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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
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Volume 33 Number 2
Spring 2006

Understanding the “Interior” Life of Faculty: How Important is Spirituality? 

Jennifer A. Lindholm and Helen S. Astin

Within American society, the spiritual dimension of our lives has traditionally been regarded as intensely personal, an innermost component of who we are that lies outside the realm of appropriate discussion or concern within business and academic contexts. However, in an era characterized by its spiritual "poverty," we have seen a growing societal quest for "non-religious, nondenominational" ways of fostering spirituality and an associated hunger for spiritual growth.1 In 1998, for example, 82 percent of Americans expressed a need to "experience spiritual growth," up from 54 percent just four years earlier.2

Given the broad formative roles that colleges and universities play in our society, higher education represents a critical focal point for responding to the question of how we can balance the "exterior" and "interior" aspects of our lives more effectively. Existing research indicates that developing people’s abilities to access, nurture, and give expression to the spiritual dimension of their lives impacts how they engage with the world and fosters within them a heightened sense of connectedness that promotes empathy, ethical behavior, civic responsibility, passion, and action for social justice.3 Spirituality has also been positively linked with physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.4 This article focuses on the role that spirituality plays in the lives of college and university faculty and examines the extent to which variations exist based on personal demographics, professional and institutional characteristics, and affective experiences.

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