Religious Beliefs and Attitudes of Maltese University Students

A survey of the religious beliefs and attitudes among students at the University of Malta was commissioned by the University Chaplaincy and carried out by a team of researchers and students. It is being published in book form with the above title.  

The survey consisted of person to person interviews, using a semi-structured questionnaire of 35 questions. The number of participants consisted of a random sample of 417 students, including 166 males and 251 females, out of a universe of 6129 Maltese students who are registered for day courses only. The margin of error for this number of responses at the 95% confidence level is 4.68%.

The results show that the vast majority of students (98%) declare their belief in God and in the other fundamental principles of the Catholic Faith. There is also a very high level of belief among students in other articles of faith such as: afterlife (88.1%), bodily resurrection (71.7%), the efficacy of the sacraments (86.3%), and the virginity of Mary, the Mother of God (87.2%).

Likewise the majority of respondents (88.9%) claim that they pray: regularly (71.8%), and even daily (45.4%). In their prayers, students develop a personal relationship with God. In fact, the majority of students (82.4%) refer to prayer as "a way of communicating with God."

The majority of University students may be considered as practising Catholics as most of them (77.1%) attend Mass at least once a week, while another 7.7% go to Mass monthly.  Only 0.9% say they "never" receive Holy Communion, while 52.9% said they receive the sacrament every time they attend Mass.
The practice of Confession seems to be less frequent among university students. One third state that they "never" go to confession. Nevertheless, the other two thirds stated their belief in it and go regularly.

The students' attitudes were further explored regarding interpersonal relations like marriage, cohabitation, divorce, birth control, abortion, extramarital sex and premarital cohabitation.

The students' views of marriage - including those of a "religious marriage" - may be generally described as positive even if also ambivalent. Significantly, 94.6% intend to contract some form of marriage, and 90% said that they wish to marry in Church.

This positive attitude towards marriage and religious marriage, however, needs to be reconciled with their attitudes towards divorce, premarital sex and premarital cohabitation.  The majority of respondents (71%) see nothing wrong with premarital sexual intercourse, especially when the relationship is described as "steady" and is leading towards marriage.

While only 5.4% of students would choose not to get married either civilly or religiously, 58.1% find nothing wrong with cohabiting before marriage.

The legalisation of divorce is another debatable issue in Malta.  Although 52% of the respondents do not agree with the legalisation of divorce in Malta, when asked whether they personally would be ready to divorce if the need arises, they express a different view. In fact, only 24.8% say that, whatever the circumstances, they would never ask for divorce, not even if that possibility were to be legally introduced in Malta.

The number of students who declare their faith in the Church as an institution is 74.6%.  A good number express their disagreement with the Church's teaching on a number of moral issues including the Church's prohibition of premarital sex, artificial contraceptives and its teaching on birth control.

The study concludes that the overall picture of University students which emerges, is one of general conformity with the Church's teaching on matters of faith and morals. Their main points of divergence are centred on interpersonal relations, mainly those relating to sexual behaviour, and significantly, to certain institutional aspects of the Church itself.  Apart from such specific issues, important though these are in the Church's legacy, the vast majority of University students still uphold the traditional values and norms.

Some members of the team at the launch. From left:
Rev. Dr Charles Tabone, Dr Mary Anne Lauri, University Chaplain: Fr Jimmy Bartolo,
Rev Dr Paul Pace and Professor Anton Buhagiar