For immediate release

September 3, 2020

Study Shows U.S. College Students Learn Little About Religion

A study released Monday which surveyed 3,486 college students from 122 campuses across the U.S. found students devoted significant time to learning about those of other races, political affiliations and sexual orientations, but very little about people from other faiths.

Students at graduation
Almost 75 percent of college seniors earned a C or below on a basic religion quiz. (Photo by KitAy/Flickr.com, Creative Commons)

The Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) was conducted by research teams from North Carolina State University and Ohio State University, in partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit focusing on making interfaith cooperation a social norm. For the study, students were surveyed upon entering college, after their freshman year, and in their second semester as seniors.

“The main finding here is that… they spend less time thinking about different religions than they do thinking about things like race or LGBT issues or international issues,” said Ohio State professor Matthew Mayhew, one of the study’s lead researchers.

“How do we successfully integrate religious differences into the narratives involving diversity and inclusion?”

Less than a third of college students surveyed said that, while in college, they acquired better skills to interact with people from diverse religions, and almost 75 percent of college seniors earned a C or below on a quiz testing their knowledge of eight different religious world views.

“So, the question becomes, how do we successfully integrate religious differences into the narratives involving diversity and inclusion?” Mayhew asked.

Ohio State University building
The Ohio Union of Ohio State University, one of the two universities which participated in the survey

“We have learned that students are strongly committed to bridging religious divides,” said Alyssa Rockenbach, North Carolina State University professor and fellow lead researcher on the study. “In fact, they come to college embracing those values and remain committed to them over time. However, there is a gap between values and behaviors. Compared to the numbers of students who value bridging religious divides, much smaller numbers actively engage religious differences.”

“The main recommendations are to make sure that campuses take religion seriously,” Mayhew said.

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