Bahar Moheban came to UCLA with a sense of faith.
Raised in a religious family, the fourth-year psychobiology student attended Jewish faith school in preschool and kindergarten and went to after-school Hebrew classes until she was 13 years old.
Throughout high school, however, the connection to her faith dissipated, with the exception of celebrating religious holidays. Coming to college, Moheban hoped to regain a link to her religion.
Now, after four years at UCLA, Moheban said she feels she has increased in spirituality. Through participation in Hillel and a Jewish-Persian women’s group she started, she was provided alternatives to the way she practiced her religion as a child.
“The thing I really liked was Hillel … allowed me to explore Judaism in another way, through social justice,” she said. “It was another way to connect ““ when I would go to temple and stuff, I wouldn’t really feel it, so it was a different approach.”
For Stephanie Cho, a fourth-year international development studies student who is a member of Crossroads Campus Ministry, her faith grew after experiencing the difficulties that come with college, including relationship and identity struggles.
“I have seen a lot of people grow stronger in their Christian faith in college, because I think you’re becoming an adult and you are choosing for yourself that you really believe in this,” she said. “Being with other Christians who are your age and going through the same life circumstances or conditions, that just helps you grow stronger (in faith) together.”
At a time when one in four Americans aged 18-29 are not affiliated with any particular religion, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, college is not always considered the place to strengthen spirituality.
But while religious engagement may decline in college, students’ spirituality does increase throughout their university experience, according to the Spirituality in Higher Education study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
The seven-year study, which collected data that measured students’ spiritual and religious qualities from more than 14,000 students in 136 colleges and universities nationwide, concluded that college students place a premium on their spiritual development.
According to the study, college students increase in spirituality through exposure to diverse people, cultures and ideas from studying abroad and doing interdisciplinary coursework. With a prevalence of religiously and spiritually affiliated student groups on campus, UCLA students are frequently exposed to new forms of spirituality.
Although the UCLA Student Affairs Information and Research Office’s most recent survey on the role of religion and spirituality in the undergraduate experience said UCLA students are less engaged in spirituality and religion than students at other public universities, UCLA students vary greatly in their religious or spiritual affiliation.
UCLA political science Professor Susanne Lohmann, who teaches a diversity and disagreement and democracy class, surveys students’ religious and spiritual beliefs in her classes.
“There is a lot of diversity in terms of degree of religiosity, degree of spirituality, and also different ideas of what religiosity and spirituality means, whether they are good things or bad things,” Lohmann said. “Religious and spirituality ““ there are subtleties.”
During her time at UCLA, Moheban said she has become more spiritual than religious.
“I used to be more connected. I would go to Hebrew school twice a week, I kind of cared more about being kosher … before,” she said. “Certain aspects have gotten higher, but others haven’t. I feel bad for the ones I have neglected, but I try to compensate with the other things I do.”
Like many students, first-year earth and environmental science student Robert Abraham said he never really felt a connection to his faith before college. Although Abraham said he found an awareness of spirituality at UCLA and is currently pledging a Jewish fraternity, he said spirituality depends on the student and is not likely to increase in every situation.
“I feel a lot of people had that (spirituality) at home, and they come to school and it decreases because of classes and parties and other things,” he said.
Moheban said it will be harder to maintain her current level of spirituality in graduate school, but she said she hopes to stay connected with Hillel and the other UCLA groups that have furthered her spiritual growth in college.