The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Sunday January 29th

Column: Why Religion?


Director of investigations Samantha Sabin 

I am not religious.

I’m not sure if I’m an agnostic or just an atheist in denial, but I definitely do not practice any of the religions covered in The Daily Tar Heel’s special projects and investigations team’s Religion Issue today.

But I am in the minority — both on this campus and in this state. According to a 2013 survey at UNC, only 36 percent of student respondents either don’t believe in God, don’t care about religion or don’t associate with a faith.

In July, the I-Team, which I oversee, decided on this theme for our first issue. My first lesson in producing today’s issue: Religion is everywhere.

Religion was present in the shootings in Charleston that had happened a few weeks earlier that killed nine people at one of the United State’s oldest black churches.

Religion was present in the shootings that killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill five months earlier.

Religion was present in the protests both for and against Planned Parenthood on campus Tuesday.

So this summer, my reporters drew from the year’s major events and dug into the role religion plays on campus, in town and in the state.

They found that a mosque was being built in Chapel Hill after a 17-year struggle, that Christian megachurches were increasingly becoming the most effective recruiter for millennial believers and that Carolina Dining Services doesn’t offer halal or kosher meat in dining halls.

The rest of The Daily Tar Heel management team and I looked at the list of stories my reporters came up with and the impact they would have on the community.

We knew we had the theme for our first special projects issue of the school year.

This three-month-long issue is my team’s passion project. My staff searched high and low for sources who would be willing to talk about the subjects covered today — from same-sex adoptions through religious organizations to interfaith dating on campus.

(A belated apology to all of my Facebook friends for the statuses.)

Every day of this process, I looked through our list of projects and thought about all of the communities who would yell at me for excluding them if the issue was to come out that morning. Every day that list got smaller and more justifiable.

Today, I know we didn’t cover everything. But the team’s themed issues are never intended to cover it all.

The point of today is not to say “On Oct. 7, The Daily Tar Heel talked about religion, and now everyone can quit and go home.” Instead, we intend to expose our readers to the wider religious community sitting on the periphery of the UNC bubble.

And each semester, we’ll bring you two themed issues just like this one that are aimed at furthering a conversation that is already happening among readers.

So today, I give you my background to help you understand where the issue’s editorial leadership comes from. I was out of my comfort zone but driven to learn more. I learned a lot, and I hope you do, too.

If you have questions, comments or concerns, come to the community forum on Thursday. I’ll be there with my team and fellow management members. I hope to see you there.


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