College students may be branded with labels such as “materialistic” and “self-absorbed,” but they are actually very spiritual and religious, according to a recent national survey. And it seems Fairfield University students fit right in with the trend.

“I consider myself extremely religious,” said Michael Csorba ’09. “I try to live my life for God and live every day for him and for others.”

“I take the time during the week to reflect on what’s happening and the role God is playing in my life. Spiritually, I’m continually challenging and questioning my beliefs so that I can grow in my faith and really understand what I believe,” said Colleen Gibson ’09.


The national study by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA found that college students are highly interested and involved in spirituality. HERI reported that many students are actively taking on spiritual journeys and are seeking the meaning and purpose of life. Many college students are engrossed in religion and report dedication to their religious beliefs and practices, the study found.

Fairfield students were not surprised by the findings.

“As much as it might be uncommon to see us in church, I don’t think that religion is on the decline,” said Jeannette Symmonds ’09. “I don’t care how embarrassed you are, for some reason I believe that a lot of students stick by their religion.”

“I do go to church – not as often as I should – but I believe that God doesn’t judge you on your attendance record,” said Symmonds. “I think if you take the time to talk to him everyday, he would accept that as well. I feel that God and I are best friends and just because I don’t go over his house doesn’t change anything. You can worship anywhere. I don’t think it’s the place that matters. I think it’s the fact that you’re doing it.”

Although students regularly admit not attending services on a regular basis, 81 percent have attended relgious services during the past year, according to the survey.


Religious studies professors at Fairfield, such as Dr. Elizabeth Dreyer, see religious interest in their students.

“I find students very curious about religion, especially religion other than their own,” said Dreyer. “I think they are searching for meaning and working out their own religious values. I note a good deal of interest and enthusiasm in classes on lay spirituality especially as that applies to university life.”

According to HERI, 76 percent of college students say that they are searching for meaning or purpose in life or that they have discussions about the meaning of life with friends.

In addition, 69 percent of college students pray, and almost 80 percent believe in god, HERI reported.

“When things aren’t going well, I have always been taught to turn to God,” said Sabra Wrice ’08. “So, that’s my natural instinct.”

HERI defines spirituality as being involved in a spiritual quest, an ethic of caring. Eighty percent of college students have an interest in spirituality.

“I am more than just my religion,” said Randell Bozzello ’08. “I explore and question my own personal faith journey and seek fulfillment by balancing my personal faith with the community of faith to which I belong. That, for me, is one interpretation of spirituality that I consider myself a part of.”

In addition to offering a variety of religious studies classes, there is evidence that programs such as the Ignatian Residential College are helping students learn and make decisions about religious practices, according to Dreyer. However, she believes Fairfield should continue to nurture students’ curiosity in spirituality.

“Fairfield needs to continue to explore how its structures, curriculum, environment and programs support students in their diverse religious quests,” said Dreyer. “Catholic Christianity is neither perfect nor a panacea for the world’s ills, but it is a rich and rewarding tradition, and part of Fairfield’s mission is to illuminate this tradition in lively, attractive, critical and compelling ways.”


Dr. Hugh Humphrey, a religious studies professor at Fairfield, said that there is a difference between faith and religious commitment.

“Everyone has a faith, whether it is Pope Benedict XVI or the self-acknowledged atheist, Andy Rooney,” said Humphrey.

In addition, Humphrey believes faith is very personal and is defined by the individual.

“Faith is making sense of reality. But for some that reality may also include a god, ultimate reality or a Yahweh and so we can speak of religious faith. All faith is a leap into the unknown, because no person ever has a full comprehension and experience of all that is. Faith starts with one’s own experience and one intuits the wholeness of reality from that experience,” he said.

According to HERI, college students do not believe attendance at religious services is necessary for spirituality. More than 83 percent say that non-religious people can be just as spiritual as religious believers. HERI reported that almost 64 percent say that most people can grow spiritually without being religious.

“I believe that faith is a personal relationship with God, but that every experience in life, even those that are not necessarily what we might think of as religious at first, can contribute to strengthening your faith,” said Talia Pettini ’06.

Pettini believes the Jesuit presence on campus help promote student spirituality.

“I think that the Jesuits do a great job of helping students recognize that every aspect of their life can contribute to their faith development if they look at it the right way,” she said.

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