Denison’s Relationship with Religion

By Alex Lazo

[Photo courtesy of Taby Arthur Fogg]

Although it has been a few weeks since Easter has passed, I have found that with the school year winding down, and the Instagram semester-dump posts surging up, the pictures from Easter are still flooding my feed – because nothing says Denison quite like a darty in your Church clothes. Except very few of these darty-goers dressed in their Sunday best actually made it to the Sunday service.

In 127’s most recent survey, we asked a handful of questions regarding Denisonians’ relationship with religion and found that very few Denisonians pose high engagement with their religion – only 4.1% of students are frequent attenders when they are at school and 10.5% of students are frequent attenders when they are at home. The graph below also shows that overall very few Denisonians are religious at all, at least when at school.

For several decades, religion had been a staple of the college experience. Chapel services, religious clubs, and even mandatory religious classes were once common on college campuses. However, in recent years, there has been a marked decline in the presence of religion on college campuses.

Although Denison is now known and acclaimed for its liberal arts education, it was originally founded in 1831 as the Granville Literary and Theological Institution, with the goal of training Baptist ministers. The school was renamed in 1854 after receiving a large donation from William S. Denison, but it was not until the 1960s when it officially became a non-sectarian institution. This decision was made in order to attract a more diverse student body and to reflect the changing cultural landscape of the United States.

Denison’s initiative to diversify its community to parallel America’s Melting Pot has certainly found some success, at least in terms of religion. 127 found that almost every major religious tradition exists on this campus. However, with that being said, the most popular one that Denisonians identify with is “Nothing in Particular” at 29.3%. This finding is consistent with national trends that indicate a growing number of people identifying as “nones” or not affiliated with any particular religion, given that those who identified as “Nothing in Particular” from our March 2021 survey has increased by 5.2%.

It is worth noting that this does not necessarily mean that students at Denison are completely disengaged from spirituality or its corresponding ethical values. Rather, it could reflect both a shift in how people choose to identify and the increasing acceptance of those who do not identify with a particular religion.

127 also found that when students were asked “How well do people you are close to know the answer you just gave about your religious identification?” those who identified as Atheist were the most open, while many major religious groups – Protestant, Evangelical, and Catholic – tend to keep their beliefs more private. This trend raises questions about why people with different affiliations differ in their willingness to disclose their religious beliefs to their close friends. That said, no religious group says their friends know about their faith very well – religion is apparently not a topic of conversation.

One possible reason for this disparity could be the social stigma associated with certain religious beliefs. Atheism has traditionally been viewed with suspicion and hostility by many religious communities, which might have led atheists to be more vocal about their beliefs in order to challenge this stigma. On the other hand, some religious beliefs might be viewed as more private and personal, and therefore not something that people feel comfortable sharing with others.

Another factor that could be contributing to the reluctance of college students to share their religious beliefs is the trend of secularization in higher education. Over the past few decades, colleges and universities have become more secular and less religious, with fewer students identifying with any particular religious tradition. This trend could lead to a lack of interest in religion among college students, which could in turn make them less likely to talk about their religious beliefs with others.

Overall, the Denison survey highlights the complexity of religious beliefs and the challenges involved in understanding how they are expressed and shared. It is clear that people with different religious affiliations have different attitudes towards discussing their beliefs, and that a range of factors, including social stigma and broader cultural trends, can influence these attitudes.

Alex Lazo is working diligently to dodge questions from her Mom about her steep pile of parking tickets that she promised could be voided.

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