God and Grades


By Brad A. Greenberg '04

Published Oct 1, 2007 9:00 AM

The God Curriculum

"The prediction made by some intellectuals at the end of the Second World War that by the year 2000 religion will have withered and only be a matter of personal interest to some folks &emdash; like some folks are Dodger fans and others are Orthodox Jews &emdash; that hypothesis has been thoroughly falsified," claims Scott Bartchy, UCLA history professor and director of the College of Letters & Science's interdepartmental Center for the Study of Religion. "The role of religion is enormous in current events."

Bartchy preaches what he practices. He teaches an introduction to world religions, History 4, that is one of the university's more popular undergraduate courses. Some students take History 4 to fulfill a GE, others because it fits their schedule and most because they're fascinated with religious beliefs different than their own.

For some, History 4 lays a foundation for the focus of their undergraduate studies, which is where the Center for the Study of Religion comes in. Created in 1995, the center is a clearinghouse for professors writing on religion and provides curricula for students earning an interdepartmental degree in religious studies. Departments involved include Anthropology, Asian Languages & Cultures, Classics, English, History, Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, Philosophy, Political Science, and World Arts and Cultures.

Of the 15 students who graduated in June 2007 with degrees in the study of religion, four earned Latin or departmental honors; two were summa cum laude. A handful of grads have entered religious ministry or continued studying in the field, while others have gone on to medical school or law school, or gotten involved with NGOs or international business.

Whatever field these grads enter, Bartchy says, "If they don't understand what is going on religiously, there are many aspects of human behavior &emdash; politically, socially, culturally &emdash; that they won't understand. Both for good and bad, that which we identify as religious is a primary motivator of why people are doing what they are doing."

Data and the Divine

The first Spirituality in Higher Education Study in 2003, conducted by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), found strong levels of spirituality and the search for meaning among college students across the country. Some of HERI's topline findings are noted below. The study is due to be updated shortly.

Almost 80 percent of American college students believe in God.

About half of those who believe say God is "love" or the creator.

About half, or 49 percent, of believers say God is a protector.

About 23 percent of students say they are "seeking" spirituality.

About 25 percent say they are "conflicted" or "doubting" their spirituality.

Political conservatives outnumber liberals by three to one among students who are highly religiously engaged.

Spirituality and religiosity are associated with moderately better physical health.

— B.A.G.