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CULTURE DIGEST: College students highly interested in spirituality; Mormons hold key D.C. positions; Bushes give big

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As many as 80 percent of college students are interested in spirituality and 74 percent claim to have discussions about the meaning of life with friends, according to the latest study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute.

“College students appear to put a premium on their spiritual development,” said Alexander Astin, co-principal investigator for the project. “They are clearly very interested in these larger questions in life, and many of them hope that the college experience will support them in their spiritual quest.

“The challenge for higher education is to understand the priority young people place on these issues and explore how well they are supporting their students’ quest.”

The study, based on a survey of 112,232 freshmen at 236 colleges and universities conducted last fall, found that students are searching for deeper meaning in their lives, looking for ways to cultivate their inner selves, seeking to be compassionate and charitable and deciding what they believe about social and global issues, according to an April 13 news release.

Of the students surveyed, 76 percent are searching for meaning and purpose in life, 81 percent attend religious services, 80 percent discuss religion or spirituality with friends, 79 percent believe in God and 69 percent pray.

Researchers also found that today’s college students are tolerant of the non-religious as well, with 83 percent agreeing that “non-religious people can be just as moral as religious believers” and 64 percent saying “most people can grow spiritually without being religious.”

Students’ political views may be related to their level of religious involvement, the study found, because among the most religious students, conservatives outnumber liberals by more than three to one. Even so, the survey indicated more liberals than conservatives are on a spiritual quest and care about their fellow man.

UCLA’s institute also reported that students with high levels of religious engagement are far less likely to believe abortion should be legal, think casual sex is okay, support same-sex “marriage” and endorse legalization of marijuana than students with low levels of religious engagement.

Contrary to what many secular educators contend, 67 percent of the students surveyed said they consider it “essential” or “very important” that their college play a role in developing their personal values and 48 percent say it is essential or very important that colleges encourage their personal expression of spirituality.

MORMONS HIGHLY INFLUENTIAL IN D.C. — Senators Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt are among the most famous Washington figures who are Mormon, but thousands more like them are serving behind the scenes and making important decisions in the nation’s capital.

The Latter-day Saints population in greater Washington has reached 50,000, and Mormons are key figures in the Treasury Department, the Peace Corps and the Bureau of Land Management, according to The Salt Lake Tribune April 11. Mormons oversee the White House law office and advise Congress on international affairs, religious freedom, Social Security, housing, land use, education reform and matters of war.

Mormons, The Tribune said, are disproportionately represented in the Central Intelligence Agency because they are patriotic in the extreme, accustomed to respecting authority and not too likely to have secrets or embarrassments in their history. They can also pass the polygraph and drug tests.

Members of the religious group also have an immediate advantage when they move to Washington because a close-knit community of fellow Mormons is readily available at any of about 20 congregations in the city. They form dinner groups, book clubs, political cliques and other groups, The Tribune said, and a designated “employment specialist” shares computer lists, phone numbers and job openings to help the LDS population further penetrate the government.

Historically, the church has maintained a low profile in Washington, but The Tribune speculated that may change if Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney decides to seek the U.S. presidency in 2008.

BUSH MADE PROGRESS AMONG TEMPLE-GOING JEWS — Democrats have typically carried the vast majority of the Jewish vote, and the overall trend was no different in this past election as John Kerry garnered about 77 percent of the Jewish vote compared to George W. Bush’s 22 percent.

But surveys conducted during the presidential campaign’s final month by Kerry pollster Mark Mellman found a strong link between religious observance and partisan behavior, according to The Los Angeles Times April 12.

Mellman found that Jews who attended religious services weekly split their votes evenly between Bush and Kerry while those who attended less often overwhelmingly voted for Kerry.

“That mimics a powerful trend among Catholics and Protestants,” The Times said. “Frequency of church attendance has become one of the strongest predictors of voting behavior, with those who worship most regularly leaning Republican and those who attend less often voting more Democratic. Mellman’s surveys provide the most tangible evidence yet of that pattern spreading to Jews.”

BUSHES, CHENEYS GIVE BIG TO CHARITIES — President Bush and Vice President Cheney are setting an example for the nation by giving at least 10 percent of their income to churches and charitable organizations.

Tax information released April 15 by the White House indicates Bush and his wife, Laura, paid $207,307 in federal income taxes on taxable income of $672,788 in 2004. The couple gave $77,785, which is roughly 10 percent of their overall gross income of $784,219, to charitable organizations and churches including Evergreen Chapel at Camp David, St. John’s Church near the White House, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army World Service Office, AmeriCares and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research.

The Cheneys reported paying $394,518 in taxes on earnings of $1,328,678 in 2004. They donated $303,354 — more than 20 percent of their income — to charity.

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  • Erin Curry