Religion, Spirituality, and Career Development in African American College Students: A Qualitative Inquiry

Article excerpt

The authors explored through semistructured interviews the interrelationships of religion, spirituality, and career development in a sample of 12 African American undergraduate students. Using consensual qualitative research methodology (C. E. Hill, B. J. Thompson, & E. N. Williams, 1997), they identified 6 primary domains or themes related to these students' experiences in this regard, including (a) degree of identification as religious and/or spiritual, (b) parents' influence on religious and spiritual beliefs, (c) roles of religion and spirituality in participants' career development, (d) challenges in dealing with academic and career-related issues, (e) religious and spiritual strategies to deal with academic and career-related challenges, and (f) indicators of success in future career or occupation.

Research regarding the influence of cultural issues on the career development of college students has primarily emphasized the importance of racial, ethnic, and gender issues and has given little attention to other multicultural variables. There is some evidence suggesting that the cultural variables of religion and spirituality play vital roles in many individuals' career decision-making processes (Bogart, 1994; Colozzi & Colozzi, 2000; Fox, 2003; Seaward, 1995). However, few studies have explored the unique roles of religion and spirituality in the career development process of the general college population (Howard & Howard, 1997; Lips-Wiersma, 2002; Walker & Dixon, 2002), especially their roles in the career development process of African American college students.

Many researchers (Christian & Barbarin, 2001; Constantine, Lewis, Conner, & Sanchez, 2000) have reported that African Americans tend to have higher baseline rates of religious participation in comparison with the broader U.S. population. Some religious and spiritual beliefs and practices of African Americans derive from African worldviews, such as communalism (i.e., emphasizing the importance of human relationships and the interrelatedness of people), unity, coopération, harmony, balance, creativity, and authenticity (Constantine, Gainor, Ahluwalia, & Berkel, 2003; Jackson & Sears, 1992; Myers, 1993; Utsey, Adams, & Bolden, 2000). In particular, religious, spiritual, and communal values are reflected in the context of many African Americans' daily activities and lives. For example, aspects of communalism and collectivism can be noted in the fact that religious participation has been linked to civic participation, volunteerism, philanthropic giving, and other forms of altruistic behavior among African Americans ( Billingsley & Caldwell, 1991 ; Mattis, Fontenot, Hatcher-Kay, Grayman, & Beale, 2004; Mattis et al., 2000). In addition, religion has been documented to play a role in shaping African Americans' cognitive outcomes (i.e., interpretations and appraisals of events), including a role in framing such events in times of adversity (Brodsky, 2000; McAdoo, 1995). Prior literature concerning religious and spiritual issues among African Americans has focused primarily on religious participation via religious institutions and African Americans' private beliefs and behaviors in connection to such institutions (Neighbors & Jackson, 1996).

Despite the ever-growing number of studies focusing on religious and spiritual issues in the lives of African Americans, little information is known about how such issues relate to academic and vocational domains of African American college students. Thus, the purpose of this investigation was to explore the roles of religion and spirituality in regard to the career development process of African American college students. For the purposes of this study, we examined both religious and spiritual issues (and their possible interplay and intersections) because religion is often viewed as subsuming spirituality for many African American college students (Constantine, Wilton, Gainor, & Lewis, 2002). …