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Read the essays in the SSRC Forum on The Religious Engagements of American Undergraduates

Annotated Bibliography
Published on: May 29, 2007

Kuh, G. D. 2004. “Do Environments Matter? A Comparative Analysis of the Impress of Different Types of Colleges and Universities on Character.” Journal of College and Character 2. (Available online:

            Kuh describes and challenges a recent movement in higher education, a shift of focus to career preparation and away from character formation of students. College is a critical and promising time for value development, and in today’s society, he argues, universities must take responsibility for shaping ethical and humanitarian citizens. An ongoing study has revealed that in recent years students are generally reporting that they experience less value development in college, but this troubling drop is less pronounced in certain types of colleges—specifically, values-centered or Christian institutions. Kuh suggests that more research be conducted on exactly what aspects of college shape character, and he suggests ways for institutions that are not currently doing so to reinstate character development into their missions and help shape their students’ values once again.

Kuh, G. D. and R. M. Gonyea. 2006. “Spirituality, Liberal Learning, and College Student Engagement.” Liberal Education 92(1): 40-47.

            What effect does students’ spirituality have on their ability to engage deeply with their college education? The authors analyze survey data to establish a relationship between spirituality and a concept called “deep learning,” a goal for students that includes integrating different perspectives into what is learned, discussing lessons outside of class, and applying critical thinking skills. According to this study, students who engage in spiritual activities benefit in ways conducive to deep learning: they are more satisfied with college, they “view the out-of-class environment more positively,” and they are more likely to interact with peers who are different from them. Students’ education does not appear to be negatively impacted by spirituality in any way. The authors point out differences between secular and faith-based schools in this department, and they pose several questions designed to help colleges and universities better facilitate deep learning and support spiritual engagement on campus.

Larson, E. J. and L. Witham. 1997. “Scientists Are Still Keeping the Faith.” Nature 386: 435-436.

            In 1916, a psychologist named James Leuba found religious belief among scientists to be comparatively low. In the 1990s, Larson and Witham replicate the study to see if this has changed after 80 years. Their results, which suggest that significant numbers of scientists still hold traditional religious beliefs, appear to defy the stereotype of scientists as nonbelievers.

Larson, E. J. and L. Witham. 1998. “Leading Scientists Still Reject God.” Nature 394: 313.

            In a previous survey, Larson and Witham find that the scientific profession as a whole still contains many religious individuals. This follow-up study finds that “among the top natural scientists, disbelief is greater than ever.” The percentage of leading natural scientists (in this sample, members of the elite National Academy of Sciences) who believe in God has been dropping steadily over the twentieth century, from the time James Leuba conducted his original survey on the topic in 1916. Several different areas of specialization are contrasted, such as biology, physical science, mathematics, and astronomy, and the results are compared to Leuba’s. The authors believe this information may call into question assertions about the religiosity of scientists and the neutrality of science with respect to religion.

Lee, J. and A. Matzken, et al. 2006. “Understanding Students’ Religious and Spiritual Pursuits: A Case Study at New York University.” Journal of College and Character 2.

            The authors conduct a survey of non-first-year students at New York University to learn more about their religious or spiritual beliefs and the effect of NYU on their belief systems. Findings indicate that relatively few students change their religious affiliation while in college, and many consider their “spiritual” identity to be stronger than their “religious” identity. However, many changes are reported during college, including amount of intellectual interest in religion, strength of belief (often, a strengthening), and frequency of devotional, worship, or service activities, and the perceived reasons for these changes are diverse. Although some of the information is specific to NYU, a great deal of it could be useful outside of that context.

Lee, J. J. 2002. “Religion and College Attendance: Change among Students.” The Review of Higher Education 25(4): 369-384.

            What is the effect of college attendance on student religiosity? Lee uses the results from two surveys given to students near the beginning and the end of their college years, to measure changes in religious commitment over that period of time. The results: “most students experienced a change in their religious beliefs and convictions since entering college…over one third of them reported a strengthening of religious convictions and beliefs compared to 13.7% who indicated a weakening.” Almost half of the students reported no change, and Lee mentions several characteristics that seem to affect the likelihood and direction of religious change.

