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Students are turning to spirituality instead of religion

Self-identifying as “spiritual” rather than religious is a trend that’s on the rise among college students according to a recent study.

Identifying as spiritual is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being concerned with the human soul as opposed to material items. Spiritual followers practice meditation, astrology and or prayer.

Sophia Pandya, department chair of religious studies at Long Beach State, said there is an “enrollment problem” in the religious studies department. She attributed this to multiple factors, including the idea that people tend to think religion is a “taboo subject,” and added that many people assume religion should be “private.” She said that 30 percent of young adults now identify as spiritual, a term many don’t associate with religion at all.

Pew Research Center found about a quarter of U.S. adults refer to themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” a self-perception that has risen by 8 percent in the past five years. The center also found that of the American adults who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” 37 percent are “religiously unaffiliated,” meaning they identify as atheist or agnostic. Pew also found that 35 percent of Americans who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” do identify with a religious group.

Jim Curry, a prospective graduate student, said that he identifies himself as religious, but in the past, he would have answered spiritual. He added that the idea of being spiritual as a “stepping stone” to being religious.

“To me, being spiritual means that you’ve accepted there is a power greater than yourself,” he said. “Before I found Jesus, I didn’t know if I believed in a specific religion, but I knew I believed in a higher power. At that point in my life, I would’ve called myself spiritual.”

In contrast, sophomore business student JJ Alejos said the term spiritual suits her.

“Spirituality is something within, it’s how you chose to interpret your view of the world and your beliefs,” Alejos said.

Research has shown that spirituality is more prevalent in young Americans than previous generations. PR Newswire reported that 83 percent of Generation Z and 75 percent of Millennials are more likely to be spiritual than previous generations.   

“I spent so much time in my life thinking about different religions and what to call myself, but I realized I don’t need to define my beliefs with a certain religion,” Alejos said. “I was raised Christian, but I never liked the idea of fitting into one specific box of a religion, that’s why I choose to call myself spiritual instead of religious now.”

According to PR Newswire, 91 percent of Americans feel that some aspects of spirituality are more appealing than organized religion.

Thomas White, a senior communication studies major, identifies as agnostic.

“I think there’s a God, but I’m not into going to church or anything like that,” he said.

White added he prays sometimes, but he’s turned off to the idea of picking a certain religion to practice. He said that when faced with the terms religious and spiritual, he would classify himself as spiritual, a term he said is “less intimidating.”

“I like to think there’s a big guy upstairs.” he said, “But I don’t believe in hell or anything like that.”

Junior psychology student Lauren Robins said she views spirituality as an emotional experience.

“I’m spiritual, 100 percent,” Robins said. “And it all revolves around love. God is love, love is God. Spirituality helped me through a tough time in my life, and I want everyone to experience the magic I’ve felt through practicing it.”

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