Number of religious non-believers increasing as some students change views on faith

The number of atheists in the United States continues to grow. According to a Pew Research Center study, the percentage of Americans who identify as atheist went from 1.6 percent in 2007 to 3.1 percent in 2014. Students at the University of Miami are not immune to the trend steering away from structured religion. Students, even those who grew up religious are turning to becoming religion non-conforming.

Ozerk Turan, a junior psychology major, was raised as a devout Muslim, praying five times a day including every night before he went to sleep. Turan, of Turkish descent, abstained from eating pork as well as part of his practice.

Turan maintained a connection to his religion until the beginning of his freshman year at UM. It was then, when he first started to stray away from Islam. Turan began to explore the sciences and saw his intrinsic religious beliefs clashed heavily with what he was reading.

“I started reading up into astrophysics and quantum physics a lot toward the end of high school and those realms really clash with the basics of religion,” Turan said.

For Turan, the non-adaptive nature of religion and its controlling uses are other reasons he no longer identifies as Muslim. He said he began to see how religion played a larger role in society and in its followers more than he was comfortable with.

“I also began to think a lot about how religion never really adapts to society and how it is interpreted in millions of different ways and that really started bothering me,” Turan said. “And then I saw how the people in Turkey were so easily controlled by religious propaganda.”

Although Turan no longer identifies with a religion, he does not consider himself an atheist.

“I would say that I’m non-religious but not specifically an atheist in the way that I don’t believe in nothing,” Turan said. “I believe in some sort of higher power that cannot be perceived.”

Junior Eric Purcell, like Turan, was raised with a structured religious upbringing. Growing up in southern Virginia, Purcell attended Catholic Church every Sunday. But, he now views organized religion in a negative light. Purcell said he believes that much of the world’s violence is a result of religion.

“I have too many issues with organized religion and its association with violence,” Purcell said, an honors communication major with a focus on motion pictures. “Organized religion has a history of violence. I think a lot of terror organizations of the world operate on a religious basis. In the past, a lot of wars have been based in religion like the Crusades.”

Unlike Turan and Purcell, senior Haley Walker was raised without an organized religion. However, Walker said she consciously knew around middle school that she identified as an atheist.

Although Walker had a secular childhood, she and her family still engage in activities that are rooted in certain religions including Christianity. Walker said her family decides to focus on different aspects of the holidays and celebrations than what some traditionally do.

“I celebrate Christmas, but very secularly,” Walker said, a creative writing major. “My family emphasizes the gift-giving and family bonding aspects of it instead.”

Though Turan shares similar sentiments to many others throughout the world regarding organized religion and its practices, he said he still finds value in those who believe in a higher entity.

“I do have respect for those who spiritually use religion as a way to guide themselves,” Turan said.