April 23, 2021

Student research delves into diversity of faith on campus

Student researchers found that campus religious affiliation is similar to Nebraska, where Christianity is dominant, but also that a wide variety of religions are also practiced.
Laura Leffler | University Communication

Laura Leffler | University Communication
Student researchers found that campus religious affiliation is similar to Nebraska, where Christianity is dominant, but also that a wide variety of religions are also practiced.

Diversity in faiths practiced is increasing in the Lincoln community — and at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

A group of students set out to research the diversity of faiths on campus, attitudes about faith and resources available to practice or worship. Offered through the university’s Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience program, the students, under the advisement of Max Perry Mueller, assistant professor in Classics and Religious Studies, found that there are many different religious backgrounds represented on campus and that respondents are eager to practice their faith on or near campus.

The UCARE project was launched after students had an in-class discussion on diversity in faith in the Lincoln community, and they decided to see how it compared to the campus community.

“We were discussing the religious diversity of Lincoln and the resources available to the pluralistic community in Dr. Mueller’s class,” said Pierce Bower, a senior philosophy major with minors in religious studies and art. “And we decided that doing a UCARE project would be a great way to contribute something to those communities, in a way that utilizes institutional powers. In the course, we talked about how validating minority communities with institutional power is key to respecting and validating the identity of those communities.”

The students designed a survey regarding faith and worship and invited the entire campus community to participate. The questions on the survey sought to ascertain whether participants felt they have the means to actively worship at or around campus. Out of 93 respondents, they found that most — 67.7% — reported being Christians, and that the next largest denominations on campus were Muslim at 6.45%, followed by Jewish at 3.22%.

Religions on campus
Laura Leffler | University Communication
Student research found that a variety of religious denominations are practiced by campus respondents.

“Our results reflected the state’s religious makeup of between 70 and 80% Christian; however, the other majority in Nebraska is unaffiliated or non-denominational, so we uncovered a lot more variety in faith on campus,” said Morgan Hurtz, a senior majoring in psychology and religious studies. “While our results were reflective of Nebraska, it makes sense that we have more religious diversity on campus, with students coming from all over the United States and the world.”

Additionally, the survey found that 68.47% consider themselves to be a “religious person,” and 65.59% feel they have the resources in the Lincoln community to practice their religion.

“Many respondents shared the sentiment that it’s difficult to find a prayer space on campus,” the students wrote in their report, and that “Hindu, Jewish and Muslim respondents stated the need for closer places of worship.”

This raises an opportunity, Bower and Hurtz said, of making a dedicated interfaith space available on campus for faith practice, as 36.56% of respondents said they would use such a space.

The survey response was small, but the students hope that it opens the door to more research being done, and brings additional attention to the diversity of religions on campus.

“I think our study is a first step,” Bower said. “It raises some critical questions about our campus populations and their outlook towards inclusion on campus. I’d like to see a more comprehensive study to make sure we’re serving all students the best we can.”