St. Olaf is rooted in the Lutheran tradition of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and is a place where conversations about matters of faith are part of campus life and numerous opportunities are provided for students to grow in their faith and discover how they are called upon to serve others. As the St. Olaf community embraces its Christian heritage and engages in interfaith dialogue and activity, so also does it strive to be an inclusive community of various faith traditions, beliefs, and backgrounds.
Founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1874, St. Olaf became a college of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1899. St. Olaf currently is one of 27 colleges and universities affiliated with the ELCA, and the student congregation is considered to be an ELCA congregation.
Approximately 40 percent of students at St. Olaf are Lutheran, but the college hosts a variety of religious groups for students to explore faith, including Muslim, Jewish, and a variety of Christian student associations, plus a Baha’i Club. In addition to regular Sunday services in Boe Memorial Chapel, daily chapel services that feature a faculty or staff member, student, or visiting speaker, are open to students of any faith who choose to attend.
St. Olaf intends that its graduates combine academic excellence and theological literacy with a commitment to lifelong learning. Students are required to take two religion courses as part of their general credits; these provide not only a theological background of the Bible and Christian faith, but also a perspective into other religious practices and moral reasoning.
As a college of the church, St. Olaf also emphasizes community service. The student-led Volunteer Network runs 35 programs that allow students to put in some 14,000 hours of community service annually. And the Academic Civic Engagement program promotes academically relevant activities that serve the needs of the community, such as students in a social work class pursuing a crucial component of social work by forming in-depth relationships with local elderly people, or students in the Christianity and Social Power class each serving up to 10 hours of community service, including work at Northfield’s food shelf.