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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Volume 32 Number 2
Fall 2005

The Big Chill: Are Campuses Turning a Cold Shoulder to Religious Students?

Scott Andrew Schulz

Generally, students do not attend institutions of higher education with hopes of remaining developmentally static. Instead, many students invest their time and resources into an education with the intention of learning more academically, about the world, and about themselves. Identities inevitably change as a result of exposure to new ideas and concepts and growth along numerous facets, including religious and spiritual aspects. In the educational context, studied in-depth by researchers such as Lawrence Kohlberg, many students are challenged to adopt higher levels of moral reasoning in response to exposure to higher-stage thinking and disequilibrium. Likewise, researchers such as Sharon Parks reiterate that higher education experiences provide substantial opportunities for one to reflect on new ideas and develop one’s faith and religious identities.

Indeed, higher education theoretically facilitates many characteristics of student development and researchers have explored with great fervor several aspects of student development in order to better ascertain the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of higher education students and support development. Yet today, many students are choosing to develop their religious and spiritual identities off campus. Indeed, very little is known regarding student involvement in off-campus religious organizations. Do religious students choose to venture away from their campuses to join these organizations because of chilling campus environments? How do students believe they benefit from involvement with these groups?

Through observation and interviews with students involved with a Christian group, this study hopes to shed light on these issues and provide further insight concerning how various environments influence the religious attitudes and behaviors of these particular students. The findings of this study may contribute to understanding the needs of students and encourage institutions in helping students make sense of religious and spiritual issues on campus, thereby fulfilling a mission to remain accountable to the needs and overall development of all students without forcing students to separate their religious, spiritual and academic identities.

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