The tendency of prestigious American universities to have large and strong evangelical campus ministries is also the case outside the U.S., particularly in university contexts that represent a challenge to conservative Christians, writes Edward Dutton in the Chronicle Review (March 12), the weekly magazine of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Dutton found burgeoning evangelical campus ministries and a tendency of Christians to become more fervent in their beliefs as they attended Ivy League universities and such prestigious British schools as Oxford and Cambridge. In contrast, he cites research showing that Christian students who attend Christian colleges tend to become more liberal during the process of their education.
Dutton speculates that it is the challenge of living the faith in the pluralistic and sometimes hostile environment of these universities that leads to such fervent belief. In his research into Christian groups at Dutch universities, Dutton found a more lenient attitude among Christian students. “The main Christian student group at Leiden University, for example, is relatively liberal. Some members admitted to having premarital sex, getting a bit drunk and accepting evolution as truth,” he writes.
Because most Dutch universities, being equally prestigious, attract local students who tend to be of the same background, there is little of the pluralism and pressure that would draw Christian students to band together. In contrast, the University of Oxford draws students from public and private schools and from different social classes and religious backgrounds.
The challenges of this pluralism, as well as the stress from exams that cannot be retaken, lead to a high rate of depression and suicide, but also of conversion to Christianity. “Non-Christian students are far more likely to become Christian at Oxford than at other universities, especially if they are from a modest background,” according to Dutton.
(The Chronicle Review, 1255 23rd St., N.W., Washington, DC 20037)