Faith Special Section

How college shapes religious experiences

Bruce Twenhafel, director of the A.D. Bruce Religion Center, has helped sustain a place welcoming to students of all religious beliefs and backgrounds | Kaylee Dusang/The Cougar

There is no denying that college is a pivotal moment in almost everyone’s life. Young adults are leaving home for the first time, growing into adulthood and faced with new, everyday challenges and experiences.

A part of that maturity and growth in college are students beginning to discover who they are and what they believe. For many, the university experience is the main influence of their worldview.

The director of the A.D. Bruce Religion Center Bruce Twenhafel and the President of United Campus Ministries and Campus Ministries Association Stephen Cottingham work with several students from different religious backgrounds who are either seeking to dig deeper into their faith or attempting to learn more about religion.

“There are certain factors that happen when a student leaves home and goes on to college,” said Director of the A.D. Bruce Religion Center Bruce Twenhafel. “Part of it is self-discovery, and they may not continue things that they were doing, like going with a family to church.”

Cottingham said that since there are several cultures and religions at the University, students are exposed to more than at home.

“You never really know what a student’s going to be going through when they come through the door,” Cottingham said. “I will say that some students choose to just coast with what they’ve Inherited from their parents and recreate a form of that here in college. Other ones will break away from what they inherited and find something for themselves, and that’s where you get more questions.”

Choosing a path

Since students are away from the teachings of home for the first time, it becomes their own journey. To decide what they believe. For English literature senior Madi Stevens, college was where she felt it was time choose if she wanted to follow the faith she had grown with.

“I grew up in church and around a lot of religions, so that was normal,” Stevens said. “When I got to college it made me choose for the first time if this is what I wanted to believe, or if this was not what I wanted to believe.”

Stevens’ decision to become involved in Baptist Student Ministries on campus lead her to become more active in her faith.

“There were no parents or anyone telling me what to do, so this was my choice,” Stevens said. “I would say college really helped me define and figure out if this was something that I wanted to believe and want to choose to do for the rest of my life.”

Stevens has been a leader in the Baptist Student Ministries for three years. For her senior year she has accepted the position as an officer.

“I’m really excited to lead some new incoming students who are also seeking to decide if this is something that they want to believe in,” Stevens said.

The opposing view

A biology senior who goes by Hunter Smith had a different experience in college when it comes to religion. He believes college is a place where one begins to learn how to respect others beliefs and worldviews. For him, moving away from religion was a part of growing in college.

“You’re exposed to a lot of different people from different backgrounds,” Smith said. “Because there are so many foreign exchange students here you might meet people of different faith’s that you’ve never heard of before. So I think that by meeting more people and understanding their point of view makes you look at your own, and think ‘what if they’re right and I’m wrong.’”

Smith said he strived to be religious when he was younger. When he read more into his faith, he realized that it did not reflect his personal values.

“When I got to college it kind of shaped how I deal with it in a sense,” Smith said. “I learned how to still be respectful of others beliefs without having to agree with them.”

Smith, who was of the Islamic faith, said he hopes to help others of all religions who were in the same situation as him.

“I believe that people have rights, but ideas do not,” Smith said. “It’s okay to criticize ideas, and college gives you a good place to have that discussion. At the same time, it doesn’t mean you have to be disrespectful to somebody because they hold an idea different than you.”

An open dialogue

Twenhafel said that the religion center is a building that promotes interfaith dialogue. A tradition of the Campus Ministries Association.  Within the interfaith dialogue, students discuss and ask questions about other people’s beliefs and opinion. This provides them with a better understanding of different worldviews.

“The more a student knows about another religion the more barriers are dropped,” Twenhafel said. “They begin to understand that we may not have to agree with how another person views their spirituality or their religion. But the more you know the better you can understand.”

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