NH ranks second-least religious

by Heather Szilagyi | 2/6/14 7:51pm

New Hampshire is second only to Vermont as the least religious state in the country, according to an annual Gallup poll released Monday. Yet students who participate in campus religious organizations said that while they believe there is a stigma attached to being religious at Dartmouth, most students are accepting.

Based on attendance at religious services and how important respondents said religion was to their daily lives, Gallup found higher levels of religiosity in the South than the Northeast. Mississippi took the number one slot, with 61 percent of respondents saying they consider themselves “very religious,” as opposed to 22 percent of respondents in Vermont and 24 percent in New Hampshire.

Religion professor and Episcopal priest Randall Balmer said that religion is not as much a part of the culture in New Hampshire or Vermont as it is in the Bible Belt. Southern churches and religious communities can provide a network of friends and social opportunities that are not deemed as important in New England, he said.

“I am struck by what I have seen in various parishes in Vermont,” he said, citing services with only five or six attendees.

Clarisse Benoit ’14, a member of Aquinas House, the College’s Catholic student center, said that while the Dartmouth community is generally respectful of religion and her personal choices, she feels religion is often viewed as nonintellectual.

“It can feel intimidating if faith is also something that’s an important part of your life,” Benoit said, adding that she tries not to let this influence her faith. “It’s about living my faith in my own life and not being apologetic or hiding it.”

Saaid Arshad ’14, a member of the Muslim student organization Al-Nur, said he has never encountered prejudice on campus as a result of his religious beliefs.

Maddie Cooper ’16, vice president of religion and education for Dartmouth Hillel, said that Hillel builds community by hosting traditional Shabbat student-cooked dinners after weekly services.

Cooper, who considers herself an active member of the Jewish community, said that she feels welcome at the College. She said she has found resources, through the Tucker Foundation and the inter-faith living and learning community, that have helped her explore answers to life’s larger questions.

Cru, a Christian student group, hopes to ensure “everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus Christ,” secretary Abby Thornburg ’15 said in an email. She said she tries to live according to her beliefs without forcing them on others.

Jacob Casale ’17, a member of Cru and the Christian Union, said that although he was somewhat nervous to come to Dartmouth after attending a Christian school for 13 years, he found many of his fears to be unsubstantiated.

After finding faith-based resources and organizations on campus, Casale said he was able to stay true to himself.

“No one has called me stupid,” Casale said. “No one has discounted my perspective in a conversation if I do talk about my faith.”

Balmer said that degrees of religious identity vary between faiths, with Catholic and certain Jewish identities passed through generations and Protestant identity more likely to be determined by personal choice.

After moving, for example, a person may chose to practice a different denomination of Protestantism depending on churches in the new location, he said.

He said it seems to him that the majority of Dartmouth students are not religious, but that there are groups of devout students who form their own communities.

Arshad said that students who classify or qualify as religious are a minority on campus, but he believes the community remains large and strong.

The Gallup poll might not capture all aspects of a person’s religious faith, Balmer said, since some people “cobble together” their own religious identities.

“To say that Vermonters are not religious is a little bit misleading,” he said. “I think that people do have religious or spiritual sensibilities.”

Hannah Hye Min Chung contributed reporting.

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