While Kimball says most of his students still respect religious organizations as a power to do good in the world, it's often their stands on social issues - abortion and gay rights in particular - that he feels are driving the young away.
"The vast majority of students, even people coming out of pretty traditional religious backgrounds, don't see these as a big deal. They don't get, what's the issue here, don't understand it," Kimball said. "You can see a real clear shift away from dogmatism there."
We gathered a few of his students together. All said they believe in God, but agreed organized religion has largely failed to adapt to a changing culture.
Carleigh Houghtling, who grew up a conservative Christian, said, "I don't understand, like, how a loving God can send people to Hell. I'm pretty sure if I disobeyed my parents, they would not throw me in the fireplace," she laughed.
J.C. Fischer was raised Methodist, and still goes to church - but only about once a month. "There's so much, like, bureaucracy and rules and things that a church has to do that don't necessarily fit with the beliefs or the tenants that they preach," Fischer said.
Martha Fulton grew up Baptist, went to Catholic schools, and for the moment attends a Methodist church.
"While I wouldn't say that I am really strongly affiliated with the church I go to now, I do feel that I get something out of it," she said. "It's sort of like, when a person says they're single and looking rather than, just single and not ever hoping to find anything else."
There are plenty of alternatives for those looking to worship in a more individual way.
One of the most popular holiday services in New York City this time of year is a revival of the ancient solstice rituals, at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Paul Winter leads the celebration: "The journey through the longest night is symbolic of the catharsis of coming through the dark night of the soul," he said.
And for those in Newtown, Conn., no night has ever been darker.
"In dark times, like so many of our friends in Connecticut are having now, it's very hard to understand how we're going to reconcile that and how we'll come out the other side of it," Winter told Cowan. "But somewhere down deep, we hope that we'll have the optimism that we will overcome."
What is hope and optimism to some, is faith and answered prayers to others.
On this weekend in particular, as the conversation inevitably turns to the unimaginable in Connecticut, our thoughts of peace and human kindness bind us all as one.
For more info:
- Dr. Charles Kimball, Religious Studies Program, University of Oklahoma
- Our thanks to Cliff Sobel and Rhonda Dorset of the Phoenix Group, in Northport, N.Y., for their footage of the Winter Solstice Concert
- Also, thank you to hideawaypizza.com