Leuba, J. H. 1916. The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological, Anthropological, and Statistical Study. Boston: Sherman, French and Company.

            Leuba’s book is a comprehensive, psychological exploration of conceptions of immortality and God around the world, from ancient to modern times.  Part II is most relevant to the topic of college and religious belief, as Leuba questions students at ten institutions about belief in God and students at one about immortality.  He concludes that “so far as religion is concerned, our students are groveling in darkness…and few seem disturbed at being unable to hold the tenets of the churches.”  He also finds belief in immortality to be lower among juniors and seniors.  The following chapter is also of interest, analyzing the beliefs of natural and social scientists, many of them college professors.  As he discusses each set of studies, Leuba provides interpretations of the levels of religious belief and what they mean for society.

Mahoney, K. A. and J. Schmalzbauer, et al. 2001. “Religion: A Comeback on Campus.” Liberal Education 87(4): 36-41.

            This is a concise summary of factors that have contributed to the renewed prominence of religion in American universities. The authors note that, despite gloomy predictions about religion’s place in the academy during the 1990s, religious life on campus is vibrant. They argue that this revival is the product of many forces, including the “robust state of public religion in American society,” the emergence of post-positivist scholarship, and the increased availability of financial support for religious activities on college campuses.

Marsden, G. 1994. The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Non-Belief. New York: Oxford University Press.

            This book is a careful look at the evolution of religion on American college campuses. According to the author, American universities today promote and protect the free exercise of religion, but resist the use of religious explanations in critical inquiry. What’s left is a secular campus culture or the “disestablishment of religion.” Marsden traces this history through case studies of “pace-setting” universities such as Harvard and Yale. He argues that universities should encourage religious pluralism on campus—allowing religious perspectives alongside other popular viewpoints such as feminism and multiculturalism—and among campuses—allowing religiously affiliated universities to be regarded on equal terms as secular institutions, and avoiding the tendency for schools to adhere to any one monolithic mold.

McMurtrie, B. 1999. “Pluralism and Prayer Under One Roof.” Chronicle of Higher Education 46(15): A48-A50.

            Many universities are beginning to create multi-faith spaces for worship to respond to the religious needs of an increasingly diverse student body. McMurtrie investigates a few such schools in her short article. Interviews with officials involved in these efforts “say they built these centers to acknowledge the importance of religion in students’ lives, to insure parity among religious groups seeking space, and to encourage interaction among students of different faiths.” Although a few conflicts have arisen among student groups who do not wish to share a place of worship with those of other faiths, students at these institutions are generally understanding and appreciative of the changes.

Mooney, M. 2005. Religion at America’s Most Selective Colleges: Some Findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen (NLSF). Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

            Does religion improve academic achievement in college? Drawing upon the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen dataset, Margarita Mooney argues that it does. Mooney finds that those students who participate in religious rituals have higher GPAs, that more “religiously observant” students studied longer hours, and that those who attend services once a week or more were more satisfied with their college experience. Mooney suggests that attending church may provide structure and guidance for college students, and that being part of a religious community during college may make students happier.

Nash, R. J. 2001. Religious Pluralism in the Academy: Opening the Dialogue. New York: Peter Lang.

            This book argues that American colleges and universities need to sponsor conversations among students about religious difference in order to navigate the complexities of the religiously pluralistic campus. Nash identifies the problem presented to the pluralistic academy by “religious monists” who believe “unalterably that there is One Truth in one set of doctrines rather than several truths in many.” Nash outlines six common “religio-spiritual narratives” about religion and religious pluralism in the academy drawn from his experience as a lecturer, identifying the challenges and opportunities each poses educators. He then asks how efforts to incorporate religion and values into the curriculum might be undertaken, and how educators and students can begin to speak about religious differences.

