September 25, 2008

Religious students find many options on campus

Some University of Chicago students might be surprised to learn that the latest Princeton Review ranking of least religious colleges—the category was ominously titled "Students Ignore God on a Regular Basis"—did not put the U of C on the list. Be that as it may, many religious students would agree that the general attitude toward religion on this campus is not exactly friendly. This doesn't just stem from the fact that so many U of C students are indifferent to religion, but also from the fact that so many are openly hostile to it.

While it's true that the U of C was not among the top anti-religious schools, that is not a function of how negatively religion is viewed on this campus, but rather of just how negatively it is viewed on some of the most fringe campuses. The U of C isn't exactly Wheaton College—our friendly, very devout neighbor to the west—but it's not Lewis & Clark College either, where, according to the Review, God regularly sends lightning bolts of fury down on campus.

For every couple of stereotypical, raging atheist nuts ("Religion is the most destructive force in the world!") in your house, there's also going to be a stereotypical, uptight religious nut. (In my house, I'd probably qualify as that nut.)

Of course, most U of C students—and for that matter most Americans—fall somewhere in between those two extremes, although the average student here is much closer to the atheist end than the average American. I would speculate that a majority of undergraduates either firmly don't believe in God or believe in God to some extent but ostentatiously avoid subscribing to organized religion.

That said, religious students on campus can find an accepting community. You can find an organization for just about any faith you might have interest in. If you, like me, are a bit of a religious nut—or even if you're not a nut—the best place to find a faith group is through the "Religion on the Quads" website (, which provides a comprehensive list of campus religious groups.

In my view, the best part about religious life here is the open and provocative discussion about it. The old taboo against discussing religion and politics can, and should, be completely shed at this university's door. Even people who have strong feelings about religion—and most do—are eager to hear and debate opposing views. It might be over lunch, it might be at 2 a.m. in the dorm lounge, it might be in your Hum class, but critical and heated discussion regarding religion is pleasantly pervasive here.

Lastly, a few pieces of advice for religious students: First, find an organization and get involved—if you don't join a church or religious group early on, it might be harder for you to do so in the middle of the year. And also—this is a cliché, but it is a true and important one—keep an open mind; doing so will befuddle those who think that religion and ignorance go hand in hand. Yes, you might be offended by that obstinate atheist, but just remember that the worst antidote to narrow-mindedness is more narrow-mindedness.