Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit at Luther College: Developing Undergraduate Scholars in Psychology of Religion, Spirituality, Health, and Medicine

By Toussaint, Loren | Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit at Luther College: Developing Undergraduate Scholars in Psychology of Religion, Spirituality, Health, and Medicine


Toussaint, Loren, Journal of Psychology and Christianity


This article provides my reflections on how to promote research in the psychology of religion and spirituality in the context of a liberal arts college. As a starting place, I provide a descriptive background of Luther College, the liberal arts college at which I have been an associate professor of psychology for seven years. The teacher-scholar model provides the rubric under which my professional duties as instructor and researcher are carried out. I consider the benefits of this model for the students that I teach. Recruitment, engagement, and retention of student lab team members are discussed along with some of the strengths and challenges of coordinating a lab at an undergraduate liberal arts college. The extent to which the lab team members are involved in presentation and publication of our work is considered. Finally, I offer some suggestions on how to develop and nurture a lab team that is committed to sound science and deep inquiry in the area of psychology, religion, and spirituality.

I am delighted to contribute to this special issue of the Journal of Psychology and Christianity and am honored by the special issue editor's invitation. I am an associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where I have been on the faculty for seven years. I direct the Laboratory for the Investigation of Mind, Body, and Spirit and teach introductory psychology, health psychology, stress and coping, statistics, and psychology of forgiveness. In this article I reflect on the evolution of my research program and what I consider key ingredients for establishing and developing research in the psychology of religion and spirituality at a Christian liberal arts college.

Luther College

Luther College is a residential, liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The college was founded by the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1861. The Norwegian Lutheran influence was a strong force in the growth of the college and remains so in the present. I was attracted to the strong Christian tradition at Luther College. I expected that my scholarly work in the psychology of religion and spirituality would be encouraged and supported, and this has been so. As the needs of my laboratory, my lab team, and me have grown, and support for our scholarly work has been needed, the response from departmental and administrative directors has consistently been affirming. I think this reflects a good fit between the Luther College mission and my research program.

The Teacher-Scholar Model

As an exclusively undergraduate, liberal arts college the first priority at Luther College is teaching excellence. Issues of pedagogy are a constant part of the conversation as are discussions of design, development, and delivery of the liberal arts curriculum in the new millennium. Nonetheless, teaching excellence is not the only priority. At Luther College there is a strong symbiosis between scholarship and teaching. The term we use is "teaching-scholar." As a teaching-scholar my philosophy on the mission of the professorate is summed up in the words of former Occidental College president, John Slaughter, who stated that, "Research is to teaching as sin is to confession. If you don't participate in the former, you have very little to say in the latter" (personal communication, January 11, 2012). This approach drives my passion for research because it offers not only a contribution to the scholarly literature, but also so many applications in the classroom.

Teaching takes center stage at Luther College. As the former Dean of the College put it to me in a pre-tenure preparation meeting, "You will be evaluated first and last on your teaching" (personal communication, October 15, 2004). On the face of it, this intense focus on teaching may all but disregard the importance of scholarly work, but the clear expectation in the faculty handbook is that active involvement in one's area of scholarship is not an option. …

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