Nasir, N. i. S. and J. Al-Amin. 2006. “Creating Identity-safe Spaces on College Campuses for Muslim Students.” Change 38(2): 22-27.

            The authors, two Muslim women, write from personal experience and the experiences of others gleaned from interviews and discussions with Muslims from varied backgrounds. They wish to relate in particular the experience “of being Muslim in academic spaces, of feeling the need to actively negotiate others’ perceptions of us in these spaces, and of finding ways to stay connected to our institutions despite gaps in their support and understanding of this part of our identities.” Issues encountered by Muslims on campuses include negative stereotyping, difficulty practicing their religion, and discrimination. The article discusses in detail several simple changes that could significantly combat these students’ difficulties. An important viewpoint for university administrators, teachers, community members, and anyone else interested in helping Muslim students thrive and feel welcomed.

Ozorak, E. W. 2003. “Love of God and Neighbor: Religion and Volunteer Service among College Students.” Review of Religious Research 44(3): 285-299.

            How is religious commitment related to volunteer service? Ozorak’s survey of undergraduate students at one secular university finds several interesting relationships between measures of religiosity and volunteering. “Intrinsic motivation to volunteer,” which is a powerful indicator of intention to volunteer again, appears to be found more often in individuals who believe in personal prayer and report a personal relationship with God. Ozorak also distinguished women’s results from men’s: although the sexes had similar levels of religiosity, praying and claiming a higher level of religiosity was linked to intention to volunteer only for women. Belief in God is linked to volunteerism for both men and women.

Pascarella, E. T. and P. T. Terenzini. 2005. How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

            This book provides a broad, synthetic overview of research on how college students change during college. Its scope is much broader than religion, but it does include some analysis of religious change in college. The authors discuss recent research that shows that college students do not reject religion, but rather “refine and reinterpret previously held beliefs into more complex, personalized, and internalized concepts.” Additional findings include: students seem to become more tolerant of religious diversity in college; there is limited evidence that students at Christian schools experience less decline in religiosity than those at other schools; and students who live on campus appear to become more irreligious than those who live off campus.

Penning, J. and C. Smidt. 2002. Evangelicalism: The Next Generation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

            In Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, James Davison Hunter provides a pessimistic outlook on the future of conservative Protestantism.  Fifteen years later, Penning and Smidt replicate Hunter’s classic study in order to see how the new generation of college Evangelicals compares to the early-1980s generation in Hunter’s study.  They find that while some secularizing has occurred, the religious beliefs, practices, values, and political attitudes of college Evangelicals have not changed much.  These findings contradict Hunter’s findings that college Evangelicals would fall under the weight of modernity’s pressures.  This enduring Protestant identity compels the authors to offer an outlook on conservative Protestantism that is less pessimistic than Hunter’s.

Perkins, H. W. 1994. “The Contextual Effect of Secular Norms on Religiosity as Moderator of Student Alcohol and Other Drug Use.” Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 6: 187-208.

            In this study, the author investigates whether secular norms about drug use affect religious precepts that limit drug and alcohol use among college students. Relying on two surveys of a small New York State liberal arts college, Perkins finds that in general, high religiosity is associated with less drug and alcohol use. However, when students perceived that there was a strong norm against drug use, the effect of religion disappears for men, though it remains strong for women. Perkins argues that for men, religiosity’s ability to limit drug use is stronger where secular norms are more permissive.

Perrin, R. D. 2000. “Religiosity and Honesty: Continuing the Search for the Consequential Dimension.” Review of Religious Research 41(4): 534-544.

            Can religiosity predict honest behavior? In this article, Perrin argues that it can, to an extent. Perrin presented 130 college students with an opportunity to be dishonest: the teaching assistant of a large lecture course handed back a quiz, graded so that each student received an extra point, and asked students to note whether any correction was needed. 44% of self-identified “born-again Christians” admitted they had received an extra point, compared to 26% who were not born-again. Likewise, 45% of those who attended religious services regularly admitted to receiving an extra point, compared to 13% of those who never or rarely attended services. While these differences were significant, the author cautions that “even among the highly religious, the majority of students were not honest.”

