Religion on Campus

Overview

The first intensive, close-up investigation of the practice and teaching of religion at American colleges and universities, Religion on Campus is an indispensable resource for all who want to understand what religion really means to today's undergraduates.

To explore firsthand how college students understand, practice, and learn about religion, the authors visited four very different U.S. campuses: a Roman Catholic university in the East, a state university in the West, a ...

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Overview

The first intensive, close-up investigation of the practice and teaching of religion at American colleges and universities, Religion on Campus is an indispensable resource for all who want to understand what religion really means to today's undergraduates.

To explore firsthand how college students understand, practice, and learn about religion, the authors visited four very different U.S. campuses: a Roman Catholic university in the East, a state university in the West, a historically black university in the South, and a Lutheran liberal arts college in the North. They interviewed students, faculty members, and administrators; attended classes; participated in worship services; observed prayer and Bible study groups; and surveyed the general ethos of each campus. The resulting study makes fascinating and important reading for anyone—including students, parents, teachers, administrators, clergy, and scholars—concerned with the future of young Americans.

Challenging theories of the secularization of higher education and the decline of religion on campus, this book reveals that both the practice and the study of religion are thriving, nourished by a campus culture of diversity, tolerance, and choice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
This important study confirms the vitality of religion on campus while ably challenging widely held theories of secularization. (Publishers Weekly)

A good introduction to American understanding of faith. (Alan Wolfe, Chronicle of Higher Education)

Any church leader who questions the validity of a religious presence on college campuses should read this book. (Christian Century)

A study of religious practice on American campuses that should give pause to anyone proposing that the secularization theory is airtight. (Common Review)

A believable and compelling picture of religious life on campus. . . . A pleasure to read and a helpful introduction to people who care about student spirituality. (Congregations)

Alan Wolfe
Religion on Campus deals with the way America's young people approach religion, as well as with the ways that America's colleges and universities respond to them. . . . It offers a good introduction to American understanding of faith. . . . I share [the authors'] appreciation of how religion on campus has changed.
Chronicle of Higher Education
First Things
A colorful and useful portrait of the role of fatih in the life of these schools.
Robert Wuthnow
Through careful ethnographic case studies, the authors show us that contemporary students are interested in spirituality and for the most part seem to be finding ways of expressing this interest through coursework and other campus activities.
Wade Clark Roof
The book deserves a wide readership.
Publishers Weekly
Recently, numerous observers of American religion have decried the decline of religion on campus. George Marsden, for example, has argued that America's colleges and universities, once so heavily tied to their (usually Christian) roots, have embraced secularity wholesale. But who has thought to actually test these secularization theories? Working with a generous Lilly grant, religion professors Cherry, DeBerg and Porterfield went to the trenches to measure the vitality of religion on America's college campuses. At four anonymous institutions an elite Roman Catholic university in the East; a large state university in California; a small, historically African-American university in the South; and a Lutheran liberal arts college in the North they conducted in-depth, on-site investigations. Among their various conclusions, one theme emerges clearly: religion is alive and well on campus. The phenomenon that others have mistaken for secularization, the authors say, actually reveals other trends. For example, students are more private about their spirituality and less apt to associate it with organized religion, making it more difficult to track. Porterfield and Cherry emerge here as the better writers; DeBerg's chapter (which unfortunately occurs first) is a bit clunky by comparison. But all three are observant ethnographers, looking beyond the obvious places such as classroom and chapel to find religion at work in the locker room before the big game, in acts of community volunteerism or in the highly ritualized coronation of a homecoming queen. This important study confirms the vitality of religion on campus while ably challenging widely held theories of secularization. (Sept. 10) Copyright2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807855003
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 8/25/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Conrad Cherry is Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and founder of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.

Betty A. DeBerg is professor of religion and head of the department of philosophy and religion at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

Amanda Porterfield is Robert A. Spivey Professor of Religion at Florida State University in Tallahassee and past president of the American Society of Church History.

