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Santorum says college saps your faith. What do you say?

Santorum says college saps your faith. What do you say?

Rick Santorum has made headlines recently by claiming that colleges more or less systematically rob young people of their faith. Talking Points Memo rebuts this claim with a raft of studies. The studies are not unanimous in assessing the impact of attending college on “religious participation,” so let’s give them a hand.

What happened to your “religious participation”–however you might define that term–during your college years? What do those of you in college or in campus ministry find happening either within yourselves, or in the lives of those around you?

Updated: Cathy Lee Grossman of USA Today is also on the story.


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Josh Magda

My criticism is coming from a liberal arts perspective- particularly the humanities and social sciences, both domains which have tried to mimic the methods and worldview of the natural sciences, with varying levels of success.

What Santorum wants and what I want are two different things. The Senator wants theocracy, I want a broader epistemological palette than is currently available in modern college.

In the humanities and social sciences, political conservatives and religious people are openly mocked- I have seen it happen time and again, and in general, because they have both given up the quest for truth, the dominant methodology can be said to be deconstructionism and what Huston Smith calls “the hermeneutic of suspicion” (one’s actions “really” caused by race, class, gender, etc.)

It is vitally important to recognize the way that our culture is oppressive, the influences of that culture on behavior so we can begin to construct an alternative to it. But the liberal arts no longer attempt such an undertaking, that of searching for truth (which they often regard as being inherently oppressive), or of opening to the cosmos as a living source of knowledge.

Furthermore, college is rooted in the Western intellectual tradition, which itself is rooted in theology and the attempt to understand the Whole (the word university itself coming from universe). Now that we are moving away from Eurocentrism, why aren’t more of our students going on vision quests, spending time in monasteries, and other non-Western undertakings as part of their higher education?

Since Spirit has been run out of college, disconnected from its own spiritual roots and closed to the spiritual insights of others, we have a profoundly abstract undertaking wherein students go to a bunch of discontinuous classes, listen to a lecture, take tests, write papers, and come out “educated,” all the while learning how to micro analyze the world but not ever being asked or expected to make since of the Whole (because there is no Whole).

I think we can do better.


Re. Rick Santorum, the conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan (a Roman Catholic)sums it up, He is a man of the kind of fear that leads to fundamentalist faith, a faith without doubt and in complete subservience to external authority. There is a reason he doesn’t want many kids to go to college. I mean: when we already know the truth, why bother to keep seeking it? And if we already know the truth, why are we not enforcing it as a matter of law in a country founded on Christian principles? It is not religious oppression if it is “the way things are supposed to be”, by natural law. In fact, a neutral public square, in his mind, is itself religious oppression.

Re. the supposed absence of faith from the academic quad: a recent study argues that higher levels of education leads to MORE religious practice — albeit a more tolerant , less Biblically literalist form.

with each additional year of education:

– The likelihood of attending religious services increased 15%.

– The likelihood of reading the Bible at least occasionally increased by 9%.

– The likelihood of switching to a mainline Protestant denomination – Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian USA or United Methodist – increased by 13%.

As with Paul, I think the “war” against religion that is supposedly waged on campus is much overstated, particularly on the technical side. In my experience engineers tend to be quite conservative politically and socially. Those in the sciences run the gamut. Another recent study showed that contrary to popular opinion, many scientists DO actually identify as religious.

Now, as to what goes on over in the humanities and social sciences, I cannot comment. But as an academic, I believe a real university needs robust intellectual inquiry in religion and philosophy as much as it needs it in literature and chemistry.

Susan Forsburg

Paul Martin

As an undergraduate at MIT, I enjoyed an excellent campus ministry, as well as a congregation off campus. In my senior year, I participated in an EDS course offered to area lay people.

In graduate school, I found another excellent campus ministry, where I went through the EFM program. It was a time of much debate, challenge and growth.

I have been listening to complaints about liberal professors for decades. In my experience, this is an urban myth. My experience may have to do with my engineering major, which left professors with very little time to address topics not in the formal curriculum.

College years involve a transition between a childhood faith and an adult faith. Not everyone makes that transition. For those who do, we arrive at a faith which is ultimately more sustainable. I am grateful for the opportunity to make that journey.


I went to a relatively liberal Catholic University, and the critical thinking and grappling with religion and philosophy had a definite strengthening my faith. I had been estranged from my rigid fundamentalist upbringing, and during my time in school, I converted to the Episcopal Church, where I’ve been at home for over 20 years.

Thanks for you comments MEM but cannot continue to approve them if you don’t sign your name, please? ~ed

Leslie Scoopmire

Oh yes, here we go again with the idea that faith and reason are antithetical. But hey, all of those years of education didn’t make Mr. Santorum any WISER. Given that Mr. Santorum comes from a Church that all too often expects its members to shut up and not question anything as long as they give unyielding support (financial, especially) to the Curia, this certainly fits.

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