Faith formation in Christian higher education : a sociological study.


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Faith formation is a desired outcome of Christian higher education in America. However, there is a lack of empirical investigation on students’ own perceptions of spiritual formation. Using quantitative data from one large Protestant university in the South, this dissertation addresses this gap by exploring what faith formation looks like for students. The first area of study concerns one of the oldest traditions in Christian higher education: university-sponsored chapel services. I ask who is most likely to indicate a positive or negative reaction to chapel in relation to their religious beliefs. I find that more religious students are not more likely to say chapel strengthened their beliefs, but that they are less likely to say chapel weakened their beliefs. Next, I focus on digital religion, an increasingly relevant topic for Christian institutions because of its broad implications for faith-integrated curricular and co-curricular activities. The proliferation of digital engagement with religion among young people today provides the backdrop for asking which types of undergraduate students are likely to access religious or spiritual content online. Findings show that those with more traditional Christian beliefs, the more religiously engaged, and those who identify with the sponsoring denomination of the university are all more likely than their counterparts to engage with digital religious or spiritual content. The third study considers graduate programs, a growing yet less common feature of Christian institutions. I measure the impact of various program types and characteristics on the overall spiritual experience of graduate students. I find a negative association between participation in research doctorate programs (compared to masters and professional programs) and a high-quality spiritual experience. I also find that student collaboration, job advice, and the opportunity to take outside coursework are all positively correlated with a high-quality spiritual experience. This dissertation concludes with a brief discussion on the implications of these findings for Christian institutions and a call for continued systematic research on faith formation in Christian higher education.