more student commitment to religion and more discussion and events between the different organizations of Campus Ministries, like the Islam vs. Evangelical Protestantism discussion last year, organized by the Islamic Society and Protestant Bible Fellowship.

Yet even with these suggestions, the central question of student interest remains.