Pollard, L. J. and L. W. Bates. 2004. “Religion and Perceived Stress among

Undergraduates during Fall 2001 Final Examinations.” Psychological Reports 95: 999-1007.

            What is the relationship between religion and perceived stress? For Pollard and Bates, results from a battery of questionnaires suggest that those who find meaning in religion generally cope better with stressors; or at least, perceive themselves to cope better. The researchers administered surveys to 97 college students. 70% of the respondents were women, nearly half were affiliated with the Baptist Church, and over 85% were white. The questionnaires measured students according to three scales: a “Spiritual Well-being Scale” which concerns perception of one’s relationship to God and to others; an “Intrinsic/Extrinsic-Revised Scale” which yields respondents’ orientations towards how religion meets their personal and social needs; and a “Perceived Stress Scale” which measures “how much respondents find their lives unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloading.” Authors administered the questionnaires during times of so-called extreme national stressors, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare, as well as the local stressor of impending final examinations.

Regnerus, M. D. 2003. “Religion and Positive Adolescent Outcomes: A Review of Research and Theory.” Review of Religious Research 44(4): 394-413.

            This article is a summary and analysis of recent literature about how religion may produce positive effects in adolescents, including “education, emotional and physical health, family well-being, volunteerism,” and even behaviors like wearing a seat belt, exercising, eating well, and sleeping. Many studies have been conducted on this topic, with vastly different methods and measurements, and the results suggest that either directly or indirectly, religion does play an important role in positive outcomes for adolescents. Although the focus here is not on college students precisely, the results are generally similar to those obtained with college student samples.

Reisberg, L. 2000. “Campus Witches May Wear Black, But Don’t Look for Hats or Broomsticks.” Chronicle of Higher Education 47(8): A49-A50.

            A new moon rises over the campus of the University of Georgia. A group of students gather to participate in the “Athena Ritual,” meant to cast a “protection spell” for the university’s hometown of Athens. Reisberg describes this ritual as part of a growing pagan movement on campuses across the United States. Their members embrace beliefs spanning a variety of traditions including Celtic, druid, and shamanistic. Many are influenced by the Wicca religion, commonly referred to as witchcraft, with roots in pre-Christian Europe. Paganism has supporters in both the environmental and feminist movements. While pagan students at the University of Georgia sometimes feel the need to defend themselves from their critics, they say that the campus generally tolerates them.

Riley, N. S. 2004. God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation are Changing America. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

            To collect material for this book, the author embarks on a cross-country trip to 20 faith-based colleges (spanning a range of faiths such as Orthodox Jewish, Baptist, Catholic, and fundamentalist Protestant), talking candidly with students on a wide range of issues including dating, classes, career aspirations, school administration, and their own faith. Riley provides an in-depth look at several colleges—including Notre Dame, Brigham Young, and Yeshiva—before discussing their common histories and the challenges and aspirations they share. She discusses issues such as feminism on campus, diversity, the role of minority religions on campus, and how social life at faith-based colleges differs from that at secular institutions.

Rosin, H. 2005. “God and Country.” The New Yorker 81: 44.

            Students and staff at Patrick Henry College, located in Virginia about 50 miles west of Washington, DC, call their college by many names: the “evangelical Ivy League” (nearly all of the students are conservative Christians) and “Harvard for Homeschoolers” (nearly all of the students were home-schooled). But as Rosin shows, Patrick Henry College is best known for preparing future Christian politicians. The school was founded in 2000 in order to satisfy two constituencies: parents of homeschooled students who wanted their students to receive a Christian education, and conservative congressmen wishing to hire homeschoolers for positions as interns and staffers. Not surprisingly, then, politically and religiously conservative views permeate discussions in classrooms. Student government and debate are popular activities. The students at Patrick Henry abide by a strict set of campus-wide social rules—girls are expected to dress modestly; smoking, drinking, and public displays of affection are forbidden—and they describe the atmosphere as intense and competitive. While one-fifth of all incoming students drop out, many of those who do stay are content with devoting their lives to their faith and their political careers.

