Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Atheists and agnostics a majority at Kalamazoo

Just got off the phone with my mom. My little brother Eric just got done with his junior year in high school, and is therefore looking at colleges. The family is in Michigan right now, and yesterday they went to look at Kalamazoo College. When touring, they were told that a majority of students identify as atheists or agnostics.

Wow.

In a way, this surprises me. The group I'm involved in running, Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at UW-Madison, is one of the tiniest groups on campus, while the largest groups are things like Campus Crusade and the UW-Roman Catholic Foundation. Newcomers at meetings often say they're glad to find a haven from the swarms of religious groups on campus. On the other hand, in casual conversation I know a great many students identify as atheist or agnostic. There's a possibility that if the school every conducted a campus wide survey, we'd come out like Kalamazoo, and discover the only reason anyone thought otherwise is because the religious groups are just a lot more active. Maybe not a huge possibility, but it wouldn't surprise me. How unusual could Kalamazoo be? Anyone know of better data on this?

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5 comments:

Naomi said...

I haven't been in Kalamazoo in decades, so my opinion is dated.

Perhaps Kalamazoo is a "sanctuary", so to speak. The SW corner of the state has always been uber-conservative. This explains the term, "Holland Faction", to describe the attitude of SW pols who were able to defeat progressive legislation - back in the day.

I grew up in a blue-collar, union home in SE Michigan. As a state, there were frequent conflicts between the liberals in the East and the conservatives in the West, to say nothing of the constant efforts of the "Yupers" to secede or become the 51st state. I've always felt that they had (and still have) a valid "beef" with their invisibility to their fellow legislators. (Rather like the idea of splitting California into three states - LA and SF get all the attention...) Of the Upper Peninsula, the legislature wanted to "keep" the Iron Range and Sawyer AF base "in a contiguous Michigan".

Grand Rapids (50 miles away) was known for being dry long after the rest of the US went "wet". Holland (48 miles) is where Erik Prince (BlackwaterUSA) grew up; his father ran Holland as a "company town". Ada (61 miles) is where Amway was born; you'll find no clear example of corporation-based-on-religion than Amway. Towns like Zeeland and Watervliet were settled by Dutch and Germans, complete with their conservative views on life.

But most liberal arts colleges will trend liberal, despite the loud "sturm und drang" of xian's college groups. Just check out "Generation Chickenhawk: the Unauthorized College Republican Convention Tour" on HuffPo. Max Blumenthal demonstrated that "it's all just words" with the YoungRepugs...

Or it could be Kalamazoo is a blue oasis in a desert of red...

vjack said...

Based on nothing more than statistical probabilities, it seems unlikely that the majority of any American university would be predominately non-theistic. I'd be interested to know whether data were actually collected, what the questions looked like, etc.

Hallq said...

>Based on nothing more than statistical probabilities, it seems unlikely that the majority of any American university would be predominately non-theistic.

True. But based on nothing more than statistical probabilities, it would seem unlikely that the majority of any American university would be supportive of gay rights. Young people--and college students even more so--often don't perfectly mirror the general population.

>I'd be interested to know whether data were actually collected, what the questions looked like, etc.

This is a more interesting point. Even though there's no logical reason for this to be the case, people are more likely to say they don't know whether there's a God or don't believe in God than to say they're atheist or agnostic.

Anonymous said...

At the University of Minnesota, a Minnesota Daily poll (the student newspaper, and the poll was most likely not scientific) showed that around 25% of students were atheist or agnostic.

Jeremy said...

I live less than an hour north of Kalamazoo in Grand Rapids. West Michigan is so religiously conservative Time Magazine called it the "bible belt of the north." Nevertheless our local Freethinking group is thriving-quickly becoming one of the larger and younger regularly meeting groups in the nation. And most people in the area think of Kalamazoo as some weird sort of anomaly. An atheist friend of mine attended that college and spoke very highly of it. He gave me the impression that their was a strong humanistic presence there. As far as a majority of students self-describing as atheist...that still sounds surprising.