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A Higher Calling

That all changed in the ’60s. “A strong anti-institutional mood was in the air,” Marlow said, “and the church gradually became much less important as a family institution.”

That led many people to seek religious truth in highly individual and personal ways. “Part of the change was brought about because of wars, such as Vietnam, and other tragedies such as the murder of public figures, violence and illegal drug use that raised fundamental questions about the presence of God and the impotence of the various churches,” Marlow said. “In its own way, each of these and other changes shook the foundations of many lives and influenced our culture's faith in where the sacred was to be found.”

Some students found security by remaining loyal to mainstream churches. Some became born-again Christians, and new, separate organizations on campus replaced the former ecumenical student movement. “Some became secularists, while others dug in their heels against change and were strong dogmatists,” Marlow said.

“All of these positions were evident at Albright,’ he added. “Christian musical groups became very popular, and born-again Christians felt a great freedom to move around from group to group and to experience new worship styles based on feelings, linking body sensation with religious experience,” Marlow said.

But, larger numbers of students chose “no preference” with regard to religion than in any previous time. “In my experience, the secularists were for the most part indifferent,” Marlow said. “They were more ‘ir-religious’ than ‘antireligious’; they didn't argue atheism, they were just indifferent.”

Spirituality Comes to the Fore

“Before the ’60s, the word ‘spirituality’ was closely connected to various forms of faith,” Marlow said. “The word had been used, but in the context of one of the identified religions.”

During the late ’60s and early ’70s the word “spirituality” began to take on a different meaning. “It became a way of substituting another word for religion, so a person could say, ‘I’m not religious, but I am very spiritual,’” Marlow said.

Where organized religion is often expressed in an open and public manner, spirituality may be seen as something that’s more closely held, private and internal. It manifests itself as a connection to ourselves, those around us, the universe and, ultimately, a higher power. It’s also concerned with our beliefs and values, as well as certain other aspects of our lives, such as creativity, inspiration and intuition, that may be hard to put into words.

The evolving definition of spirituality in the ’60s brought with it an interest in Buddhism, angels, Hare Krishna, crystals, spiritual guides from around the world, nature lovers, beliefs in new forms of healing, books about near-death experiences, Native American spiritual experience, other forms of ancient wisdom, and hundreds of books about meditation and prayer.

“The Experience Program reflects a desire for students to experience things that they wouldn’t otherwise experience for educational reasons as opposed to worship or liturgical reasons.”

– The Rev. Paul Clark ’73

“We saw spirituality expressed at Albright as we saw it expressed throughout the nation,” Marlow said, “although it’s difficult to say how many Albright students followed any one of the hundreds of paths suggested by this new and different understanding of spirituality.”

“There was a strong desire for many people to experience the majestic mystery, the supernatural, the sacred, everything spirit based -- but not in church,” Marlow said. “Whereas previously worshipers knew where God was, so to speak, this new spirituality expected to find the sacred always unfolding, growing, being found in novel places of mystical presence, at unique times and in less predictable ways.”

Compulsory Worship Gives Way to Experience

With less emphasis on “place” and more focus on the freedom to express spirituality in many ways, compulsory worship on campuses soon seemed passé. Albright dropped the requirement in 1969. In its place, an Arts and Lecture Series was created, with the current "Albright Experience Program" graduation requirement eventually replacing it.

“The Experience Program reflects a desire for students to experience things that they wouldn’t otherwise experience for educational reasons as opposed to worship or liturgical reasons,” says the Rev. Paul Clark ’73, Albright’s chaplain. “It’s a historical outgrowth of the chapel service ending and a reflection of changes at Albright and campuses all over the country.”

While compulsory worship was eliminated more than 30 years ago, Albright students still have many opportunities to explore their religious and spiritual sides. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that they’re turning to traditional religious structures to do so. At least not to the same degree as their peer group nationwide.

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reporter contents :: albright college