According to a recent survey carried out by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (, young adults in the United States score lower than previous generations in religious affiliation (identifying with a particular religion), religious commitment (an “internal” quality that reflects the importance of religion to a person), and religious engagement (an “external” measure which represents one’s expression of Religious Commitment. It includes common religious practices such as attending religious services, praying, religious singing/chanting, and reading sacred texts.) Moreover, in general across the nation, attendance of religious services declines somewhat during college.

On the other hand, the study demonstrates that key factors in measuring one’s spirituality or faith are very present. For example, the importance of such life goals as “attaining inner harmony” and “integrating spirituality in my life” tend to increase during college. Moreover, three-fourths of college students say they “feel a sense of connection with God/Higher Power that transcends my personal self.” Two-thirds say that their spiritual beliefs “provide me with strength, support, and guidance.”

Lastly, it’s important to mention that young adults in general have a lot of respect for the individual journey of each person and have a lot of deference to people’s beliefs about religion that are different than their own.

How would they define “none” for themselves? i.e. believe but don’t belong, or spiritual but not religious, or agnostic/atheist. I suspect different people have different definitions for how the term applies to them.

I don’t have numbers for this, but yes, I know students who would respond in each of the ways you suggest. Part of the challenge is that categories of spirituality and religion are not always easily delineated. As with most of other things that we belong to, there are varying degrees of belonging to religion that are not always easy to articulate. I think for many students who are not practicing a religion, they continue to identify with it in some way, even if it’s a very loose identification, perhaps because they see it as part of who they are and something about it continues to speak to a need that they have.

What changes a person from being religious to non-religious? i.e. what changed them if there was a change?

In terms of a positive change in mind or heart about religion, it varies. Tt seems that a positive or inspiring experience that speaks to a spiritual or emotional need, a sense of belonging and/or a trusting relationship can lead someone to have a more positive understanding of religion.

Have you modified your approach to ministry in any way to engage this group? Because of recent national studies and the national attention that has been given to the relationship between faith and young adulthood and higher education, we naturally have been giving significant attention to this question. We recognize the significant religious and spiritual diversity on campus. We recognize that faith, religion, and spirituality make up an important part of many of our students’ identities, and at a time of such growth and exploration in their lives, we need to be able to effectively speak to our students’ faith, religion, and spiritual identities. I think this is critical if we are to also speak to their emotional, intellectual, and general developmental needs as well.

We proudly explain that we are a Catholic university, and that we are welcoming of everyone, not in spite of our Catholic identity, but because of it. We practice and promote our Catholic identity with great zeal. We also offer programs and opportunities that speak to the diversity of students’ faith backgrounds. Sharon Daloz Parks, writer on young adult spirituality, talks about faith as that which helps us make meaning and find purpose in our lives. This resonates with students. Some students may find meaning and purpose in formally belonging to a religion. Others not.