Pilgrims' Progress: Faculty and University Factors in Graduate Student Integration of Faith and Profession

Article excerpt

Graduate students' perspectives on integration of faith and profession were investigated using item response to identify underlying constructs. Students (N = 595) from various professions and four universities were sampled. Three factors were supported as separate and important constructs for students. The first two factors were drawn from Sorenson's research on attachment theory, faculty as bulwark of the faith versus fellow sojourner and faculty as emotionally transparent versus emotionally distant. A new domain of integration, environmental factors such as class Scripture reading, was supported as a unique factor. An examination of diversity variables gave preliminary evidence that females and students of color may see emotional transparency and environmental factors as more important in Christian integration than other students.

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Educational researchers have rejected paradigms of graduate students as empty banks to be filled or infants to be taught (Gunzenhauzer & Gerstl-Pepin, 2006) and replaced them with varied paradigms where diverse students actively engage in education with their own values and ways of knowing. These varied identities can enrich each profession and develop new pathways of exploration and development for the professions. In this context, Christian graduate education has a distinct challenge. It was developed as a means for creating a learning environment with simultaneously shared and yet diverse Christian values, beliefs and ways of knowing. Thus, the task of Christian graduate education is to engage students in a dialogue to integrate existing shared aspects of the faith into their training for a profession while simultaneously appreciating each student's uniqueness. To borrow a religious narrative, graduate students are pilgrims who travel through the rite of passage called "the university," with faculty serving as potential mentors in order to facilitate each student's calling.

This rite of passage becomes more complex when one notes that faculty and students may not see integration in the same way. For over thirty years, the integration of faith and learning has been studied from theological and scientific perspectives in the Christian academic community (e.g., Holmes, 1975, 1987). Scholars have articulated a variety of opinions on what exactly such integration entails; however, the perceptions of students have been much less investigated. A substantial difference in student views and faculty opinions on this important topic could considerably impact student satisfaction and retention at Christian universities (Morris, Smith, & Cejda, 2003; Schreiner, 2000). The lack of broad-based research on what students perceive as equating to meaningful integration therefore is disconcerting.

Paradigms of Learning Christian Integration

Concomitant with the great paradigm shifts in academia in general (Girgus, 1999), various conceptualizations exist among those attempting to integrate the Christian faith and scholarship. Badley (1994) identified several different construct paradigms from the literature for integration. In fusion integration, two elements (for example, an academic discipline and Christianity) mesh into a new element that may or may not retain the individual characteristics of the original elements, incorporation integration, as the name implies, suggests that one element "disappears into" (p. 24) or is incorporated into the other. Correlation integration observes points of common interest or dispute but does not meaningfully combine anything. Dialogical integration conceptualizes a discipline's interaction with Christianity along ethical, political, or moral lines. Finally, perspectival integration emphasizes how the Christian worldview impacts the entire educational process, from the academic discipline to the university setting itself and beyond, where "disparate and even conflicting elements cohere as they fit into a larger framework of thought and practice" (p. …