The number of religious organizations centered on faith in Athens is reflective of the number of people who live in the area and practice the religion to support it.
And while there are a multitude of options for Christian students, those who practice other religions have to search deeper for opportunities.
Derrick Lemons, an assistant professor in the department of religion at the University of Georgia, said most of the different religious demographics in Georgia are in Atlanta, not in Athens.
“There’s no structure out there preventing other faith groups [from being represented in Athens], but you do have to have a large enough base to establish something,” Lemons said.
Of the 45 student groups on campus categorized as religious, at least 35 are devoted to the teachings of Christianity, according to the Center for Student Organizations.
While some are more popular than others, groups such as the Wesley Foundation are able to fill up hundreds of seats in the Tate Student Center Grand Hall on an average Wednesday night.
And Josh Bayne, communications director for Athens Church said the number of churches in Athens is a reflection of more students becoming interested in church.
“On average we have about 3,000 adults who attend on a Sunday,” Bayne said. “And of those, we estimate on a given Sunday, about one-third to one-half are college students.”
He said students enjoy serving with peers with campus ministries but also want to be part of a local church because it is multigenerational.
“I think college students come to Athens Church not necessarily for what they can get from it but often what they can give to Athens Church,” he said. “They are willing to drive all the way out so they can serve in our youth environments, leading a small group of middle or high school students, by making our services happen or be in a community group led by an adult leader who can be a mentor in their life.”
But for students who practice Judaism, Congregation Children of Israel is the only synagogue in Athens they can attend.
Eric Linder, rabbi of Congregation Children of Israel, said while there are a couple of student volunteers, students do not regularly attend weekly services.
Linder said this is because going to services is not seen as much of an obligation to Jewish students as it is to members of other religions.
“Many consider themselves Jewish because its in the culture and don’t feel the need to express it by doing religious things by going to services or lighting Shabbat candles,” Linder said.
“I consider myself Jewish even though I don’t believe in God,” said Gil Golan, a senior majoring in mass media arts from Marietta. “I have close ties to Israel and feel connected to Jews because of our similar origin, but I only go to services once or twice a year.”
On campus, Chabad of Athens and Hillel at UGA are the only two organizations dedicated to serving Jewish students.
Jeff Dawson, assistant director of Hillel, said because there are fewer options for Jewish students, the organization reaches out to all types of students who identify as Jewish.
“We do a lot of events not necessarily centered around religion but are more about getting to know other people and play into the social aspect,” Dawson said.
Hillel holds services prior to Friday night dinners, but the attendance is about 15 students “estimating on the high side,” Dawson said, as compared to the about 80 to 150 students that come to dinner.
For students who practice Buddhism and Hinduism, the available opportunities in Athens are even less.
Students would have to travel to Snellville, Lilburn, Norcross or even Atlanta for the nearest Hindu or Buddhist temple, and most of these students do.
“A lot of us travel to Atlanta to worship on the weekends,” said the Indian Cultural Exchange President Aakash Patel, a senior economics major from Albany. “Immigration to America from India is pretty recent, but once the population of Hindus grows in Athens, we could establish a temple, or Mandir as it is also called, here.”
Muslim students also have few locations in Athens that represent their religious background.
There is one mosque in Athens — the Islamic Center of Athens — and one student organization — the Muslim Student Association.
But Heba Unis, secretary for the Muslim Student Association, said this is not uncommon.
“There is usually only one mosque per area,” said Unis, a senior majoring in criminal justice and psychology from Acworth. “You’re not really supposed to have two because one should be enough. It is a place of worship and everyone should go together. Having two would create conflict and decrease unity. Even in Atlanta, there is one big mosque where everyone goes to.”
Despite the numbers, MSA President Najla Abdulelah said the students within her association are strongly united.
“There isn’t a large population here of Muslims, and we are definitely the minority on campus, but the Muslim community is connected in Athens,” said the senior majoring in international affairs and Arabic from Alpharetta.
Lemons said Georgia is a predominantly Christian state, but as people of other religions move throughout the state, religious organizations arise to support the new religious community.
“The reason why there are so many Christian churches in Athens is because there are many Christians to fill those churches,” Lemons said. “But there is not a large enough population for that many other places of worship for other religions, at least not yet.”