While many believe events like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Virginia Tech tragedy have correlated with the rise in religious beliefs on campuses, Christy Chappell, associate director of communications for Intervarsity, said students now turn to religion because they are now looking for a greater understanding of life's questions.
Charles Cohen, University of Wisconsin professor of history and religious studies, said the growing importance of religion on campuses may be because college is a good time in a person's life to ask essential questions and come to a decision about the importance of religion.
"Students are exposed to various claims about what constitutes truth and are trying to make up their own minds," Cohen said. "I think they're seeing, or believing they see, the mode of knowledge we teach at the university may not necessarily be the only mode out there."
College, Cohen added, is when students are exposed to a plethora of ideas and beliefs and have to choose what they believe in.
Greg Steinberger, executive director of the Hillel foundation at UW, said the center has seen a continual increase in the number of students attending events and services in the past few years.
"There is an increase in the number of students we see who arrive on campus saying they are interested in religion," Steinberger said. "[We have also] seen an increase in the number of students we see who arrive on campus saying they are already participating in religion before they arrived [at college]."
Steinberger said the current generation of college students was, as a whole, raised in a more secular environment than their parents' generation.
"People are yearning for something," Steinberger said. "They really want to find out who they are."
Due to their more secular upbringings, Steinberger added, students are more likely to explore different sects of Judaism.
"Students on the campus are less denominationally bound than their parents and are willing to experiment with the three different worship forms," Steinberger said.
The growing number of students attending Hillel programs, Steinberger said, may be because some students are looking for a smaller community on a large campus.
"People are looking for some kind of community or connectedness," Steinberger said. "Students want to check it out to meet other people, [and] then it becomes part of their life."
Chappell said that like Hillel, Christian organizations have seen an increase in the number of students participating in religious activities.
"There seems to be an increase in spirituality of kids whose parents are secular," Chappell said. "They feel like they're missing something."
The Christian organization Intervarsity, Chappell said, saw more than 2,000 conversions in the fall of 2006, which he added is an "unusually" high number.
"One of the biggest things we've noticed at Intervarsity is the number of new conversions of students who have chosen to become Christians who were not before," Chappell said.
In addition to conversions, Chappell said Intervarsity has seen secularly raised students looking to religion to find "spiritual answers to questions in their lives."
"I think many students who were raised with no faith or with a detached faith have emptiness inside them, and they are longing to fill that when they reach their adult years," Chappell said.
Chappell added that students realize Christianity understands all political beliefs, allowing for students who are passionate about a variety of things.
"I think that Christian students are discovering that … there is room in the Christian faith for Democrats and Republicans, [as well as] people who care about justice," Chappell said.