The lines of religious identity in the U.S. have become blurred as people have begun questioning the importance of attending a place of worship. The meaning of being religious has evolved for the younger generation as the social and political landscape becomes more liberal.
According to the Washington Post, religiosity is declining in the U.S. A poll called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism” showed a 13% drop in the number of people who considered themselves religious between 2005 and 2012. In the interviews conducted, students seemed to share a very liberal point of view about religion. Participants of the survey were asked if they considered themselves religious regardless of whether or not they attended a place of worship.
Despite evidence that religion is declining in the U.S., Rabbi Mavdig, the Rabbi of Chabad (Jewish Outreach) on campus, says the amounts of people joining his table on Jewish holidays has grown every year since he has come to Oswego State.
“When we first got here, we had two people every Shabbos.” Rabbi Mavdig said. “Now we have about 15. Our first Passover on Campus, we had nine. Now we have between 50 and 60. In the Jewish world, we have two strains. One is rapidly declining with Judaism and the second is the growing number of orthodox Jews.”
The Rabbi noted that while some people are slipping away from the religion (mainly by intermarriage), many people are also becoming more involved to the point of becoming orthodox.
Student Robert Kristel recently visited a Baptist Church in Syracuse with about 50 other students on Oct. 7. He claimed that he had an experience unlike any other, and said the sense of community in the church was strong and they welcomed anyone.
“Most of the U.S is non-practicing Christians. I am one of them. I fell out of grace when I got busy,” Kristel said.
Some of the reasons for the decrease of interest in religion are: college students are away from home, away from their parents and busy with their academics and extra curricular activities. Being away from their community place of worship can throw a wrench into the routine of many students who were practicing at home.
According to a 2007 Religious Landscape Survey from Pewforum.org, 25 percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 18 and 29 are unaffiliated with religion. Between the ages of 30 and 39, only 5 percent of Americans find themselves unaffiliated with religion.
It appears that people in the U.S. are becoming more accepting of other people’s religious beliefs or lack there of. Just last year, the right to gay marriage was made legal in New York.
It is now much easier for someone to admit to being unaffiliated with a religion. This may be an explanation for why the younger generation of people find themselves less affiliated with religion than the generations before them.
Some students attribute their religious standing to their upbringing and the efforts of their parents.
“I am a religious person because I was raised Catholic by my parents,” Sarah Manfredi said.
“Yes. I am a religious person. I went to Catholic school,” Kristel said when asked about his religious involvement.
“I enjoy being Jewish although I don’t go to temple,” Mary Mandresh said. “I went to temple on holidays, only when my mom would take me. I was educated on Judaism and I am a Bar Mitzvah.”
In spite of his parents’ efforts, Mandresh does not feel he is a religious person.
Similarly, YaDong Wang, an Oswego State student, feels that despite his mother’s aims for him to be Presbyterian, he is not a religious person.
“I just go to church when I am forced by my mother,” Wang said.
The qualifications for being a religious individual change depending on whom you ask.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines being religious as “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.” The definition does not specify what devotion entails. Is devotion attending church or making a prayer to God before a final?
“Just because I don’t wear a yarmulke does not mean I am not a religious person,” Ian Dembling said.
Dembling highlights that wearing a yarmulke is a symbol of Judaism that he does not adhere to. Nevertheless, he still feels as religious as any man who wears one. Some students are able to identify their spiritual connection to their religion, without adhering to all of the religious guidelines.
“I pray every day, but I don’t go to church. I don’t have time and I don’t agree with all churches. I just believe. I believe in a deity,” Kristel said.
Students can maintain their connection to religion in different ways. Dembling maintained his involvement in Judaism by teaching the ‘Hora’ dance at his synagogue. Mandresh, while not religious, kisses the mezuzah with his hand every time he passes through a door marked with one on the post (a tradition of Judaism). Mandresh claims he has no purpose for this act; it is more of a learned behavior to him.
Since many college students are learning new ideas, as well as being exposed to different people on campus, it is easy to see how people could feel spiritual without confining themselves to a religion.
The college community differs from than the rest of the U.S. because students are learning, exchanging ideas and discovering themselves. Religion is still a dominant part of American culture though. Whether we identify ourselves as spiritual or religious people, or use a place of worship as a standard to measure our religious identity, people are not necessarily losing faith in a deity, as much as they are finding personal ways to connect to a deeper meaning for life.