[Paleopsych] CHE: College Students Mix Doubt and Belief in Their Spiritual and Religious Views, Study Finds

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College Students Mix Doubt and Belief in Their Spiritual and Religious
Views, Study Finds
News bulletin from the Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.4.14


    Most college freshmen believe in God, but fewer than half follow
    religious teachings in their daily lives. A majority of first-year
    students (69 percent) say their beliefs provide guidance, but many (48
    percent) describe themselves as "doubting," "seeking," or

    Those are some of the results of a national study, scheduled for
    release today, that is believed to be the first broad, in-depth look
    at the religious and spiritual views of college students. The study,
    "Spirituality in Higher Education: A National Study of College
    Students' Search for Meaning and Purpose," was conducted by the
    [61]Higher Education Research Institute at the University of
    California at Los Angeles. Last fall 112,232 freshmen were asked how
    often they attended religious services, whether they prayed, and if
    their religious beliefs affected their actions.

    Among the findings was a strong correlation between students'
    religious beliefs and their views on hot-button political issues. For
    instance, students who considered themselves religious were more
    likely to oppose same-sex marriage. Religious students were also less
    likely to believe that abortion should be legal.

    On other questions, however, there was little difference between
    religious and nonreligious students. For instance, a majority of both
    groups believed that the federal government should do more to control
    the sale of handguns and that colleges should ban racist and sexist
    speech on their campuses.

    The survey also found that while first-year students were not always
    sure what they believed, most of them were interested in grappling
    with big questions like the meaning of life. What that pattern
    suggests, according to Alexander W. Astin, director of the UCLA
    research center, is that colleges should be seeking ways to
    incorporate spiritual and religious questions into the curriculum --
    even if doing so makes some professors uncomfortable.

    "There's an unwritten assumption that we just don't talk about these
    issues," said Mr. Astin. "I don't think we're taking advantage of the
    opportunity to help students explore those questions with each other
    and in their course work."

    That is because higher education is "a little more repressed" when the
    conversation turns to spiritual matters, according to Claire L.
    Gaudiani, a former president of Connecticut College who helped oversee
    the study. "For a lot of intellectuals, religion and spirituality are
    seen as a danger to intellectual inquiry," said Ms. Gaudiani.

    She argued, however, that dealing with questions about meaning and
    purpose "doesn't have to mean indoctrination." She compared what she
    calls "educating the spirit" to teaching good nutrition or physical
    fitness. "Right now students get the sense that we don't do
    spirituality," she said.

    'Burning Questions'

    If most professors do not "do spirituality," then Mark Wallace is an
    exception. The associate professor of religion at Swarthmore College
    teaches a first-year seminar called "Religion and the Meaning of
    Life." In an interview, he agreed that many professors are reluctant
    to engage in what he calls "meaning teaching" -- which is a shame, he
    said, because meaning is exactly what students are looking for. "They
    hunger and crave that sort of conversation in a college environment,"
    Mr. Wallace said.

    He also agreed with Ms. Gaudiani that it is possible to deal with
    religious questions without promoting a particular ideology. What his
    students seem to want is an "open, safe place" for the discussion of
    universal issues where they will not be "censored or yelled at or
    ignored." As proof, he cited strong interest in his course: He usually
    has three times as many students trying to sign up for the seminar as
    he can accept.

    "They have burning questions about life issues," he said. "And they
    feel those kinds of issues get ignored in the classroom."

    Not in David K. Glidden's classroom. The professor of philosophy at
    the University of California at Riverside teaches "The Care of the
    Soul," a course that focuses on how to live a purposeful life. While
    Mr. Glidden is not sure that students will complete his class knowing
    how to care for their souls, he thinks such courses are a good start
    and should be a part of a college's curriculum.

    "My sense is that the students I've taught are a lot like what T.S.
    Eliot called 'hollow men,'" he said. "They are living in a world, and
    they don't know what they're here for -- they don't know how to live
    their lives."

    And they want to know how to live their lives, said Richard F. Galvin,
    a professor of philosophy at Texas Christian University. He is part of
    a team-taught, freshman-level course called "The Meaning of Life." The
    course has two sections of 50 students, and the seats are always

    "I can tell by talking to them in office hours, looking at their faces
    in class, and in reading their work that it affects them," Mr. Galvin
    said. "They want to talk about these issues. What I like to tell them
    is that there is plenty of time to be worried about their careers, but
    this might be the last time they get to talk about big questions."

    Readings for the course include Plato's dialogues and works by
    Friedrich Nietzsche and John Stuart Mill.

    Jeffrey Sebo took Mr. Galvin's course when he was a freshman. Now a
    senior philosophy major, Mr. Sebo was intrigued by its title and
    became fascinated by the discussions -- so much so that he has
    returned to the class twice as a teaching assistant. "It was the big
    questions that got me hooked," he said.

    The results of the UCLA study were heartening to Carol Geary
    Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and
    Universities, which has long advocated a more holistic and less
    career-centered approach to higher education.

    "Students are more idealistic than we thought," she said. "But what
    this data shows us is that we have a long way to go. Students have
    idealism that can be tapped, but we're not doing all we can to help
    them connect that idealism to important challenges in the world around

    Figuring out how to do that is not simple, but colleges need to start
    trying, according to Mr. Astin. "If you want to take seriously the
    claims we make about liberal learning, this is what you have to do,"
    he said. "There are large numbers of students who are involved in
    spiritual and religious issues and who are trying to figure out what
    life is all about and what matters to them. We need to be much more
    creative in finding ways to encourage that exploration."

    Background article from The Chronicle:
      * [62]Survey Finds Spiritual Leanings Among Most College Students


   45. mailto:thomas.bartlett at chronicle.com
   61. http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri
   62. http://chronicle.com/weekly/v50/i14/14a03602.htm

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