Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Virtue Development Following Spiritual Transformation in Adolescents Attending Evangelistic Summer Camp

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Virtue Development Following Spiritual Transformation in Adolescents Attending Evangelistic Summer Camp

Article excerpt

Spiritual transformation in adolescents has been a topic of great interest to the psychology of religion since the inception of the field (Starbuck, 1897, 1901). Both psychological theory and Christian theology maintain that a spiritual transformation should lead to the subsequent development of virtues. The present study tested the hypothesis that spiritual transformation leads to increases in virtues in a sample of adolescents attending evangelistic summer camps run by the Young Life organization. Participants completed measures of spiritual transformation and virtues (Values in Action Inventory of Strengths for Youth; Park & Peterson, 2006) directly before camp, immediately after camp, and one year following camp. Spiritual transformation was assessed as a change in spirituality, a self-reported commitment to God at camp, and a change in spiritual strivings. Adolescents who demonstrated an increase in spirituality also increased in intellectual, theological, other-focused, and temperance virtues from before camp to one year after camp, and a first time commitment to God at camp predicted an additional increase in intellectual and theological virtues.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22)

"Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit." (Matthew 7:16-17)

Christian theologians have broadly maintained that genuine spiritual change in a person should correspond to the development of "spiritual fruit," or virtues, through the sanctifying work of Christ and the Holy Spirit (e.g., Augustine, 398/1961), and contemporary theologians have brought to the fore the importance of virtues in the formation of Christian community (e.g., Hauerwas, 1981; MacIntyre, 2007). Psychologists, too, have begun to acknowledge the moral formation functions of religion and spirituality (Leffel, 2011), though few studies have examined changes in character resulting from spiritual change. Moreover, very little research has examined the effects of spiritual transformation in adolescents, even though adolescence is arguably the stage of life during which spiritual transformation is most likely to occur (Hood, Hill, & Spilka, 2009). Thus, the aim of the present study is to examine the effects of spiritual transformation on the development of virtues in adolescents.

The Psychological Study of Spiritual Transformation: Historical Roots

Psychologists have long been interested in the effects of spiritual transformation and conversion. In his classic text, Varieties of Religious Experience, William James (1902) discussed at length the means by which conversion may change a person. James supported the proposition that true conversion will be marked by a change in a person's character:

Converted men as a class are indistinguishable from natural men...super-normal incidents such as voices and visions...may all come by way of nature, or worse still, be counterfeited by Satan. The real witness of the spirit to the second birth is to be found only in the disposition of the genuine child of God, the permanently patient heart, the love of self eradicated (p. 187).

He also conceived conversion as process that moved a person from a disintegrated self to a state of self-concordance and unity, commenting that conversion results in "a firmness, stability, and equilibrium succeeding a period of storm and stress and inconsistency" (p. 239).

Edwin Starbuck (1897, 1901) more closely considered the conversion experiences of adolescents. Like James, he recognized the ability of spiritual transformation to bring about integration of the self. He observed correspondence between the conversions of evangelical adolescents and the typical identity formation processes taking place during the life stages, but he maintained that conversion was exceptional in its ability to shorten the typical period of brooding, or storm and stress, seen in adolescents. …

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