Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Spiritual vs. Religious: Perspectives from Today's Undergraduate Catholics

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Spiritual vs. Religious: Perspectives from Today's Undergraduate Catholics

Article excerpt

The rising interest in spirituality among young adults nationwide is considered one of the more intriguing trends of the 21st century (Kuh & Gonyea, 2006). According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), more than three-quarters of today's entering college students believe in God and over two-thirds say they have had a spiritual experience (Astin, Astin, Lindholm, & Bryant, 2004). Despite an attendant powerful interest exhibited by college students to integrate spirituality into their lives, studies reveal that many students disassociate organized religion from their belief in God (St. Amand, 2004). According to one Gallup poll, "Believing is becoming increasingly divorced from belonging" (Hamer, 2004, p. 5). Many young adults now refer to themselves as "spiritual, but not religious" (Cherry, De Berg, & Porterfield, 2001; Cunningham, 2002; Fuller, 2001) and often the two concepts seem to be placed in stark opposition to one another.

Despite the widespread trend of young adults separating spirituality from religion, little empirical research had been conducted on this phenomenon (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Scholars in student development have begun to make a distinction between spiritual and religious, but do not validate their initial conceptualizations of these two concepts. In other words, the trend of young adults separating being spiritual from religious has been recognized, but the categories have been constructed more from the experience and presuppositions of the writers than the students. Of the studies that do distinguish between the two concepts, none allow for students to elucidate what the distinction means and, as a result, assumptions are made as to what constitutes and ultimately measures the spiritual and religious lives of college students. In addition, many assumptions are made about the beliefs and practices of young adult Catholics and whether or not they have lost their faith and interest in things beyond this material world. Indeed, some claim this to be the case and feel America's colleges and universities, both Catholic and non Catholic, are to blame (Bartlett, 2003; Reilly, 2003).

Exploring how young adult Catholics conceive of spirituality and religiousness enables higher education professionals to understand more fully how these concepts are regarded and, as a result, more adequately foster their spiritual and religious development. Conclusions drawn from this study are particularly important for the over 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States that consider cultivating the spiritual and religious development of their undergraduate students vital to their mission and purpose as universities. The findings are relevant to professionals working at all institutions of higher education because of the high expectation incoming students have for exploring their beliefs, regardless of whether the institution has a religious affiliation (Astin et al., 2004). In addition, Catholic undergraduates comprise more than a quarter of college students nationwide and an overwhelmingly large percentage (90%) of Catholic undergraduates attend non-Catholic universities (Astin et al., 2004).

For these reasons, the current phenomenon of young adults separating spirituality from religion is examined from the student perspective in this article. The purpose of this article is to provide insight into how Catholic undergraduates attending a Catholic university make sense of the distinction between spirituality and religiousness and, as a result, the impending implications for institutions of higher education.

Literature Review

Due to a variety of definitions and overlapping use of the terms spiritual and religious, it is important to delineate the definitions according to scholars of student development and the Catholic Church. Thus, what follows are definitions in current literature and in the Catholic faith tradition on spirituality and religion. …

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