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Read an Excerpt

Religion on Campus


By Conrad Cherry, Betty A. DeBerg, and Amanda Porterfield, with the assistance of William Durbin and John Schmalzbauer

University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2001 The University of North Carolina Press.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0807826235



Chapter One


Introduction

This book of case studies originated in a desire on the part of its authors to observe closely the current shape of religion on U.S. college and university campuses. During the last ten or fifteen years, a large number of studies have examined religion in higher education. Historical investigations have depicted religion's changing roles in American colleges and universities. Other, more normative works have recommended ways in which religion's presence on the higher-education scene might be improved or transformed. Still others have surveyed the attitudes of faculty who teach religion on our campuses, argued the relative value of "objectivity" or "advocacy" as a pedagogy in the religious studies classroom, or bemoaned the widespread secularization of the contemporary campus. Largely missing in these studies has been a close, firsthand inspection of religion on campus. In particular, they simply have not supplied answers to basic questions like how, and how widely, do today's American undergraduates practice religion during their college or university years? In what manner do students understand and talk about their religious or nonreligious postures? What opportunities are provided for undergraduates to study religion? What approaches to that study do the teachers of those undergraduates take? These are the fundamental questions this book attempts to answer with respect to four very different campuses in the United States.

The chapters that follow concentrate on the present and chiefly employ the methods of ethnography to determine the present shape of things. All three authors are historians as well as students of the current scene, however, and thus have been sensitive to the ways in which the contemporary situation has exhibited striking continuities as well as arresting discontinuities with the past. Religion has long figured importantly in the history of American higher education, but its role has changed as America and its educational institutions have changed. In the colonial period, a number of major colleges were founded primarily for the purpose of educating clergymen. Thus Harvard College opened its doors in the seventeenth century in order to teach Puritan ministers how to nurture the burgeoning communities of New England with the milk of the Christian gospel. Disputes over the most appropriate preparation for ministers led to the founding of Yale College at the beginning of the eighteenth century and the later founding of William Tennent's "Log College," which evolved into Princeton. King's College and Philadelphia College, which became Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, were founded with broader purposes in mind, but both had ties to the Anglican Church, and religious education was part of both of their missions.

Until the rise of the modern American university in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the traditional divisions of scholarly study began to be transformed into academic disciplines presided over by specialized professionals, religious and moral instruction permeated the entire curriculum of many colleges. Educators often assumed that religious principles and biblical knowledge were coextensive with science, history, and languages. And they believed that a thorough grounding in religious principles and biblical knowledge supported advances across the educational spectrum. Those assumptions played a significant role in the early development of advanced education for women as well as the ongoing development of higher education for men. Thus at Mount Holyoke, founded in 1837 as the first publicly endowed institution of higher learning for women in the United States, and other women's colleges that arose in the nineteenth century, higher education for women was justified because it was presumed to be joined seamlessly with piety. Similar arguments accompanied the founding of Catholic and Jewish centers of advanced learning in the nineteenth century. These institutions distinguished themselves from Protestant schools in many ways and, in fact, were established partly to protect Catholics and Jews from assimilation to Protestant culture. But they, too, operated on the premise that religious and moral instruction was fundamental to all other forms of learning.

Largely as a result of the establishment of universities influenced by scholarly approaches to a variety of academic fields, many of these earlier efforts to integrate all forms of learning with basic religious principles began to appear simplistic and grandiose. New advances in research proceeded along diverse lines in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, making the whole enterprise of academic learning, in colleges as well as universities, more heterogeneous than ever before. At the same time, increased understanding and appreciation of the religions of the world challenged the notion that Christianity could be made the foundation of human knowledge, and religiously diverse faculty and students would call into question the possibility—and the desirability—of making one religious perspective a unifying campus principle.

In the 1990s, several studies of religion in American higher education interpreted these intellectual, religious, and educational developments as parts of a steady and certain process of secularization. George Marsden, for example, has seen in the developments proof across the university curriculum of what he calls "methodological secularization," or the suspension of religious beliefs in order to attain scientific objectivity. He also has detected an "aggressive pluralistic secularism that provides no check at all on the tendencies of the university to fragment into technical specialties," the elimination of a Christian voice in shaping policy, and, "in the name of equality and the rights of women and minorities," the questioning of all beliefs "as mere social constructions." The result for Marsden is that American universities and the colleges that imitate them have radically marginalized religion: "Despite the presence of many religion departments and a few university divinity schools, religion has moved from near the center a century or so ago to the incidental periphery. Apart from voluntary student religious groups, religion in most universities is about as important as the baseball team. Not only has religion become peripheral, but also there is a definite bias against any perceptible religiously informed perspectives getting a hearing in the university classroom." In short, Marsden believes that institutions of higher education have become secular not by abolishing religion but by stripping it of significant influence, confining it to the innocuous realms of voluntary campus groups and religion classrooms where religious convictions are suppressed. As a consequence, "the presence of religion programs in universities is, on balance, not a countervailing force to the secularization of universities."[1]

