A study by research teams from North Carolina State University and Ohio State University, in partnership with the nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, found many college students are not gaining the skill and knowledge to navigate a religiously diverse country even when they come to college strongly committed to bridging religious divides. The study finds a gap between values and behavior.
The Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey, known by the acronym IDEALS, analyzed results from students enrolled at 122 campuses between 2015 and 2019. Schools ranged from liberal arts colleges to religiously affiliated institutions and a variety of public universities.
The study points out that by 2045, “it is anticipated the U.S. will become a ‘majority minority’ country. The impact of those demographic changes will play out in all aspects of American life and are already deepening the country’s political divisions.” This comes at a time of “lack of mutual understanding, and even loathing of the ‘other’” and the study points out these are “antithetical to our founding national ethos of E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.”
The study finds: “While most students see the importance of bridging religious divides, they may lack the skills they need to do so productively. When students were asked if they developed a deeper skill-set to interact with people of diverse beliefs during college, just 32% answered affirmatively.”
The findings include the following points:
- 59% of fourth-year college students reported never having had a disagreement with friends about religion, even though it is highly likely those differences exist within interfaith friendships.
- Among the 41% who indicated they had disagreed with a friend about religious matters, the vast majority said they remained friends after the disagreement.
- 71% of students reported disagreeing with friends who did not share their political views.
- 65% of students indicated they
had a politically motivated disagreement and remained
- One-third of fourth-year college students were not convinced
of their ability to negotiate challenging conversations
with people who held different views.
- 59% of
students reported staying quiet at least occasionally
during challenging conversations to avoid conflict.
- 63% of students felt people on their campus interacted primarily within their own religious or worldview communities—and therefore avoided addressing differences altogether.
- Throughout college, most students received “C” grades or below on the IDEALS religious literacy quiz.
- While students’ accuracy on this quiz improved as their collegiate careers progressed, nearly three-quarters of students in their fourth year achieved a “C” grade or below.
- A full quarter of fourth-year students received a failing grade.
“These findings contribute to a large body of literature that documents the need for greater religious literacy among the American public,” the study states. “IDEALS tells us that, despite making gains across the college years, students have much room to grow in their religious literacy. Correspondingly, there may be an opportunity to improve their attitudes toward people with diverse religious identities. Students’ knowledge and appreciation of religious differences will prepare them to collaborate and problem-solve in diverse communities after graduation—both of which are highly sought-after skills in today’s workforce.”
The study concludes:
“The future of a nation with a richly diverse religious
landscape is filled with promise—and challenge.
Realizing our potential and moving beyond the deep
divisions facing our nation today will require everyone
to learn ways of navigating this landscape more
effectively. Higher education is uniquely positioned to
prepare an entire generation of emerging adults—our
future leaders—to embrace interfaith cooperation as a
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.