Schmalzbauer, J. 2003. People of Faith: Religious Conviction in American Journalism and Higher Education. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

            In this book, Schmalzbauer explores the professional and religious challenges that face social science professors and journalists who are also people of faith. Schmalzbauer interviewed twenty social scientists in the fields of history, political science, and sociology, and found that “Catholic and evangelical professionals clearly take their religious beliefs to work,” which casts doubt on the “depiction of the total marginalization of religion in public life.” Some of these religious professionals take a “middle-of-the-road” approach to their work, one that recognizes “both the importance of empirical inquiry and the role of religious and philosophical presuppositions in shaping that inquiry.” Others, meanwhile, undergo a balancing act of demonstrating their full commitment to their scholarly work while also justifying “the use of religious perspectives in their academic disciplines.”

Sherkat, D. E. and A. Darnell. 1999. “The Effect of Parents’ Fundamentalism on Children’s Educational Attainment: Examining Differences by Gender and Children’s Fundamentalism.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 38(1): 23-35.

            The authors assess the influence of parents’ fundamentalist beliefs and practices on their children’s educational success. Knowing that fundamentalist leaders disapprove of secular education and that fundamentalist colleges are too expensive for many, Sherkat and Darnell hypothesize and ultimately find that children who share their parents’ orientation are more likely to have primary access to higher education, while non-fundamentalist children, especially daughters, from fundamentalist families may be at a disadvantage. These latter groups appear likely to experience more financial challenges and familial resistance to their educational prospects.

Sloan, D. 1994. Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and Higher Education. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press.

            In this book, Sloan documents the Protestant efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to challenge the scientific ethos prevalent in American universities; in particular, the work of Protestant theologians to address epistemological concerns stemming from the secularization and “disestablishment of religion” on campus (see Marsden 1994 for more discussion of this secularization on campus). He first describes small victories for the Protestant Church: the growth of campus ministries, the establishment of Christian publications, new college courses on religion. He then turns to a discussion of the challenges and successes of a diverse range of theologians—including neoorthodox theologians, secular theologians associated with the death-of-God movement, and radical empiricist theologians—who sought to influence mainstream academia with their theologies. Throughout the author privileges Protestant efforts to resist the scientific rationality—and in particular, the notion that all knowledge can be perceived by the senses and derived from empirical data—that pervades the academy. He concludes by arguing that many of the Protestant efforts of the mid-twentieth century failed to leave a lasting impact on American universities, and sees the current era as ripe for another Protestant challenge to the scientific ethos.

Smith, C. 1998. American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            This book provides a broad overview of the history, organization, and culture of the flourishing evangelical movement. Smith argues that evangelicals thrived in late twentieth century America by crafting a series of distinctive boundaries that allows them to engage with non-evangelicals while maintaining their belief system. Smith concludes by observing that evangelicals see the world in exceedingly individualistic terms, and that this hinders them from making effective pushes for social change.

Smith, C., ed. 2003. The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests, and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

            The contributors to this volume make the case that secularization is a political project, undertaken by secularizing “activists” who sought to enhance their own status and authority as cultural and knowledge producers by driving religion out of public life. According to Christian Smith in his preface to the volume, “the historical secularization of American public life was not a natural, inevitable, and abstract by-product of modernization; rather it was the outcome of a struggle between contending groups with conflicting interests seeking to control social knowledge and institutions.” In addition to a long theoretical introduction by Smith, the volume contains individual case studies regarding the secularization of higher education, public education, moral reform politics, psychology, law, journalism, science, and medicine.

Smith, C. and M. Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.