In a study with a similar slant, Douglas Sloan has argued that the gradual disappearance from colleges and universities of such things as close relations between church and academy, the appointment of clergy to college and university presidencies, required chapel, and mandatory courses in divinity and moral philosophy is a sure sign of a secularization process. Sloan has even suggested that secularized higher education has become an ersatz religion in twentieth-century America: "In important ways the university itself became a major religious phenomenon of American culture. David Levine, in his study of the American college during the first part of the century, has written that as an avenue for social and occupational status (read salvation?), 'education became the secular religion of twentieth-century American society.'"[2]

James Burtchaell has proposed that colleges and universities that have claimed significant connections with Christian denominations have also been secularized. Those schools, Burtchaell believes, have experienced progressive and largely unintentional alienation from their ecclesiastical fellowships. Burtchaell claims that a considerable amount of self-deception can be uncovered in this development: "The estrangement between colleges and churches was effected by men and women who said and apparently believed that they wanted them to be partners in both the life of the spirit and the life of the mind. But they concealed from themselves and from some of their constituencies the process of alienation as it was under way." The chief source of this self-deceiving secularization of Christian colleges was the emergence of pietism, a religious posture that elevates the emotions over the intellect and the personal over the communal: "Religion's move to the academic periphery was not so much the work of godless intellectuals as of pious educators who, since the onset of pietism, had seen religion as embodied so uniquely in the personal profession of faith that it could not be seen to have a stake in social learning."[3]

To a large extent, our study was prompted by a desire to test the adequacy of these secularization theories as measures of the importance of religion on the contemporary campus. Frankly, we were suspicious about their adequacy from the outset for a number of reasons. First, the theories did not conform to our own experiences in higher education. Among the three of us, we have held full-time teaching positions in religion at a total of five state universities, two private universities with distant connections to religious denominations, and one university with a clear affiliation with a Protestant church body. In only one case was the study of religion weakened in its university setting (and that after two decades of strength), and in none of the cases were religious practices among students at all disadvantaged. Religion as taught and practiced has been alive and well in the institutions of higher education that we have occupied.

Second, quite apart from our own experiences, as historians of religion in America, we are convinced that judging the present by the past without due attention to the changing shape of religion can obscure new forms of religious vitality in the present. There is no denying that large numbers of colleges and universities in this century have severed or reduced their ties to denominational bodies and that the training of ministers is no longer the chief purpose of higher education today, as it was at Harvard College in the seventeenth century. Nor is it any longer assumed that advanced learning must be coextensive with piety as a condition for justifying women's admission to college, an assumption that prevailed when Mount Holyoke was founded. College presidents no longer presume to know how the various areas of study in their institutions interrelate, nor do they try to instruct students in the ethical precepts of the Bible and the relationship between those precepts and various areas of human knowledge. Boards of trustees and offices of college presidents are no longer dominated by the clergy, and students usually feel little need to confine their spirituality within denominational boundaries. But these changes seem more clearly to add up to the declericalizing, de-denominationalizing, and, in some cases, de-Christianizing of campuses than to their secularization or their marginalization of religion.

Third, the changes also may very well reflect the protean flexibility that has characterized American religion as a whole throughout the nation's history. The religion of the American people has demonstrated a large capacity to assume new forms as conditions change and thereby preserve itself as a vital force in American life. This characteristic was apparent, for example, in the nineteenth century as Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, and other frontier groups seized numerical and cultural dominance from "established" Protestants like Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Unitarians and in the process transformed religious perspectives and practices. It was evident also in the transformations that generations of Catholic immigrants and their heirs brought to their religion as they adjusted to a changing American social order in the twentieth century. Given the overall tendency of American religion to assume new shapes as social and cultural conditions change, it is reasonable to suspect that religion on our college and university campuses has assumed some new appearances as well, appearances that may have gone unrecognized in the secularization theories.

