Analysis of Transformation in the Student's Context
National Survey on Spiritual Interests

A study recently released by the Higher Education Research Institute of the University of California Los Angeles provides mixed support for some of my initial hypotheses. The fact that 70% of the 3,680 students from private and public colleges believe that people can grow spiritually without becoming religious lends some support to my hypothesis that students generally believe that an individualistic approach to transformation can work. While students may give intellectual assent to the notion that an individualistic approach to spiritual transformation can work their personal experiences testify that a social and religious dimension of transformation is fundamental. According to the survey:
    70% of students indicated that they had attended a religious services during the year;
    78% discuss religion or spirituality with a friend;
    73% say that "religion" has helped them form their identity.
Other Significant Findings

Another significant finding of this survey is that in the late 60's the stated objective "develop a meaningful philosophy of life" was ranked as the first objective of incoming students. Today that option is eighth and "becoming well-off financially" is on top.

Surprisingly 58% of the respondents said that they had participated in discussions about spirituality or religion in classes. Eight percent said that professors offer frequent opportunities to talk about the meaning of life. Researchers considered this eight percent disproportionately out of touch with students needs and interests.

Interview with graduates

Personal interviews with two graduates of this prestigious college brought additional insight and further complexity to the problem of spiritual transformation in this academically rigorous University culture.

Nick, who graduated in 1999, attributes the presenting problems of Joe, Matt and Brad not so much to the prevailing culture of the University, but to the lack of a clear sense of calling in the lives of the Christian students that enables them to see their education within a broader context of their mission and calling in life. He also attributes his own lack of spiritual transformation in college to two things: poor time management and addiction to pornography.

Roger (class of 01), on the other hand, completed a Masters degree in "student development" at Virginia Tech and thinks there is a problem in the culture. The problem he identified, however, was not that of some prevailing anti-theistic bias that rained down on students from the pulpit of the classroom. Rather, he faulted the university for an approach to student development that has remained static the past two decades despite a flourishing amount of research and literature on student development. He noted multiple efforts at other Universities (e.g., staffing-bringing in highly trained professionals in student development into student living situations, restructuring curriculum, redefining the schools mission), to create an environment aimed at developing students not only academically, but also in leadership skills and in their ability to integrate their academic discipline with their personal passions and vocational calling.

At his alma mater, he lamented, student development was limited to the academically focused house tutors and proctors (mostly very busy graduate students who attended other undergraduate schools) who, because of their limited training (a one week training conference at the beginning of the year) in their role were able to do little more than cite suggestions that already existed in a handbook that the students received at registration.

Results from local survey on students' perception of the prevailing university culture and its affect on their spiritual transformation.

An anonymous survey on spiritual transformation was sent via e-mail to 224 students involved in our CCC ministry. Of the 60 respondents who filled out and re-submitted the survey 18 were first year. Also of the 60, a total of 12 concentrated in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or the history of science.

Of the many insights that can be drawn from the data (particularly those insights which come from analyzing the data by year and major) the following deserve special mention in view of their relevance to the hypotheses that resulted from the initial case study (Matt, Joe and Brad).

The survey provided strong support for the hypothesis that the majority of Christian students in the CCC ministry believe the culture of this elite university socializes minds into beliefs, and bodies into practices, that hinder spiritual transformation. On a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) and 9 (strongly agree) the average response to that exact statement was 6.3. With respect to the hypothesis that these students perceive the university culture as denying the relevance of God to the social/political sphere and confining spirituality and religion to the private sphere, the average response to that statement was 7.2. With respect to the hypothesis "the theological perspective does not show up in the readings or lectures of Harvard students' classes" the average response was 6.6. Interestingly the non-science majors are more likely to agree with this hypothesis than science majors. However, science majors were more likely than non-science majors (6.4 to 5.4) to agree with the statement that academic demands crowd out theological reflection and Christian practices, which set the stage for spiritual transformation.

The survey provided only partial support for the hypothesis that most students in our ministry have an individualistic approach to, or theology of, spiritual transformation. The overall average to the question "In practicality my approach to spiritual transformation is primarily individualistic" was 5.7. In slight contrast the average answer to question 15 "In practicality my approach to spiritual transformation is interpersonal or social." The average answer was 5.1.

While far from conclusive about the hypothesis "students have at best a very vague notion of spiritual transformation" the survey did reveal that students were right in the middle of the scale on this question (4.3). Of course this question can only indicate the student's self-perception about their understanding of spiritual transformation not the depth or balance of it. The survey offers lots of room to speculate about the nature of their notion of spiritual transformation. For example, first year students have a greater degree of confidence about their own understanding of spiritual transformation than upper classmen (.7 difference on question 16) and yet first year students are more likely to approach their spiritual transformation individualistically (question 14) and to agree that the college fellowship is more important to their spiritual formation than their local church (question 6).

In categorically analyzing the results of this survey, the greatest disparities occur between first year students and upperclassmen, particularly on questions 7-13. Unlike upperclassmen these first year students generally do not feel like they have a place where they can be truthful, where they are known by others and cared for, where they engage in thoughtful theological reflection, where they are being nourished by God's truth, where they are involved in acts of service, where they are receiving constructive feedback. They are more troubled and anxious about the current state of their spiritual growth, more likely to approach spiritual transformation individually, and more likely to have doubts or questions about their faith that they have not shared with anyone in their Christian community. They are less likely to approach spiritual transformation interpersonally or socially. These observation do not lend direct support to the hypothesis, however they may contribute to the strategic proposals of section three, particularly with respect to the time component of transformation.

Summary statement of local survey results

Hypothesis Support
Students have a very vague notion of spiritual transformation. Some support
Most students in our ministry have a very individualistic approach to, or theology of, spiritual transformation. Some support
Students perceive the university culture as socializing minds into beliefs and bodies into practices that hinder spiritual transformation. Substantial support
The university culture denies the relevance of God and encourages an emphatically individualistic and cognitive approach to spirituality. Supported
Academic demands crowd out theological reflection and Christian practices which set the stage for spiritual transformation. Supported
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[Survey Results]
[Cited Sources]