Of Gender, Race, and Spirituality

Article excerpt

The spiritual dimension of college students' lives has been coming into focus in recent years. But the snapshot looks different depending on which group is in the frame.

A new analysis in a multiyear study of US college freshmen divides the picture according to race and gender, revealing who is committed to church, who is searching for meaning, and who is skeptical of or struggling with issues of faith.

African-American students score highest on many measures of spirituality, and women generally score higher than men, but there are gender differences within racial groups as well. The study of more than 100,000 freshmen by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, looks at a range of practices and attitudes. It will measure them again when the students reach their junior year.

"In many diversity programs, religion has not yet taken its place among the other elements of diversity, and this [study] may cause people to feel that it's time," says Peter Laurence, executive director of the Education as Transformation Project, which works with colleges around the United States to establish a dialogue on religious pluralism.

Some of the biggest differences in the study emerge in the following categories:

* "Religious commitment" (following religious teachings in everyday life and gaining strength by trusting in a higher power): Forty-seven percent of African-Americans scored high on this scale, compared with 25 percent of whites, 23 percent of Latinos, and 22 percent of Asian Americans.

* "Spiritual quest" (interest in finding answers to the mysteries of life and developing a meaningful philosophy of life): African- Americans scored the highest on this (36 percent), with other groups ranging from 23 to 34 percent.

* "Ethic of caring" (commitment to helping others in difficulty and making the world a better place): Twenty-five percent of African- Americans scored high, versus 13 percent of students overall. …