Losing Faith

by Priya Krishna | 11/12/09 11:00pm

It's easy to lose things on this campus. Whether it's that black North Face you made the mistake of bringing out with you over the weekend, or the spanking new silver Macbook you casually left on first floor Berry while you went to satisfy your late night snack craving at Novack, thinking that overpriced bright orange case would help distinguish it from the rest, losing one's belongings at Dartmouth seems almost inevitable.

One lost item, however, you probably won't find on the Sunday Student Assembly Lost and Found blitz: religion.

And yet, some students at Dartmouth have become substantially less religious since their arrival at the College.

John Nolan '10, Caroline Ward '11 and Katherine Cespedes '10 were all originally devout Catholics.

Nolan's beliefs were fueled by his family and his strict Catholic high school, he said.

"I was raised in a very Catholic family who really values the [Catholic] tradition," he said. "Going to Catholic school reinforces that you have to go to religion classes and go to mass. Being so surrounded by it makes it a big part of you."

Cespedes spent a large part of her childhood in a convent.

"I grew up with the nuns in elementary school, so I participated in all the rituals, and we read the Bible almost every day," she said.

Ward said that her faith was largely grounded in her family culture.

"[Religion is] important to my grandparents, and that's why my parents brought my sister and I up in the Catholic faith," she said. "It's less for religious reasons and more cultural."

Upon coming to Dartmouth, however, these three students placed their religion on the back burner.

Nolan and Ward both agreed that time was a big factor in their diminishing devotion to religion.

Nolan said he found it difficult that religion was no longer a structured part of his day, as it was at his high school.

"[What was hard was] trying to balance everything for the first time when I came to college," Nolan said. "Having not set aside that time frame to do it from the beginning makes it easier and easier not to go to mass."

Similarly, Ward said not having her parents' daily presence during college made it easier for her to lose touch with her Catholic faith.

"To go to church every Sunday when you're not living with your parents it takes a lot," Ward said.

Ward also added that the cultural diversity of the Dartmouth campus had a strong influence on her.

"[I was] being exposed to different religions, and I think that cultural experience has made me question my own religion," she said. "I feel like if I were going to a Catholic school I would have had a different experience, but at Dartmouth we are very tolerant of different religions, but at the same time, we strive to be very nondenominational in our educational experience."

Cespedes said that the classes she took made her seriously doubt her beliefs.

"[When I was] taking classes here, my skepticism grew exponentially," she said. "When I started taking religion, and they started showing all these inconsistencies in the Bible, I started to say, Well, you know what? This is serious business.'"

Despite her uncertainty in the Catholic faith, Cespedes said it was hard to let go of her religion at first, as many of her friends were very devout believers.

"Because I already had friends [who were Catholic], it was hard to tell them I didn't believe," she said. "I felt like they would be offended. There was pressure."

While their piety may be on the decline in college, however, some find themselves returning to their old religious routines when they go back home.

"Things completely resume when I go back home," Nolan said. "My whole life has revolved around church and now I've moved away from that, but when I go back, it's very easy to fall right back into that."

Cespedes said her decision to not practice Catholicism has caused some tension within her family.

"I still join them for major holidays, but more for cultural reasons, because I've grown up with those rituals all my life, but they know I don't believe in the religion," she said. "They're respectful of it, but they're uneasy."

Still, Ward said that she could see herself becoming religious again after she graduates from Dartmouth.

"I would consider joining a faith-based community after college," she said. "I think it's just now, I'm in a different atmosphere."

Cespedes, however, said her decision to stop practicing Catholicism has allowed her to start over and fundamentally changed her in a positive way.

"For me it's like a new beginning," she said. "It's like a conversion to a different perspective one that is much more meaningful to me."

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