Race and Religion

Survey finds that black students are much more spiritual than their white counterparts.
October 6, 2005

In April, a team of education researchers released data showing that most freshmen at four-year colleges are on a spiritual quest in college, not just an educational quest.

Today, the team is releasing data breaking down the data by race and gender. The figures that stand out most dramatically are those about black students, who are by far more religious than other students on a number of measures. Significantly larger percentages of black students than other students believe in God, pray and regularly attend religious services, according to the new information released by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Religious Practices of Freshmen, by Race

Percent of Freshmen Who... Believe in God Pray Frequently Attend Services
White 78 67 42
Black 95 91 53
American Indian 80 72 42
Asian American 65 61 35
Native Hawaiian 84 75 47
Latino 84 75 39
All 79 69 42

The study also found a gender gap, but the differences there were smaller. On the question of belief in God, 82 percent of women and 74 percent of men said that they did, for example.

Experts on campus religion said that the high levels of religious feeling by black students are not surprising, given the importance of religion generally to black Americans. And they noted that black students are served both by campus religious organizations and off-campus groups that serve black people (and in some cases people of a variety of backgrounds).

In terms of specific religious identity, the study also noted racial differences, consistent with those in the population. Nearly half(47 percent) of the African American respondents are Baptist, compared to only 11 percent of white students and 5 percent of Latinos. Nearly a third of white students and more than half of Latinos are Roman Catholic, compared to 11 percent of African Americans. Asian Americans are the most likely to say that they have no religious preference (28 percent). By comparison, only 8 percent of African Americans and 17 percent of white students indicate no religious preference.

Some major religious organizations focused on students have started special programs for black students. The Campus Crusade for Christ, for example, has the Impact Movement.

Other religious leaders in higher education said it was important for colleges to balance their efforts to reach black students with a larger (and race neutral) religious perspective. Rev. Sam Wells, dean of the Duke Chapel, which coordinates religious life at Duke University, said that his institution employs a black campus minister (among many ministers) "to address African-American perspectives."

But he added: "The key question is not so much 'where are you coming from?' It is 'would you like to go where we're going?' We concentrate on the latter, and thus subvert the politics of identity with the politics of the gospel. But the first question is still important."


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