The Role of Spirituality among African-American College Males Attending a Historically Black University

By Riggins, Reginald K.; McNeal, CoSandra et al. | College Student Journal, March 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Role of Spirituality among African-American College Males Attending a Historically Black University

Riggins, Reginald K., McNeal, CoSandra, Herndon, Michael K., College Student Journal

Previous research has examined the notion that African-Americans tend to have a strong religious orientation. However, studies have ignored the relationship between spirituality and academic performance among African-Americans. In this qualitative study, spirituality among 13 African-American college male students enrolled at a predominately Black institution was investigated. This research replicated a study conducted by Dr. Michael Herndon who analyzed spirituality among African-American college male students at a predominately white institution (PWI). Three major themes emerged that were similar in Herndon's study: prayer is used for guidance and coping, spirituality is used in a social context and social support from religious institutions. These results suggest that if African American males capitalize and embrace their spirituality they may continue their collegiate experience.


Since the early 1900's, there has been an increase interest in the role religion plays in the lives of African-Americans (Taylor 2004). According to Hill (1999), strong religious commitment is one of the most pervasive cultural strengths of African-Americans. Religion and spirituality continues to provide African-Americans with incredible resolve when facing adversity. Only a few studies have examined the effect religion and spirituality have on African-American students who are attending college.

Some researchers believe that there is a vast difference between spirituality and religion. For instance, Jagers and Smith (1996) suggested that spirituality is a worldview that is central to the cultural expressions found in the African Diaspora. Love and Talbot (1999) maintained that spirituality is a process that involves the pursuit for discovering direction, meaning, and purpose in one's life. Taylor et al. (2004) defines religion as, "an organized system of beliefs, practices, and rituals designed to facilitate closeness to God, whereas spirituality is seen as a personal quest for understanding answers to ultimate questions about life, meaning, and relationships to the sacred." Mattis (2000) states that, "religion is typically associated with organized, institutional activities. It involves the practices and rituals of attendance in worship services, the reading of sacred texts and affiliation with an organized church, mosque, of synagogue." Even though spirituality and religion are used interchangeably there is definitely a disparity between the two.

The purpose of this study was to explore the role of spirituality of African-American college males attending a historically Black university. The research question was how does spirituality among African-American male college students affect their ability to stay in school? This research replicated a study conducted by Dr. Michael K. Herndon. Herndon (2003) researched the role of spirituality in the life of African-American college males at a predominately white institution.

Literature Review

Spirituality and Religion among African-Americans

The notion of spirituality positively affecting the lives of African-Americans is a well known ideology. According to Taylor (2004), "the topic of religion in the lives of African-Americans has an enduring fascination, partly because of the apparent pervasiveness and persistence of the religious context for this population group. Black religious traditions have persisted over time, geographic location, and social context and circumstance" (p. 1).

Studies have shown that religion tends to play a greater role in blacks than whites. For example, Hunt and Hunt (2001) conducted a comparative study using the General Social Survey to examine how a variety of indicators of religious involvement vary by race and region among blacks and whites. The findings suggested that overall African-Americans are more religious than whites. According to the authors, African Americans exhibit higher overall levels of church attendance, are more strongly subjectively identified with their church, and are more likely to be members of a church-related group.

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