A fourth reason for wondering about the adequacy of secularization theories is that some prominent sociologists have given up on the theories. To some extent, all theories of secularization are based on the assumption that over time science and other forms of modern intelligence will send religion into decline in modern society. This suggests that some previous Age of Faith has been or will be displaced by an Age of Reason (or Science or Technology or Skepticism) that renders religion marginal, obsolete, or, in secularization's most radical form, defunct. Sociologists have been the most avid proponents of secularization, but a number of scholars among their ranks have recently concluded that the assumption governing secularization theories simply does not stand up to empirical fact. Peter Berger, for example, has said: "I think what I and most other sociologists of religion wrote in the 1960s about secularization was a mistake. Our underlying argument was that secularization and modernity go hand in hand. With more modernization comes more secularization. It wasn't a crazy theory. There was some evidence for it. But I think it's basically wrong. Most of the world today is certainly not secular." Berger thinks that the one exception may be a secularized Western Europe, but he insists that the rest of the world, including the United States, is very religious indeed.[4] Sociologist Rodney Stark goes even farther than Berger by claiming that there is no evidence of a decline of religion in Western Europe either. Stark is convinced that the assumption that there was once an Age of Faith does not pass historical muster in Europe, and there is plenty of evidence across the world that individual religiousness is prospering in all kinds of societies. The title of Stark's article pointedly summarizes what he thinks of theories of secularization: "Secularization, R.I.P."[5] If social scientists are so sure of a widespread religiousness in the world, especially in American culture, one has to suspect that the college campus may not be an exception.

In part, therefore, we were motivated to conduct our study by a desire to test the secularization perspective. But we were also motivated by the lack of firsthand, on-site examinations of religion on college campuses. So we set out on campus visits to determine in some crucial cases just how widespread the teaching and practice of religion were among undergraduates and the nature of that teaching and practice.

Fully cognizant that in one study we could not cover the entire range of the nation's colleges and universities, we decided to do an intensive examination of four schools representing diverse points on the educational map. We deliberately chose schools that are quite different in their historical backgrounds, mission statements, regional settings, and perceived relations to religion. (In the interest of obtaining the full and candid cooperation of the representatives of the four schools, we assured them at the outset of the study that we would attempt to preserve their anonymity. Thus, in the book, we have used pseudonyms for persons, places, and the schools themselves, and we have avoided the discussion of historical details except in those cases where some background was necessary for understanding current situations.) We wanted to include a large, public state university to see how a "secular" school, or one making no claims of a religious tradition at its core or at its foundation, formed an ethos supportive of or antipathetic to the study and practice of religion. West University served this purpose. Given the current lamentations about the secularization of Christian denominational schools, we thought it important to look at the shape of religion at a Protestant institution and a Roman Catholic institution. North College, a Lutheran liberal arts college set in a northern region of the country, and East University, a Roman Catholic school in the eastern United States, publicly avow their particular religious heritages as vital parts of their missions and milieus and thus could serve as examples of the connections or disconnections between church and school. The southern university selected for our study represents a different educational universe still. Traditionally committed to the education of African Americans, South University at one time was a denominational institution but now defines itself as a private, nondenominational school with Presbyterian roots.

We know that these four schools do not begin to exhaust the types of colleges and universities in the United States (according to the classification scheme of the Carnegie Foundation, for example). We also know that wide differences may exist among schools of each type. But we are convinced that we have selected schools that are sufficiently diverse to merit comparison and contrast, sufficiently different to yield distinctive perspectives on the state of religion on campus, and sufficiently circumscribed to create a focus for one study.

Conrad Cherry was responsible for examining South University and North College; he visited the former school during the 1996-97 academic year and the latter during 1997-98. Betty DeBerg studied West University during 1996-97, and Amanda Porterfield conducted her study of East University that same academic year. We were greatly assisted in our research by William Durbin and John Schmalzbauer, postdoctoral associates at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, for the period 1996-98. Durbin and Schmalzbauer developed the instrument for surveying students enrolled in religion courses (see Appendix B) and compiled the results of that survey, wrote focus papers dealing with historical background and issues pertinent to the study, worked on an annotated bibliography of books and articles dealing with religion in American higher education, assisted in the observation of events on two of the campuses, and joined in discussions with the senior researchers respecting our discoveries. Although they cannot be held responsible for the conclusions offered in this book, Durbin and Schmalzbauer were indispensable members of the research team.

