Atheists and agnostics are the second largest religious identity on campus
The Utah state population is dominated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) or as they are popularly called Mormons members. The denomination comprises 61.55 percent or almost two-thirds of the population of the state. This dominance, however, stops at one place in the state: the campus of the University of Utah. A survey carried out by The Daily Utah Chronicle discovered that about 35.92 percent of the 32,994 University of Utah students identify themselves as Latter-day Saints . Atheists and agnostics jointly come second, with both tied up at 14.41 percent each.
The number of Latter-day Saints members are much fewer in the university, although most students were by birth members of the LDS church. Only 61.48 percent of students in the university have continued to identify themselves with the church, while most of those who have left the church prefer to call themselves agnostic, spiritual without religion, or atheist. There were a few who ticked the “nothing in particular” box.
The retention of students by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in accordance with current trends. A Religious Landscape study conducted by Pew Research in 2015 found that the LDS Church retains around 64 percent. Members exit the church for many reasons, with those leaving say they left due to policies of the church when it comes to LGBTQ members. The list of other reasons includes the Christian denomination’s history of treating indigenous and black members and its polygamy history. These policies not only push members away, but they also color the lens through which outside people-the non-member community-view the church. Among all the students surveyed, about 43.46 percent revealed that their religious experience gets negatively impacted by the massive presence of the Latter-day Saints church in Utah. Only 31.26 percent felt a positive impact due to the church’s presence, and the remainder hold the view that the church has not affected them in any way or are unsure of any impact.
For ex-Mormons, the presence of the church stifles them. Isaac Martin, a student, coming from a Mormon family and now identifies himself as an atheist, points out that the overwhelming presence of Mormonism influences life in the state. He said that church members dominate the Utah legislature and thus promote pro-church policies. When asked about his personal life, he said: “I sometimes feel ostracized from my Mormon family members as well as from Mormon classmates.”