Despite the shameless, godless hedonism supposedly practiced on the UCSB campus and in its Isla Vista environs, there are more religious groups and gatherings concentrated in that small area than most would think. Your Worship has visited some of them, including St. Mark’s University Parish – but aside from churches, there are also student groups and less formal gatherings galore.
The UCSB Office of Student Affairs helps these student-attended and sometimes student-run groups get going, attract membership, and host their websites. There’s a mind-boggling variety, from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which encourages student members to achieve in sports through their faith, to the Islamic Peace Fellowship, which is an offshoot of the International Peace Project. Some of these groups are affiliated with specific branches of their parent faith, while others are more generally inclusive; all welcome new members.
One of the most interesting of these groups is Muslim-Jewish Dialogue, an organization which is attempting to foster some sort of understanding between these two frequently disagreeing groups. With tensions in the Middle East as high as they’ve ever been, any attempt to open lines of communication is a positive step-even if UCSB students have little effect on the political world at the moment.
Although there are groups such as those mentioned which have some agenda above and beyond sharing a religious or spiritual faith, others are simply devoted to gathering with others who share a faith. There are student organizations for many different Christian denominations, including Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Orthodox, and Catholic. There’s also the Latter Day Saint Student Organization, associated with the Mormon Church.
For students and Isla Vista residents with a less specific religious affiliation, there are interfaith groups and spiritual organizations which focus more on personal development, and less on a specific system of belief. Awareness and Understanding through Meditation aims to “decrease stress and increase peace, goodwill and spiritual awareness.” Interfaith Students is a part of the University Religious Center of Santa Barbara, which is both a religious and community-based organization-they rent space to Child Abuse Listening and Mediation, for example, and are involved in other worthwhile local projects.
And then, of course, there are the churches themselves. There are at least seven different formal places of worship within Isla Vista, all of which are committed to providing a space where students and other residents can express their faith. Most of these churches offer special programs designed to enhance the lives of college-age attendees. Saint Michael’s University Church, for example, has a women’s spirituality group, an on-campus lunch series with lectures and discussion, and parties that provide a Christian setting for student mingling.
Although many UCSB students might not participate actively in spiritual or religious activities, the resources are there for any who might wish to. Certainly, the parties and drinking in Isla Visa receive more press than the more contemplative activities available-but that doesn’t mean they’re not present.