When Maria Prozorov arrived on campus last year, the freshman knew exactly what she wanted out of collegiate life.
“When I came here I looked at every Jewish organization, and I liked the Jewish Heritage Program the most,” Prozorov said.
But unlike most members of JHP, Prozorov said she’s hesitant to call herself a practicing Jew.
A native of Russia, Prozorov and her parents were restricted from practicing any religion in the communist ruled country, and as a result, the Prozorov family considers themselves to be secular and not spiritual Jews. They remained secular even after moving to the United States in 1990.
“We never really became practicing,” she said. “Occasionally sometimes on high holidays we’ll go with our friends to synagogue, but we never went by ourselves.”
Only three-and-a-half years old at the time, Prozorov remembers leaving Russia with her parents to escape to the United States following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the resulting collapse of communism in Europe. Her family was one of the last to legally leave the country.
“I still have nightmares about going back and getting stuck,” she said.
If it weren’t for her involvement with JHP, Prozorov would still lack the connection she wants to the Jewish faith. Since coming to Temple, she has learned more about the religion, even teaching her parents a thing or two about Judaism.
“I’m more practicing, but no where near where I want to be. Every year I learn a bit more and eventually I’d like to be up there with everybody,” she said. “[My mom and dad] have learned a lot more because I’ve been bringing it home.”
There are currently 11 faith-based student organizations registered for the 2005-2006 school year. These groups offer students an outlet to practice their faith and form fellowship with members.
Groups like Crosswalk, a Christian group under the national organization Campus Crusade for Christ, fill entire auditoriums in Tuttlemen Learning Center for its weekly meetings.
Other, lesser known groups like the Vedic Heritage Society, followers of the Bhagavad Gita, hold biweekly meetings with just a handful of members present.
No matter the attendance, faith-based groups help students gain stability in a stressful college environment marked by new experiences, people and lessons, said John DiMino, director of Tuttleman Counseling Services.
“Faith cures anxiety,” DiMino said. “In other words, if you have faith in something, an organization, a higher power … it helps you to put your problems in perspective.”
Students often seek counseling at TCS because they feel they have no meaning in their lives, DiMino said. Religion, he added, can help students find that meaning.
“If you live your life according to [religious] principles, that gives people a feeling of place, a feeling of mission and a feeling of meaning in their lives,” DiMino said.
Like Prozorov, some students are involved with faith-based campus organizations to learn about a religion for the first time, or for others, to simply maintain religious practice.
Some said – during college years – many students, no longer living with family, may decide if a particular religion is right for them.
“College is really a time to find that direction for yourself,” said Stephanie Vroman, a senior social work major who participates with Crosswalk. “You don’t have your parents looking over your shoulder anymore – it’s a time to make your faith your own.”
With Crosswalk, religion is looked at as a personal choice. Students can come and go from worship meetings as they please.
“We’re cool people. It’s like a family – you can get along with everybody,” said Allen Anyabolu, a fourth year pharmacy major.
At a recent Crosswalk meeting, Anyabolu sat with freshman Nasreen Razzaq Anyabolu and had encouraged her to attend a meeting. Anyabolu was there that night to experience Crosswalk for the first time.
“I dragged her here,” Anyabolu said.
Razzaq responded, “I’m glad I came.”
With a Muslim father and a Catholic mother, Razzaq said it was difficult to practice one religion before coming to Temple. Recently baptized Catholic against her father’s wishes, she hopes to find strength through her faith to tell him of her decision to practice Catholicism.
“For some weird reason I just realized that I have a lot of faith,” she said. “I was just surprised – I pray here a lot more. So much has gone wrong this year, but I feel like every time I ask for help, I get it.”
College is full of choices, students said, and some choose to live without faith at all.
“I’m an atheist – that’s my religion,” said Dave Ridilla, a junior broadcasting major.
Ridilla said he became atheist when he was about 17 years old. Although his family doesn’t attend church, Ridilla said his mom is upset with his beliefs.
Christie DiVeterano, his friend, said she is also upset. Ridilla, who doesn’t believe in God and DiVeterano, a practicing Catholic, said they sometimes argue about religion.
“I think it’s sad when people don’t believe in God,” said DiVeterano, a sophomore majoring in biology. “There’s a heaven and a hell, and whether you believe decides where you go.”
DiVeterano attends Mass at the Neumann Center every Sunday morning. She goes because she feels its something she should do, she said, but also because the service leaves her with a sense of meaning.
And while DiVeterano thinks going to church services should be important to college students, she understands why her friends decline her invitations to go to Mass.
“This is the time [college students’] parents aren’t telling them to get up and go to church,” she said. “I go by myself; [my friends] won’t go with me [but] I don’t need parents to go to church.”
Glen Rosenberger established the Student Life Center at 2123 N. Broad St., “to welcome [students], to make them feel at home and to encourage them to think about the place of God and the Bible in their life.”
Director of the center since its founding in 1966, Rosenberger said he has seen a rise in religious activity at Temple since he arrived on campus nearly 40 years ago.
There are no official statistics available on Temple students and their religious affiliations.
Despite what he sees as increasing opportunities for religious practice on campus, Rosenberger said he has also noticed a rise in religious apathy among students.
“One of the ways I’ve used to contact people is survey [and] one of the questions I’ve asked is, ‘How would you have described your religious conviction before coming to Temple?'” he said. “Many in the past would have said Jewish, Catholic, whatever. Now the typical answer is ‘none.'”
Professor of religion Leonard Swidler argues that the average college student’s view on religion has remained mostly positive since he, like Rosenberger, came to campus in the late 1960s.
“In society in general, in whatever period of time, [society] will often say, ‘Oh this is the worst generation that ever existed,'” Swidler said. “Well, as a historian I have to say that’s nonsense. It’s really not changing that much at all.”
Rosenberger offers free counseling to anyone looking for pastoral guidance. College is difficult for students to handle on their own, he said. He encourages all students to take advantage of Temple’s resources.
“There’s a lot of need. A lot of people are searching for things,” he said. “I believe the campus ministries help students to do that.”
Students can learn more about religious groups by visiting the Student Center Web site at www.temple.edu/sac.
Sammy Davis can be reached at email@example.com.