Ranking Religion on Campus

Don't expect a transcendent spiritual experience if you enroll at Reed College. The private liberal arts school in Portland, Ore., is the least religious U.S. college, according to a ranking last month by the Princeton Review.

The rating was based on a survey of students at 361 colleges and universities, who were asked to agree or disagree with statements about their school such as "Students are very religious" or "Students ignore God on a regular basis."

"Sometimes perception is a little different than reality," Reed spokeswoman Beth Sorenson told Religion News Service, playing down the school's religion ranking. She preferred to focus on the fact that Reed finished first in overall academic excellence in the Princeton Review rankings, which also covered categories ranging from best dormitories (Loyola College in Maryland) to biggest parties (University of Wisconsin at Madison).

The other schools in the top five for students looking for a religion-free college experience are Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Eugene Lang College of the New School University in New York City; Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.; and Lewis & Clark College, also in Portland.

Not surprisingly, Brigham Young University, the Mormon school in Provo, Utah, was rated the nation's most religious college campus, followed by Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.; Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.; the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind.; and Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

Homes With Holy Foundations

In some homes, the Bible has made its way underground. Two Texas home builders, one in a Houston suburb and the other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, routinely place a Bible in the frame of a home's foundation before covering it with concrete.

"It's nice for me to have a reminder in there, when I'm walking through the frame, of where my principles are," Andy Eckert, 29, a partner in Possibility Custom Homes outside Houston, told the Associated Press.

Both Eckert and officials with the other home builder, Jones Custom Building, said they tell customers about their practice of building Bibles into homes but don't use it as a sales pitch. They said they wouldn't do it in a case where someone objected, but that has yet to happen. Some customers have brought their own Bibles to be placed in the foundations.

No Broad Biblical Perspective

Although it's the bedrock of some homes, the Bible is not the authority that most Americans consult when making moral decisions. In a recent national survey, only 16 percent of U.S. adults said they make their moral choices based on the Bible's content.

The July survey of 1,002 adults by the Barna Research Group also found that only 5 percent possess what the organization defined as a "biblical worldview." That definition requires belief in seven principles, including that the source of moral truth is the Bible; that every person has a responsibility to share his or her religious beliefs with others; and that Satan is a living force, not just a symbol of evil.

About half of evangelicals have such a perspective, the survey found, but only 8 percent of all Protestants and less than 0.5 percent of Catholics. Only 1 percent of African Americans have a biblical worldview, compared with 6 percent of whites and 8 percent of Hispanics, according to the Barna study.

A Shofar Showdown

A national Jewish organization has borrowed a page from "American Idol" in an effort to attract unaffiliated Jews to High Holiday services next month.

In an event called the "Great Shofar Blast Off," contestants will play the shofar, or ram's horn, and a panel of judges will evaluate them based on musicality and performance, according to Religion News Service.

The shofar is traditionally blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and officials with the National Jewish Outreach Program said they are sponsoring the contest to pique the interest of the estimated 50 percent of U.S. Jews who don't attend services on those holidays.

Five finalists chosen from videotaped entries will be flown to New York City for a Sept. 22 "showdown in Herald Square," said Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, the group's associate director. The winner will get a trip for two to Israel.

Last year, the organization held a contest for the best chicken soup.


This Month's Spotlight Shubun No Hi

Date Sept. 23

Description The name of this Japanese national holiday translates as "Autumnal Equinox Day." Although the actual date of the fall equinox changes from year to year, the holiday is always observed Sept. 23. During the week, Japanese visit their family tombs to pay respect to ancestors, leaving flowers, incense and ohagi -- sweet rice balls covered with soybean paste. Tradition holds that the ancestors' spirits prefer round food.

Religion 101

When did churches begin using grape juice for Holy Communion?

Most Protestants use grape juice for Communion, a practice that started in 1869. Inspired by the temperance movement, a Methodist dentist named Thomas Bramwell Welch applied the pasteurization process to Concord grape juice to produce an unfermented sacramental wine for members of his church in Vineland, N.J., where he was the Communion steward. He founded Welch's Grape Juice, and his son eventually left dentistry to focus on marketing the product commercially.

Have a question on religious traditions or practices? Send an e-mail to religion@washpost.com.

-- Compiled from staff and wire reports