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US freshmen reveal their spiritual side

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• Correlations between spirituality and well-being. Although students who score high on scales of religious commitment or spirituality aren't immune from feeling depressed or overwhelmed, they are more likely to say they frequently feel at peace, and that they can find meaning in times of hardship. They're also more likely to have a healthy diet, abstain from alcohol and tobacco, and avoid staying up all night.

In college, "you're in a state of flux and change," says Elizabeth Sherlock, a senior at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. A member of the United Church of Christ, she says her faith grounds her amid the stresses of daily life.

Ms. Sherlock is also active in an ecumenical group, and she's seen a growth in spiritual seeking in her four years on campus. One of Smith's responses has been "Spiritual-i-Tea," a series of discussions that plays off the school tradition of afternoon tea.

Chaplains - representing Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Protestant faiths - host it in the library rather than in the chapel, attracting a wide range of students.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and the recent US elections, Sherlock says, "issues of theology and God are being thrown about and used in various ways, and I think students are looking for ways to discuss that and reconcile with their own notions of spirituality."

Perhaps not surprisingly, college freshmen aren't as prayerful as the overall adult population: 82 percent of American adults pray during a typical week, a recent survey by the Barna Group found. But HERI's finding that 61 percent of freshmen pray weekly and 28 percent pray daily presents a much different image of a group that's often typecast as a reckless party crowd.

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