Brian Lockhart '08 was enjoying a beer at Ladd House last year when he was approached by several first-year students. Under most circumstances, Lockhart would have enjoyed such attention, but in this instance, he panicked. Spying an open window, he chucked his half-full beer can into the night.

Lockhart does not have a phobia of first-year students, nor is he a chronic litter bug. He is, however, a member of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship (BCF), and felt guilty about drinking in front of younger members of the group.

"One thing about Christianity is that you're not supposed to behave in a manner that leads others astray," says Lockhart, who has decided not to eschew drinking himself as long as it does not cause him to do anything that violates his morals.

Lockhart's odd behavior that night highlights a tension that exists on many campuses: the struggle that religious students face as they try to live their faith in a college environment. This tension might seem especially powerful at Bowdoin, a school that earlier this decade was rated by the Princeton Review as one of the top-20 colleges where "God is ignored on a regular basis."

Michael Krohn '09, a Lutheran, says that it is difficult to reconcile a religious lifestyle and the college lifestyle.

"There have been times when I've missed church because I was hungover," says Krohn. "It's like, 'Well, I broke the law by drinking underage, and now I'm not going to church because I'm puking.'"

"It's hard to keep a good Christian lifestyle at college, definitely," he says.

Jamil Wyne '08, a Muslim and a religion major, finds it difficult to fast during Ramadan?during which he cannot eat during daylight hours?because of his busy academic schedule.

"In a Muslim country during Ramadan, they're not going to work 10, 12 hours a day like they normally would," he says, whereas here the energy-sapping schedule at Bowdoin remains the same.

Wyne, who does not drink because Islam forbids it, says that though he has never been antagonized for not drinking, "there has always been a line of division between me and everyone else" when he went out on weekends that he has "never gotten really comfortable with."

Many students of faith seek out affinity groups on campus where they can talk about their religious views and interact with students who share their core beliefs. BCF, Bowdoin Hillel, and the Bowdoin Catholic Students Union (CSU) comprise the three explicitly religious student organizations that are listed on the College's Web site.

When it comes to finding peers with whom they can talk about God, neither Krohn nor Lockhart report too much difficulty.

"Usually I don't feel too alienated," says Krohn. "I know that there are those out there who believe and are Christians, so I could seek them out if I wanted to."

"There are enough of us," agrees Lockhart.

However, Joe Berte '09, a Roman Catholic, says he finds it difficult to talk about his faith with students on campus.

"I have a few friends [of faith]," he says, "but I have experienced many people who dismiss the idea that there is even a God and several of my friends claim their 'intelligence' overcomes their faith."

Academic challenges

Behaving according to doctrinal morality on a campus where drinking and sex are prevalent on weekends is only half the struggle for devout students. For many, the most serious challenges to their beliefs occur in the classroom. Like their colleagues at most other liberal arts colleges, Bowdoin professors often encourage students to challenge their previously held beliefs.

"Some religious views don't fare well under rigorous academic scrutiny," says Professor of Philosophy Scott Sehon.

Sehon teaches the course Philosophy of Religion. In 2001, a devout Christian student dropped out of Bowdoin for a semester after taking the course, which he described as "psychologically stressful" in an interview last year with the Orient.

"In my Philosophy of Religion course, we do rigorously examine the question of whether God exists," Sehon says. "This process might be stressful for some students unused to subjecting religious doctrines to argument and analysis."

Sehon reports that such instances have been rare. He suggests that this may be because such students are reluctant to sign up for a course based on theological skepticism.

"Students who are unwilling to look objectively at their religious beliefs know better than to take a course in philosophy of religion," he says.

Professor of Government Paul Franco has taught a number of courses in political philosophy that examine the role of religion in politics. Franco was raised by devout Catholic parents, but his own faith has become "diluted" over the years as his interest in the academic study of religion has increased.

"I think the more that my interest and intellectual energy and focus has moved in the direction of a philosophical approach to these large questions, faith [and] religion have correspondingly decreased," he says, noting that this trend "began in college, as it often does."

Early in his Bowdoin career, which now totals 17 years, Franco taught a course called Athens and Jerusalem, which examined the tension between Christianity and Judaism at the beginning of the Western political tradition. He taught the Bible in that course, and he noticed that some students seemed to find it hard to read the text objectively.

"You would get students who would really respond in terms of their beliefs and convictions, which was not really the way we were approaching it in the class," he recalls.

He says he tried to direct class discussion to "less sectarian grounds" and encouraged his students to approach the subject with more skepticism, but admits having felt slightly uncomfortable doing so. Interestingly, he points out, this classroom tension perfectly dramatized the conflict between reason and revelation that was a central theme of the course.

