We wrote a paper based on a survey that I gave to a class here at SUU. The paper and survey deal with religious activity in college students.
It’s easy to say that religion is important in the lives of the young people of today, but how important? Does religion have any affect on the day to day activities of the average student? A survey was administered to students at Southern Utah University in which they reported their own views of how important religion is, what role it plays, and how it affects them. Survey results were coded and analyzed. The results show that most students are active religiously. An interesting correlation between sex and religious activity was also found.
This paper reports the results of a survey on religion given to college students at SUU. Through research of other work done, it is obvious that religion plays an important role in the lives and development of young people. This survey and research will help shed more light onto the infrequently researched topic of the religious activity of post-adolescents.
In order to find out why post-adolescents are or aren’t religiously active in college, we must first find out what other elements are affecting students’ decisions to be religious. Studies show that there are two main contributing factors to post-adolescents’ (college aged students 18 and older enrolled in college courses) choices about religion. The first, and most significant, is the influence from the parents on a person since early childhood. Research shows that the second factor is the influence of the media.
College-aged students learn core values and rituals at a very young age, and rely on their parents’ beliefs for their own religious identity. These values are carried throughout adolescents’ college and young adult lives. After moving away to college students are faced with their own decision-making opportunities. This is the time when adolescents look to their core values to base their decisions on whether to be religiously active or not.
Mullikin (2006) indicates that adolescents that practice religion do so because of their influence from childhood parental control (p.182). “Religion entails associations with a formal organization, participation in formally organized rituals and/or following official doctrines, and/or assuming that people live in a split-level universe, consisting of both material and spiritual existence” (Ellenwood & McGraw, 2002; Fuller, 2001). Looking further into Mullikin’s research we find that “parents play an extremely important role in shaping who children become, because they comprise the primary source of communication from birth to school age.” (Mullikin, 2006, p.183) Family influence plays a primary role in the development of identity in adolescence. Individual choice begins to play a greater role when individuals move away from the parent’s home. “Some parents try to steer children toward specific religion, others present snippets of spiritual concepts and leave a child to sort through this information and decide whether religious or spiritual practices become core values.” (Mullikin, 2006, p. 185) On departure from direct parental influence, the opportunity to explore alternate beliefs opens wide. Most parents felt that religion was primarily a potential symbolic resource that children might or might not choose to use later, instead of viewing religion as beliefs and practices to be implemented (Mullikin 2006). Parents also implied that they used religion as a guide for their children to make moral ‘right or wrong’ decisions. Research indicates that when faced with opposition, children will almost always revert back to lessons they learned through parental guidance and religious influence.
Aside from parental influence, media has also been proven to affect adolescent’s religious activity. Through his research, Loomis (2004), states that college aged students found some form of religion in over 60% of films or shows that they viewed, and applied those religious questions and symbols to their own lives in some form or another (p.155).
Post adolescence becomes a time where many individuals find themselves in a search to support beliefs through alternative viewpoints. Loomis (2004) pointed out that young people investigate religiosity through the process of applying old symbols to new context (p.153). Therefore, “students are using media as a religious background rather that attending a Sunday religious meeting.” (Loomis, 2004, p.156) Students who did not regularly practice organized religion were more likely to gain religion through media symbols as a way of not having to responsibly answer to god or the community. (Mullikin 2006) suggests the idea that media, while often viewed as a negative entity, can play a role in reinforcing religious ideals held by parents. Religion is also demonstrated on television during sporting events, particularly football, when players kneel to form a prayer circle at the end of a game (p.187).
You may ask yourself, if religion even matters to adolescents. Oddly enough religion plays a large role in adolescent success. “Researchers indicate that religious involvement of both parents and adolescents together provides a decreased likelihood of involvement in deviant behaviors.” (Loomis, 2004, p.150) Studies also indicated that religious individuals report higher self-esteem, more positive self-views, self-liking, and levels of social relations than those without a strong religious identity (Mullikin 2006). Those with positive religious and spiritual identities more often join organizations that amplify a variety of useful skills, including basic communication skills: public speaking, group decision making, leadership skills, and conflict resolution. The same type of positives that result from adolescent religiosity seem to continue into adulthood. Religious adolescents are far more likely to stay in school than their peers, thus setting themselves up for more career opportunities in the future. By actively engaging in religion in some shape or form, these findings indicate that students will be better prepared for real-life experiences.
