Redefining faiths: Student organizations adapt religions to meet society’s needs

Natalie Shultz

USF student Ryan Ramsey, 22, grew up in a Southern Baptist church in a Brandon, Fla., while Andrea Koegler, 23, now USF alumni, was raised in a Jewish school in San Francisco.  Despite their different religious upbringings, both had similar experiences during childhood that influenced their takes on traditional religion.

“One day, I came to church wearing school clothes, and a kid next to me turned to me and asked, ‘What are you wearing?’ So after that, I wanted to dress more ‘religiously,’” Ramsey, a psychology major, said. “Now, looking back, I have a problem with going to traditional church. It is not a safe place when people are judged, and I think it is a good thing that church is moving away from traditional beliefs.”

Koegler also experienced harsh judgment by another child after moving from San Francisco to Jacksonville.

 “When I first got to Jacksonville, I didn’t tell anyone I was Jewish.  There were only four Jews in my whole school, and a little girl once came up to me and told me I was going to Hell for being a Jew. I felt shy about it and I wanted to keep it a secret from everyone,” she said.


Ramsey says he had gone to church with his parents for as far back as he can remember.  On a typical Sunday morning at his Southern Baptist church, everyone was dressed up, and either singing hymns or listening to the pastor, but there was not much interaction between its members, which is what Ramsey craved.


Ramsey often questioned the ideals of his church even as a child, and eventually stopped going for a while, but about half way through his sophomore year at USF, he had a spiritual revelation sparked by Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship.


“The church had a philosophy that interaction happens in Sunday School, but even then it was very designed,” he said. “I went to Justice Week that November which is something Inter Varsity puts on, demonstrating that there is suffering in the world, that God has something real to say about it and that the Bible is not just Sunday School Christianity.”


Based her experiences, Koegler says location has shaped many of her ideas about traditional religion. Before their move to Jacksonville, her father, who grew up there, warned her and her younger brother that being Jewish in Jacksonville was going to be different than being Jewish in San Francisco.


“I grew up in a Jewish school in San Francisco.  It was very traditional and we learned Hebrew, prayed and studied our religion every day. I didn’t feel different from anyone else,” Koegler said.  “Jacksonville, though, is in what people call ‘The Bible Belt,’ and there are not that many Jews, so being one is just not very accepted.”


She says she had a much more positive experience in Tampa and at USF.


“There are a lot more Jews [in Tampa] than in Jacksonville, and it is a lot more accepted,” Koegler said. “When I started at USF, I was constantly getting e-mails from the Jewish Center about bagel meetings and things to do for kids who couldn’t go home for Jewish holidays.  There was always stuff going on,” she said


Jeremy Stephens, an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff member at USF, says ideas about religion are beginning to change due to the decline in attendance at many traditional church settings.


“A lot of what we see in America as far as religion has grown up in modernity. Wearing the tie was dogmatic. You had to do that. Now you are seeing a shift from that with Postmodernism, and that there is a lot more flexibility in religion,” Stephens said.


Ramsey is a bible study leader at the Beta dorms for one of Inter Varsity’s various small groups that meet on campus. He says the spark for change is needed.


“It means that people not responding well to strict church rules.  It is allowing people to be more free and honest with each other,” Ramsey said.


Student organizations, both on campus and within the community, are redefining religion for the younger generations from Christianity to Judaism and beyond, because the ideas of traditional religion, just like technology and other aspects of society, are changing with the times.


And as far as Stephens can predict, he says this change is a welcome one.


“Organizations provide a catalyst for communication across denominational lines.  These people, both believers and non-believers, are coming and having spiritual conversations.  We need each other.  We want that conversation,” Stephens said.


**Statistic that can possibly be used as some kind of visual with the story:

Approximately 47 percent of American adults say they attend church regularly, according to the Institute for Social Research’s World Values survey conducted in 2005.  That means about half the colonial American population would have been in trouble with the law for missing church on Sundays.  Today, many religious groups and organizations are attempting to appeal to more young people by putting a non-traditional spin on traditional religion.


One Response to “Redefining faiths: Student organizations adapt religions to meet society’s needs”

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