Thursday, February 7, 2008

Students remain devoted to faith

Marlesse Marino

Even though college students may move away from home, they do not have to move away from religion.

Religious leaders at some Boston-area colleges claim they have seen an increase in college students' participation.

Tufts University chaplain the Rev. David O'Leary said he has noticed student attendance at religious services climbing in recent years.

"There has always been a very active religious community at Tufts," O'Leary said. "There has been a steady increase [of student attendance] - every year our numbers are up for all services."

He said Tufts has seen a dramatic increase in the Muslim community since the Tufts University Interfaith Center opened last semester because members now have a "proper place to worship."

O'Leary attributes the annual growth of student participation in spiritual organizations to a sense of belonging.

"It is a way of identity," he said. "People are away from home so they gravitate towards what they know best -- like religions or spiritual paths -- to feel connected."

Brother Lawrence Whitney, the university chaplain for community life at Marsh Chapel, said BU's administration has given the religious department a lot of freedom to communicate with students and sponsor religious events.

"I don't think the university as a whole is actively promoting religious life, but I think it is welcoming religious life among students," he said.

Whitney said Marsh Chapel service attendance among groups such as evangelical Christians has fluctuated and declined in past years but has since returned to higher levels. He said though Marsh Chapel is home to more than 13 religious organizations that serve diverse religious and spiritual communities, they do not keep statistics on attendance at ceremonies.

BU School of Medicine student Jainy Savla, a practicing Jain and member of the BU chapter of Jains In Voice and Action, said she accredits her increased participation in Jainism to her exposure to different cultures.

"I've also made it a point to learn about other religions," she said. "I've met so many interesting people. It makes the subject of religion more interesting to talk and learn about."

Savla said she noticed an increase in practicing Jains on campus in the past few years and attributes the rise to widely promoted events on campus.

BU College of Arts and Sciences sophomore Kelsey Shelton worships outside the university and said she has also found a community in her religion.

"There are about 25 of us that get together frequently to pray and just hang out," she said. "We have definitely become like family and they are even closer to me than my own family."

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