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College students ditch family religions

By Anna Okoniewski, Special to The Chronicle

Atheist clubs are being formed at many colleges and universities across the country.  According to crossexamined.org, a non-profit ministry that conducts Christian seminars on college campuses, "Three out of four Christian teens walk away from the church after they leave home."  Are students permanently leaving their childhood religious beliefs or are they merely using the freedom of college to explore life beyond religion?

"My view [of religion] was always atheism, but it just took a while to figure out what atheism meant," said Lauren Taylor, a film major at Hofstra University who was raised Catholic. 

Taylor recalls "following [her] parents to church" rather than attending on her own will.  She can see why people practice religion, and respects those who do for trusting in something that will never truly be known, but does not personally believe in any particular religion.

This is not so for all students.  "Nothing has changed [since coming to Hofstra].  I go to mass on campus every Sunday.  I still believe in it the same as always," said Catherine Clement, a Hofstra student of the Roman Catholic faith.

There are many opportunities to practice and explore Christianity, Judaism, and Islam at Hofstra.  Groups and organizations on campus host activities ranging from formal religious services and prayer sessions to community service trips and student-run discussions.

"In most cases, when you're in college, everything gets thrown on the table.  Students ask themselves, ‘what am I keeping and what am I not keeping?" said Rosie Scavuzzo, Catholic Campus Minister at Hofstra, students are looking for something to sustain them and will either have a rebirth or find sustenance outside of religion.

"[Practicing religion] is a personal choice now," said Meir Mitelman, Hofstra's Rabbi, "It's not like having to go to Hebrew School while your friends are out playing," Midelman said that the goal of the activities provided by Hofstra's Jewish organizations and Interfaith Center is to provide an "open and welcoming community" that "encourages students to broaden their horizons."

According to Sayeed Islam, Assistant to the Muslim Chaplin at Hofstra, college students either find a way to participate in the religion they practiced at home, reject previously held beliefs, or chose to remain unsure about their faith.

Students experiment with new experiences when they get to college no matter which path they take.  Without their parents present to influence their decisions, students are on their own to balance what they expose themselves to in regards to religion.

"Whether or not they return to their faith is dependent upon the types of experiences they have when leaving the faith," said Islam. 

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