Raised religious: Some students change beliefs in young adulthood

One in four millennials are not affiliated with any religion, according to the Pew Research Center. This can make it difficult for students when they go home to their families, who may be more religious than they are. Photo illustration by Catie Kovelman

This holiday season marks the first year that Jill Jeffries will decorate a Christmas tree. She had her first birthday party when she was 17, and has never gone trick-or-treating.

“My parents live in fear of the witnesses, because they can come by your house,” the sophomore psychology major said. “We can’t put out Christmas lights.”

Jeffries was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. This branch of Christianity does not celebrate holidays or birthdays, and emphasizes biblical teaching, she said. Her family members have gradually separated themselves from the church since Jeffries was a young teen, but it wasn’t until she came to Chapman that she solidified her beliefs, as she now identifies as a Christian.

About one in four millennials are not affiliated with any religion, as found by the Pew Research Center in 2010. They are less involved than any other age group in the U.S., and they are more likely to disaffiliate with religion altogether than identify with a new faith, according to the study. Because of the way she was raised, Jeffries said she doesn’t see herself participating in organized religion again.

For 20-somethings today, religious identity has evolved from an inherited label into a more personal choice. Jeffries said there is an irony to her situation, because she was raised very religious, but never felt the spiritual gain that is supposed to come with it.

“I have a lot of anger toward my religion, with how it herded people. And when you’re born into it, you’re conditioned,” Jeffries said. “I’ve never felt religious until I’ve been able to do it on my own.”

Though never involved in a specific church, sophomore integrated educational studies major Sean Barnett was raised with a Christian set of beliefs. Now that he is in college, he considers himself agnostic.

“I wouldn’t say I’m completely against religion, but I’m not really for it either,” he said. “I feel like a lot of times, people use their religion as an excuse to justify their actions or thoughts.”

Studies have found that, as the number of people with college degrees increases, religious involvement tends to decline. In 2017, the Pew Research Center found that American adults with college degrees tend to be less religious overall, but that this statistic doesn’t hold true for Christians. About 71 percent of U.S. adults identify as Christian, and this proportion, on average, is the same in both less educated and more educated populations, according to the center.

This is the case for freshman film production major Jessica Tuttle, who was raised Christian and was required to attend mass at her private high school.

Although her family was never part of an organized church, Tuttle said that her faith has strengthened since she came to Chapman. There have been aspects of the college atmosphere, like partying and drinking, that made her turn to her faith. She described one instance when she thought a higher power might be telling her something.

“I really felt like I wasn’t a fun person because I didn’t drink, and one night, my roommate came over with her friend, and I had to take care of them (because they drank too much),” she said. “I feel like it was God telling me, ‘Jess, you are fun, this is just not your type of fun.’”

Tuttle said she doesn’t want to be tied down by some of the rules that come with organized religion, but she does identify as Christian on a personal level.

For Jeffries, whose upbringing made her the black sheep among classmates celebrating holidays, she said she is excited for this new chapter in her life. She said college has made her more confident in her Christian beliefs, and her family can have a unique holiday experience.

“A lot of the holidays is just spending time with your family, and we never had that,” she said. “We’re developing new traditions because we’ve never done it before.”

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