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Higher education, spirituality, and religious practice

Higher education, cap, book, diplomaIf the sheer number of books designed to help students’ faith survive their college years is any indication, higher education would seem to be the death knell of spiritual growth. Contrary to this common view however higher education may actually bring with it a deepening of spirituality. An ongoing study of college students’ spiritual development conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute under a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, suggests that even with a significant drop in attendance at religious services over “the first three years of college, they experience significant growth in many spiritual dimensions.”

After three years of college students were, “more likely to be engaged in a spiritual quest, are more caring, and show higher levels of equanimity and ecumenical worldview.” For example, the percentage of students reporting that “integrating spirituality into my life” was “very important” or “essential” went from 41.8 in 2004 to 50.4 in 2007. There were similar increases on “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” (41.2 to 55.4), “attaining inner harmony” (48.7 to 62.6), “seeking beauty in my life” (53.7 to 66.2), and “becoming a more loving person” (67.4 to 82.8). There were similar increases in measures of caring, equanimity, and ecumenical worldview as well.

The authors of the report suggest that students are “emerging from the collegiate experience with a desire to find spiritual meaning and perspective in their everyday lives.” The findings are also evidence of the positive influence of college life on students heading into “leadership roles in our global society.” These findings are based on longitudinal data from 14,527 students at 136 colleges and universities in the US, surveyed during in the beginning of their first year in 2004 and at the end of their third year in 2007.

See the original summary report here. More information on the project is available here.

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