According to the Jacobsens, it’s difficult:
to draw any neat line of separation between “religion” and the wide variety of “secular” life stances that are also present on campuses. Whether people refer to the values and commitments that shape their lives as religion, spirituality, humanism, secularism, or agnosticism, they are referring to values and commitments that function socially and psychologically in much the same way. On many campuses, the definition of religious life has expanded to encompass all the religious, spiritual, moral, and ethical concerns of students.The Jacobsens add these points:
- younger professors are more interested in religion than are their more senior colleagues trained in the 1980s-1990s secular heyday. It’s not that younger faculty members are more favorably disposed to religion, just that they are more comfortable discussing it.
- elite schools are less open to reengaging religion than non-elite schools. At community colleges, faculty often welcome discussion of religion, in part because they serve students still living at home, still in local faith communities, and bringing religious questions into the classroom.
- evangelical proselytizing actually helps others to articulate their own values and commitments. Princeton’s religion department asks students to examine divisive public issues in light of their own religious particularities, allowing students to practice the “obsolete political art” of talking respectfully with ideological opponents.
- reengaging religion prepares students for the real world where religion is part of politics, community and international affairs, interpersonal relations, and quests for meaning and purpose.