A recent study in the journal Social Forces (June) reports that college-educated Americans are more likely to be religious than the non-college -educated. Such a finding is another reminder that religion remains a vital force on American campuses. In a paper presented at the mid-August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York, John Schmalzbauer of Missouri State University found that the “spiritual marketplace” is particularly vibrant on college campuses. Schmalzbauer, co-investigator of the National Study of Campus Ministries, finds an expansion of evangelicalism on campus, a revitalization of Jewish and Catholic campus organizations; the growth of new immigrant and alternative religions; and the “beginning of a renewal in mainline Protestant campus ministries.”
Along with the growth of the traditional evangelical campus groups, such as Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity, the study finds evangelical denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists, and the Presbyterian Church in America, having an impact through their own campus ministries. The decline besetting Catholic and Jewish groups is being reversed through innovative programs.
Hillel has been reworked to have a closer relation with the rest of the Jewish community and its funding sources, while Catholic ministries have also improved their fundraising strategy. Conservative Catholic groups, such as Focus, are increasingly making their presence known, according to Schmalzbauer. Mainline campus ministries, long dormant since the 1980s, have shown signs of stirring, also due partly to new fundraising efforts and denominational investments. Mainline denominations are also experimenting with congregational approaches to campus ministries. One of the leaders of this movement is University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, which attracts up to 1,300 students to programs stressing worship, small groups and community service.
(A version of Schmalzbauer’s study can downloaded at:http://religion.ssrc.org/reforum/schmalzbauer)