In summary, the literature shows that adolescents involved in some form of religion have higher self-esteem, more positive self-views, self-liking and levels of social relations as well as possible indefinable, intangible benefits. Research also shows that an adolescent is most likely going to engage in religious activities when influenced by their parents and family during childhood. While media also plays a role in influencing religion, studies show that parental influence is the main contributing factor. Although there is thorough research on the effects of religiosity in college age students, little research has been done on the amount of involvement that students engage in while attending a college institution. Therefore, we can conclude with the unanswered question of how involved post-adolescents are in religious activities.
It is clear that there is a great amount of interest in the religious beliefs, practices and attitudes of post-adolescents. Parents, educators, and even peers can learn much about how to be more persuasive, sympathetic, and understanding of the modern college student if they are aware of those students’ views on religion. Being aware of these views can also help us better understand cultural trends.
This study was done only to students attending Southern Utah University to help us focus our results and understanding. If we can gain a better understanding of the religious attitudes of students here at SUU we can also help create a more customized learning environment. This study also helps us to confirm or deny the results of other studies done in other locations.
Many students feel that the move to college is a big change in lifestyle and even personality. It seems likely, therefore, that students’ religious views and practices would change as they leave the home in which they began to develop their views for the college environment.
Through doing this survey, we hope to find out how active SUU students are, and what their attitudes towards religion and how it affects their lives are.
A 16 question survey was administered in a convenience sample to a class of 26 students at Southern Utah University. 65% of the respondents were female, 35% male. The survey included both demographic and attitudinal questions to allow for comparison to research done in other locations.
80% of respondents claimed that they shared the same religious views as their family. 65% of respondents reported spending at least 3 hours per week in some sort of organized religious activity. Over half of all participants also felt that their religious views had some effect on their relationships with peers, but less effect on relationships with employers or educators. 88% claimed at least some belief in a supreme being.
Because we are looking for the effects of religion on life, we also asked questions that related to action – such as self denial or sharing their beliefs. 84.5% of participants reported that they engaged in some sort of self-denial for religious reasons. 80% of participants reported that they had made efforts to share their religious views with others in the past year.
A Chi-Square test was run, comparing sex to hours per week in religious activity. X2 = 5.917 (3) p .116 and is therefore not significant.
Significance was found in comparing belief in deity to each participants’ attitude towards the importance of religion in every day life. X2 = 18.909 (9) p .026. Results also showed that females shared their religious views more frequently than males. X2 = 12.009 (4) p .017
The results of the survey show that the students who took the survey are under the age of 30 and from
Utah. Most of the participants claim membership in some kind of organized religion, but there is a 10% difference to the negative in the number of students who actively participate in their chosen religion. This difference is surprising to the authors, who expected a larger drop of religious participation in this demographic due to students leaving the environments where they became accustomed to their religious practices.
Females surveyed tended to be more religiously active (based on the assumption of correlation between responses given and actual religious activity) than male participants. It is interesting to note that significance was not found in the chi-squared comparisons except in cases of analyzing the crosstab of sex. One instance was the analysis of participants’ sharing of their religious views, where females reported they have shared their views in the past 6 months far more often than the males. The other instance was in the case of hours per week in some sort of religious activity, where those who spend more than 6 hours per week (n=6) in religious activity were exclusively female.
More than half of participants reported frequently engaging in some form of self denial for religious reasons. This seems to indicate that these participants let their religious views affect their lives. The majority of participants also felt that sharing their religious views with others was important.
Survey participants also reported that religious views have an effect on peer relations, but were divided on if religious views have any effect on student / teacher relations or worker / employer relations.
Clearly the religious training participants received in their youth still had power to keep the majority of them active in their chosen religion.
The results of the survey clearly showed that students in the participating class are very religiously active, and that their religious views affect their day to day lives for the most part. Even those who claimed no membership in any organized religion reported sharing their own views with other people to some degree and that doing so is important to them. More research is needed, especially with a random sample, to support these findings. The survey results also revealed a surprising correlation between sex and religious activity. It would be interesting to do more specific research in the area of sex and religious activity.
Loomis, K. D. (2004). Spiritual students and secular media. Journal of Media and
Religion. 3(3), 151-164.
Mullikin, P. L. (2006). Religious and spiritual identity: The impact of gender, family,
peers and media communication in post-adolescence. Journal of Communication& Religion. 29(1), 178-203,26.