Survey Looks Into Interfaith Dialogue Among College Students 

A study by research teams from North Carolina State University and Ohio State University, in partnership with the nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, found many college students are not gaining the skill and knowledge to navigate a religiously diverse country even when they come to college strongly committed to bridging religious divides. The study finds a gap between values and behavior.

Ohio State University, which participated in the IDEALS survey. (Photo by Spiroview Inc.,

The Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey, known by the acronym IDEALS, analyzed results from students enrolled at 122 campuses between 2015 and 2019. Schools ranged from liberal arts colleges to religiously affiliated institutions and a variety of public universities. 

The study points out that by 2045, “it is anticipated the U.S. will become a ‘majority minority’ country. The impact of those demographic changes will play out in all aspects of American life and are already deepening the country’s political divisions.” This comes at a time of “lack of mutual understanding, and even loathing of the ‘other’” and the study points out these are “antithetical to our founding national ethos of E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.” 

The study finds: “While most students see the importance of bridging religious divides, they may lack the skills they need to do so productively. When students were asked if they developed a deeper skill-set to interact with people of diverse beliefs during college, just 32% answered affirmatively.”

The findings include the following points:

  • 59% of fourth-year college students reported never having had a disagreement with friends about religion, even though it is highly likely those differences exist within interfaith friendships. 
  •  Among the 41% who indicated they had disagreed with a friend about religious matters, the vast majority said they remained friends after the disagreement. 
  • 71% of students reported disagreeing with friends who did not share their political views.
  • 65% of students indicated they had a politically motivated disagreement and remained friends afterward.
  • One-third of fourth-year college students were not convinced of their ability to negotiate challenging conversations with people who held different views.
  • 59% of students reported staying quiet at least occasionally during challenging conversations to avoid conflict. 
  •  63% of students felt people on their campus interacted primarily within their own religious or worldview communities—and therefore avoided addressing differences altogether. 
  • Throughout college, most students received “C” grades or below on the IDEALS religious literacy quiz. 
  • While students’ accuracy on this quiz improved as their collegiate careers progressed, nearly three-quarters of students in their fourth year achieved a “C” grade or below. 
  • A full quarter of fourth-year students received a failing grade. 

“These findings contribute to a large body of literature that documents the need for greater religious literacy among the American public,” the study states. “IDEALS tells us that, despite making gains across the college years, students have much room to grow in their religious literacy. Correspondingly, there may be an opportunity to improve their attitudes toward people with diverse religious identities. Students’ knowledge and appreciation of religious differences will prepare them to collaborate and problem-solve in diverse communities after graduation—both of which are highly sought-after skills in today’s workforce.”

The study concludes: 

“The future of a nation with a richly diverse religious landscape is filled with promise—and challenge. Realizing our potential and moving beyond the deep divisions facing our nation today will require everyone to learn ways of navigating this landscape more effectively. Higher education is uniquely positioned to prepare an entire generation of emerging adults—our future leaders—to embrace interfaith cooperation as a social norm.” 


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The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.

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