Back to School 2010: Dial a Religion 

Opportunities abound to chart a new spiritual path--in Utah, of all places

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College years often are the time when students question the belief systems they were raised with. After all, you're already stretching your mind and body, why not your soul? There's really no downside to investigating other faiths. You might find the answers you've been looking for, or it may make your own religious convictions stronger. Lucky for the questing student, Utah—a seemingly theocratic state—is, in fact, a hotbed for alternative spiritual paths.

Take, for instance, the Salt Lake Pagan Student Group, also known as the University of Utah Pagan Society. It focuses on understanding through education and experience. This group is open to all who practice a Pagan faith (i.e. Wicca, Druidism, Shamanism, Heathenism etc.) or those who are interested in learning more about Paganism and want to participate in the group activities. Weekly meetings are held Saturdays at 11 a.m. at the Beehive Tea Room, 12 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Church of Scientology in Utah. The Church of Scientology of Utah is close to Westminster College (1931 S. 1100 East, 801-485-9992, Scientology-SaltLakeCity.org). Downtown, you can visit the Church of Scientology Mission of Salt Lake City (353 E. 400 South, 801-532-8008, Scientology.org). The church doesn’t have youth groups, but it does offer a free personality profile and informative Website that explains the beliefs and goals of Scientology.

Falun Dafa, or Falun Gong--an Asian practice of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance and meditation exercises--was founded in China in 1992 and has spread worldwide. The church is notable because of its persecution by the Chinese government, and members in Utah will have occasional protests about their treatment. But it’s not all protests. They have weekly meetings on Saturday mornings in Liberty Park from 9 to 11 a.m., where people can gather for meditation. (801-897-8865, FalunDafaUtah.com).

The Kanzeon Zen Center is central to Zen Buddhist life in Salt Lake City. Its tradition stems from Taizan Maezumi and it hosts several retreats throughout the year. All are welcome to attend weekly classes in meditation, yoga and Zen teachings. (1268 E. South Temple, 801-328-8414, BigMind.org).

For those of the LGBTQ community seeking a nonjudgmental place to worship, check out the nondenominational United Church of Christ, or UCC, which has Sunday meetings in Bountiful, Holladay and Salt Lake City. Casual with a hint of rock & roll, UCC offers activities to welcome friends with dinners, field trips to serve the community where needed, and guest speakers. Its credo: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” For a complete list of gay-friendly churches in Utah, visit GayChurch.org.

Students looking for a more rounded, religious view rather than one with a specific doctrine, Lumen, an Episcopalian/Lutheran group, caters to U students and other young adults by holding a short Sunday service every week during the school year. Those of all beliefs are invited to participate in communion, dinner, games and discussions in a casual setting. (St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 261 S. 900 East, 5:30 p.m. on Sundays).

Other campus groups include the Jewish Student Association, whose purpose is to increase awareness of Judaism and Jewish Culture on the U campus through activities, classes and literature (1760 S. 1100 East, UtahJSA.org).

The U's Muslim Student Association (msauu.com/wordpress) exists not only to accommodate the religious needs of the Muslim population on campus, but to educate non-Muslims in cultural and spiritual practice to help increase understanding and accommodation to all. Activities include the annual Islam Awareness Week held in the fall and participation on the Student Interfaith Council, an organization dedicated to the spiritual well-being of the students. Weekly MSA meetings are held on Thursdays at 5 p.m. at the A. Ray Olpin Univeristy Union, 200 S. Central Campus Drive.

For Hindus, the Sri Ganesha Temple in South Jordan offers a meeting place to gather and learn and is open to all visitors (1142 West South Jordan Parkway, South Jordan, 801-254 9177, ICCofUtah.org). The Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork hosts many activities, including the Festival of Colors, the Llama fest, classes in Indian culture and yoga, volunteer and internship opportunities as well as dinners (311 W. 8500 South, Spanish Fork).

Mormons aren't the ones with world headquarters in Salt Lake City. The spiritual group Summum, which practices mummification and transference, was founded in Utah in 1975. The church has lately been engaged in a legal effort to place a monument with its Seven Aphorisms in a public park that also displays the Ten Commandments. Summum's pyramid temple is located at 707 Genesee Ave., Salt Lake City, or visit online at Summum.us.

And this is just a sampling.

So go ahead, investigate your beliefs. The people you encounter along the way may become lifelong friends. There's usually potlucks involved, a definite plus for college students.

Next: Back to School 2010: Utah's Best Concerts - Fall 2010

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