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Survey shows an increase in non-religious students at Belmont

Even though Belmont is a Christian school, it has seen an increase in students who do not identify with a religion, according to a survey of students over the past 17 years.

From 2000 to 2017, the survey from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program documented the religious preferences of incoming Belmont students by surveying freshmen the first week they arrive on campus.

Graph from the CIRP national study, courtesy of Dr. Todd Lake

Graph from the CIRP national study, courtesy of Dr. Todd Lake

Though the majority of students surveyed identified as Protestant, their percentage has decreased from 83 percent in 2000 to 63 percent in 2017.

The “none” category saw an increase from 7.6 percent to 16.7 percent from 2000 to 2017.

Nationwide, 17 percent of students on Christian campuses identify as having no religious preference, said Dr. Todd Lake, Belmont’s vice president for spiritual development.

At non-Christian universities, that percentage rises to 36 percent, he said.

“So we — like other Christian universities — reflect the trend toward disidentification with organized religion but at half the rate seen at secular schools,” Lake said.

However, Lake noted an important detail within the “none” category nationwide.

“While many of the nones identify as ‘atheist’ or ‘agnostic,’ surveys show that the majority believe in God and identify as ‘spiritual but not religious,’” Lake said. “I suspect that this holds true for Belmont as well.”

At the same time, the percentage of Catholics on campus increased from 7.6 percent to 16.6 percent from 2000 to 2017.

“Our student organization, the Belmont Catholic Community, is stronger than ever and now has three staff assigned to it from the Catholic Diocese of Nashville,” Lake said.

Only 0.4 percent of students identified as Jewish and 3 percent identified as “other,” but those percentages have both increased since 2000 as well, according to the study.

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