We agreed on the basic methods we would employ in our fieldwork, the fundamental questions we would attempt to answer about each of the four schools, the types of events we would observe, the sorts of people we would interview, and the major divisions we would create in our chapters. We also read and critiqued one another's chapters and jointly wrote this introduction and the conclusion to the book. It became apparent to us early in the writing process that the chapters on the individual schools would be the work of individual scholars and that it made no sense to try to hide that fact. Thus we have admitted our distinctive styles, interests, and perspectives by attaching our names to the chapters of the book for which we are responsible.

Our chapters focus on the religious practices of today's undergraduates, student attitudes toward religion, the approaches to the study of religion taken by teachers of undergraduates, and the extent to which the study and the practice of religion are made available to undergraduate students. Although on occasion we examine the historical backgrounds of the schools and use the results of quantitative surveys, the bulk of our study consists of qualitative analysis. Employing the methods of ethnography, we have sought through interviews, observation, key informants, and extensive field notes to get inside the worlds of the schools and understand them in their own terms. (See Appendix A for an elaboration of our research methods.)

When we went looking for religion on campus, we of course considered the obvious places. We observed worship services and meetings of religious groups, interviewed chaplains and campus ministers as well as students who participated in religious activities, listened to the views of administrators on matters pertaining to campus religion, collected syllabi for and sat in on religion courses (especially those that attracted the largest number of students, usually at the introductory level), and interviewed numerous professors responsible for teaching religion to undergraduates. But we also looked at some less obvious persons and places. We listened to dissenting or marginal voices concerning campus religion and tried to assess how widely and significantly religion figured into the undergraduate curriculum outside departments of religion. And in the interest of attempting to determine how, if at all, religion played a role in the ethos or wider culture of each campus, we read student newspapers, paid attention to posters and bulletin board announcements, noted the use of campus space, observed large campus events and rituals, and examined residential affairs policies, student handbooks, and college mission statements.

In the conclusion, we draw out the implications of our study of the four schools by noting the similarities and differences among the institutions in the teaching and practice of religion, by describing how the ethos of each place affects and is affected by the religious presence, by discussing the import of changes that have occurred on the campuses in the late twentieth century, and by making some generalizations about what our study may tell us about the overall status of religion on campus. We also return to the secularization theories and suggest that pluralism of religious opportunity, as well as diversity of religious and curricular choice among undergraduates, is more descriptive of the four scenes than secularization.


Notes

1. George M. Marsden, "The Soul of the University," in The Secularization of the Academy, ed. George M. Marsden and Bradley J. Longfield (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 16, 21, 25, 33, 37. See also Marsden's The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 339, 413-15.

2. Douglas Sloan, Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 19-22.

3. James Tunstead Burtchaell, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1998), xi, 842.

4. "Epistemological Modesty: An Interview with Peter Berger," Christian Century 114, no. 30 (1997): 974.

5. Rodney Stark, "Secularization, R.I.P.," Sociology of Religion 60, no. 3 (1999): 249-73.


Excerpted from Religion on Campus by Conrad Cherry, Betty A. DeBerg, and Amanda Porterfield, with the assistance of William Durbin and John Schmalzbauer. Copyright © 2001 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 Introduction
2 West University / Betty A. DeBerg
Ethos
Religious Practice
Teaching Religion
Conclusions
3 South University / Conrad Cherry
Ethos
Religious Practice
Teaching Religion
Conclusions
4 East University / Amanda Porterfield
Ethos
Religious Practice
Teaching Religion
Conclusions
5 North College / Conrad Cherry
Ethos
Religious Practice
Teaching Religion
Conclusions
6 Conclusion
Religious Practice
Teaching Religion
Religion and Campus Ethos
Appendix A: Research Methods
Appendix B: In-Class Questionnaire
Index

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