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Religious activity up at Carleton

<st 60% of this year’s freshman class declared that they were affiliated with a religion upon arrival at Carleton in the 2007 CIRP Freshman Survey. That number might appear large for a college that was not long ago in Princeton Review’s Top 20 of schools where “Students Ignore God on a Regular Basis.” In fact, it’s slightly lower than it has been in the past. 61% of students in Carleton classes ’07 through ’10 declared a religion when they arrived as freshmen.

Colleges across the nation use the same survey, and in 32 colleges that the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) considers similar to Carleton in selectivity, and in that they are non-sectarian, an average of 65% of this year’s freshmen declared a religion. Combining the data from all non-sectarian colleges, regardless of selectivity, 75% of freshmen declared a religion. Obviously, at sectarian colleges, like St. Olaf, that number can be higher still. The St. Olaf admissions office reports that only 18% of students declared themselves as having no affiliation or didn’t respond. However, not all St. Olaf students are Lutheran; only 41% are, in fact.

Carleton College hasn’t been a particularly religious college for a while. In 1972, 62% of Carleton’s incoming freshmen declared a religion, which is very low compared to the national average in 1972 of almost 86% of freshmen arriving at four-year colleges. In 1983, percentages of freshmen declaring a religion were very high: 77% at Carleton, 80% at other highly selective colleges and nearly 90% in the national average of all non-sectarian colleges. Between 1983’s freshman class and today’s freshman class, the percentage of students declaring a religion has slowly dropped, with some fluctuation.

These numbers, however, do not necessarily correlate with religious activity on campus. “I think that in your generation, and not just in Christianity but all religions, religious participation is way up,” said Carolyn Fure-Slocum, Carleton’s chaplain. “While previous generations have tended to say that they are spiritual but not religious, I think there is a growth in each of the religions of people wanting to observe within a religious tradition,” she added.

Looking around campus, it is not difficult to see the growth in religious participation. The Carleton Christian Community is currently hosting their Christian Unity Week with a prayer tent outside the chapel. In the same location, the Jewish community celebrates their High Holidays. Every second week, about twenty students from a variety of faiths meet to discuss interfaith issues.

43% of Carleton students in classes from ’07 through ’10 identified themselves as Christians, 30% Protestant and 13% Catholic. The Christian community is very active on campus. A student-run worship band, called Mustard Seed, meets in the Cave every Monday night from 9pm until 10pm. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes meets Thursday nights in Sayles. There are also multiple Bible studies that meet on a weekly basis. Additionally, the Carleton Christian Community created a publication called Unashamed, the first interfaith religious publication in recent memory.

Richard Scheele ’09 said, “I find the Christian Community on campus to be very accepting and friendly, but sometimes people are wary of Christians.” Lynn Yang ’09 said that often non-Christians on campus assumed that Christians were trying to convert them, which was not the case. Josh Yeoh, alum of the class of 2007, said that he and some friends had even thought of making tee-shirts for the Christian Community that said something to the measure of “Don’t worry, we’re not going to try to convert you.”

8% of the students from the class of ’07 through the class of ’10 declared themselves as Jewish. In this year’s freshman class, 9.4% of students declared themselves as Jewish. Like the Carleton Christian Community, the Jewish community is also active on campus. The main Jewish organization on campus is the Jewish Students of Carleton (JSC) organization. The Society of Jewish Ethics promotes scholarly work in Jewish ethics.

Unitarian Universalists represent 3% of students from the class of ’07 through the class of ’10. Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists each represent 1% of the same group. Alaa El-Bashir ’09, a Muslim student, says that she can identify perhaps 10 or 15 other students on campus who are Muslim. “There are misconceptions about Islam on campus and in America,” she said. She also said that it was a shame that the Carleton Islamic Association (CIA) was not more active than it was, but that it was difficult with such a small group of students.

While 1% of Carleton is not a large group, one person is smaller still. Jinai Bharucha ’11 is the only Zoroastrian on campus. There are less than two hundred thousand Zoroastrians remaining in the world. About seventy thousand Zoroastrians live in Mumbai, India, where both of her parents are from, though the religion originated in Persia. “It is very similar to Christianity,” she said, “Good vs. Bad. There is order and truth, and disorder and non-truth. There’s one god whose name is Ahura Mazda and one prophet whose name is Zoroaster.” It’s not likely that there will be too many other Zoroastrians coming to Carleton as the religion seems destined to shrink.

Non-Zoroastrians are not allowed to convert into the faith and if a Zoroastrian woman has children by a non-Zoroastrian male, the children are not Zoroastrian. When she tells people that she’s Zoroastrian, “they think it’s really cool, and want to know more about,” she said. “The biggest influence it has had on me is to respect other religions,” she added.

Fure-Slocum agrees. “I think there are many paths up the mountain,” she said.

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