Large-Scale Investigation of Spirituality during the College Years

Journal of Psychology and Theology, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Large-Scale Investigation of Spirituality during the College Years


Alexander W. Astin, Helen S. Astin, & Jennifer A. Lindholm (2011).

Cultivating the spirit: How college can enhance students' inner lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Hardcover. 228 pp. $42. ISBN. 978-0-470-76933-1. Reviewed by: Brendon Jones, M.A., M.A.

Alexander W. Astin is the Allan M. Camer Professor of Higher Education, Emeritus, at UCLA, as well the fimnding director of UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. He has written 21 books and over 400 total publications.

Helen S. Astin is Distinguished Professor of Hi gher Education, Emerita, at UCLA, as well as a Senior Scholar in UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. She is also a past-president of the American Psychological Association's Division of the Psychology of Women and served as the director of the UCLA Center fir the Study of Women.

Jennifer A. Lindholm is the special assistant to UCLA's Vice Provost fir Undergraduate Education. She is also the director qfthe Spirituality in Higher Education project at UCLA.

There is widespread agreement that religion/spiri-tuality (hereafter R/S) matters to a significant number of college students and other young adults. But what difference, if any, does R/S make in regards to the overall quality of life (hereafter QOL) of young adults? In addition, if it turns out that R/S is relevant for QOL, then how can the college experience foster (or impede) R/S development? These were the questions that As-tin et at (2011) sought to answer in the UCLA Spirituality in Higher Education project. The seven-year research project involved over 112,000 college students and aimed at investigating the impact of college on R/S. In a mixed-methods research design, data included quantitative surveys, qualitative interviews, and a longitudinal database with data points taken at the beginning and end of college. Researchers formulated ten major measures, distinguishing between measurements of religion and of spirituality. Their five measures of religiosity were Religious Commitment, Religious Engagement, Religious/Social Conservatism, Religious Skepticism, and Religious Struggle. The five measures of spirituality were Spiritual QLiest, Equanimity, Ethic of Caring, Charitable Involvement, and Ecumenical Worldview.

Regarding the question of the significance of R/S for QOL during the college years, Astin et al. found that R/S did indeed positively influence the lives of college students. More precisely, findings indicated that spiritual growth during the college years was associated with improvement in other aspects of college life, categorized in three broad college outcomes. First, spiritual growth made a difference in academic/intellectual outcomes, in areas such as college grades, educational aspirations, and intellectual self-esteem. Second, spiritual growth positively influenced personal/emotional outcomes, such as psychological well-being, leadership abilities, and satisfaction with college. Third, spiritual growth during college led to improved attitudinal outcomes, including growth in the areas of multicultural understanding and sensitivity.

If it is true, as the evidence thus suggests, that R/S positively impacts QOL for college students, then the question arises of what colleges can do to enhance spiritual development? Astin et al.'s research findings showed not only that spirituality changes during the college years, but also that these changes are not merely given; rather, college can either foster or impede spiritual development. Researchers identified a number of college experiences which help to cultivate spiritual growth in students, including: exposure experiences such as studying abroad, interdisciplinary studies, and service learning; contemplative practices such as meditation, self-reflection, or prayer; and specific teaching practices, such as encouraging questions of meaning and purpose. …

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