Richard Broene, an organic chemistry professor, remains very in touch with his faith, which is rooted in the Presbyterian tradition. He reports having experienced fluctuations in his fervency over the years, but does not believe they have been correlated with his scientific education. Broene believes in evolution, but this has not affected his religious views, he says.

"I think it's pretty obvious that evolution has occurred," he says. "Does that mean I don't believe in a Creator? No. Do I find that they're incompatible? Some days I do, some days I don't."

While some contend that science and religion are irreconcilable, Broene disagrees.

"You can't prove or disprove the existence of God," he says. "It's an issue of faith...It isn't based on an experiment."

Broene describes his faith as a private matter, which he is willing to talk about if asked, but does not advertise. Students have approached him to talk about the issues surrounding faith and science, but he says that he does not proselytize in class.

"That just isn't my style," he says.

Then, referring jokingly to the difficulty of his course material, he adds, "I see a lot of prayers in my class, but I don't think they have a whole lot to do with religion at that moment."

College support

While the College has been historically Christian?Christian prayer meetings and chapel services were mandatory until the mid-1960s?Bowdoin has since made efforts to cater to the needs of a more diverse student religious population as the number of Jewish and Muslim students has grown.

"We provide support that is typical in the Bowdoin fashion," says Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett. "If there is a groundswell of interest, we will respond to that."

As an example, she points to the Dining Service's recent efforts to provide Muslim students with Halal meat?meat permissible for consumption according to Islamic tradition?on Fridays. The College also provides kosher food during Passover, and contracts with a rabbi to preside over high holidays.

There is no official Muslim student organization at Bowdoin, but Hazlett says that if interest swells, the College may take steps to bring an imam?a Muslim prayer leader?to campus, a move that the University of Southern Maine made this year.

Hazlett reports that since she arrived at Bowdoin 10 years ago, the student religious groups on campus have become more accessible.

"I noticed when I came here...that it wasn't very visible, these organizations where you could seek support," she recalls. "We didn't have official spiritual advisors [for the groups]. We've now recognized these folks, provide an office in Dudley Coe where they can have office hours, [and] they all have Bowdoin e-mail accounts."

The Office of the Dean of Student Affairs plans to hold a "Celebrating Faith" dinner at Howell House on April 25 as a forum where students can talk informally about faith at Bowdoin.

Jordan Krechmer '07, an officer of Hillel, says that the College makes it easier for religious students?Jewish ones, at least?to feel comfortable on campus.

"I don't think there is anything particularly difficult about being religious at Bowdoin," he says. "There is a strong and growing Jewish population here and there is strong support for us and all that we do or want to do from the deans' office, Dining Services, student activities, the faculty, Residential Life, and other parts of the College. All of these groups are extremely helpful in accommodating any of our needs."

While Bowdoin has made spiritual advisers?who are not employed by the College?more accessible by providing them with offices and e-mail accounts, other NESCAC schools have gone even further. Middlebury College has a religious and spiritual life center with its own mission statement, and Williams College boasts a Jewish religious center, a Catholic reading room, a Muslim prayer room, and a Zendo meditation hall on campus.

Still, "I think we do OK" as far as providing for religious students' needs, Hazlett says.

An 'uncomfortable experience'

As a number of students of faith attest, living and learning among peers who profess a drastically different worldview can cause friction. Some students of faith might feel oppressed from the zeitgeist because of their beliefs, and just as some students' interpretations of doctrine might offend their peers.

Willy Oppenheim '09 recalls a debate in his education class last year during which a religious student used Bible-based logic to argue for the intellectual inferiority of black students.

Lockhart says that religious diversity?both in religious custom and in degree of religiosity?should not be avoided.

"I think it would be the best educational experience possible if three completely different worldviews were put into a room together," he says. "Even if it causes tension, in the long run, they'll learn more."

Broene, the devout chemistry professor, believes that the degree to which non-religious students and professors dominate Bowdoin culture may be harmful to the intellectual growth of students here.

"If your faith cannot withstand the test of facts and evidence being brought in front of you, then you really need to question why you have it," he says.

Though he does not go so far as to advocate affirmative action for the admission of religious students, Broene does think that if Bowdoin students were exposed to more students of faith, it would benefit them to have their own beliefs challenged.

"The more you're confronted by people who think the same way you do, the easier it is to institutionalize poorly thought-out beliefs," he says.

Broene says that this holds true not only for religion and irreligion, but for any ingrained political or cultural belief system that students might be reluctant to question.

Quoting an adage, he says, "Education should be a profoundly uncomfortable experience."

"Otherwise," he adds, "you're just not pushing yourself hard enough."