            This book presents the results of a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews with adolescents aged 13-17. While it does not deal with the religious engagements of undergraduate students directly, it provides an outstanding portrait of the religious engagements of high school students in the early 2000s. Smith and Denton find that religion is important in the lives of teenagers, but that their religious commitments are remarkably conventional overall. They do not find much evidence that teenagers engage in “spiritual quests”; rather, it is parents who provide the strongest influence on teens’ religious and spiritual lives. Many teenagers’ faith rests at a rather superficial level, what the authors describe as “moral therapeutic deism.” Despite teens’ apparently weak engagement with their religious traditions, Smith and Denton note “sizable and significant differences in a variety of important life outcomes between more and less religious teenagers,” including academic success, likelihood of drug use, sexual behavior, and civic engagement.

Sommerville, C. J. 2006. The Decline of the Secular University: Why the Academy Needs Religion. New York: Oxford University Press.

            The author offers a number of perspectives on the idea that secular universities are becoming increasingly marginalized in America. One such perspective is the abandonment of liberal arts training in favor of professional training programs. Another is that university faculties lean politically to the left while the rest of the country drifts closer to the right, and few academics dominate the talk shows that claim to embody public opinion. Sommerville proposes a return to critical engagement with religion and moral questions in the university (see Taylor 2006 for further discussion on this topic).

Sterk, A., ed. 2002. “Religion, Scholarship, and Higher Education: Perspectives, Models, and Future Prospects.” Lilly Seminar on Religion and Higher Education. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

            The essays in this collection were compiled from addresses to the Lilly Seminar on Religion and Higher Education between 1998 and 1999. Essays in Part I address foundational issues on diverse and at times conflicting subjects, such as James Turner’s essay on the ways in which religious intellectual traditions can contribute to scholarship; and David Hollinger’s essay on how universities should maintain a “critical distance from religion in general and Christianity in particular.” The contributors in Part II take up the issue of religion and scholarship. Scholars John McGreevey, Nancy Ammerman, Roger Lundin, Brian Daley and others provide summaries of religion and research in their respective disciplines. Serene Jones demonstrates the ways in which classical Christian theology have influenced her feminist theory. Part III addresses the issue of teaching. Essays in this section include Mark Noll’s take on being a history instructor on a Christian campus, and Robert Wuthnow’s account of how religion influences his many responsibilities as professor, advisor, and administrator.

Swidey, N. 2003. “God on the Quad.” Boston Globe 30 November 2003.

            Every Sunday night at Park Street Church, over 1,000 evangelical students from colleges across the Boston area gather for music and fellowship. A live band performs by the altar, and lyrics, flashed on a huge screen, encourage the students to sing along: “You make me move, Jesus/Every breath I take, I breathe in You!” Swidey’s article offers a portrait of the growing number of evangelical communities that have thrived on Boston-area campuses in recent years. While some evangelical groups are associated with national organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, others are homegrown. Students reflect a range of ethnic and racial backgrounds, though Asian-American students are a particularly notable presence in the fellowships (see Rebecca Kim (2004) for a discussion of Asian American campus ministries).

Taylor, M. C. 2006. “The Devoted Student.” The New York Times 21 December 2006, late ed., sec. A: 39.

            In this op-ed, Taylor argues that as more and more college students practice traditional forms of religion, fewer seem willing to think critically about their own faith. This wave of “religious correctness” has put college professors, particularly those who “propose psychological, sociological, and anthropological interpretations of religious texts,” on the defensive. Yet a failure to consider the complexities among traditions could have devastating consequences. If colleges and universities fail to promote and participate in an open dialogue of faith, Taylor warns, the “conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.” (See Sommerville 2006 for further discussion of how universities can engage critically about faith.)

Uecker, J. E. and M. D. Regnerus, and M. Vaaler. Forthcoming. “Losing My Religion: The Social Sources of Religious Decline in Early Adulthood.” Social Forces.

            In this article, the authors examine a number of factors presumed to lead to religious decline. Using nationally representative survey data, they test three factors in particular: college attendance, normative deviation, and changes in the life-course. Most surprisingly, they find that college attendance, far from reducing religiosity as is often assumed, appears to prevent young adults from “losing their religion.” Those who never attended college had the highest rates of disaffiliation, decreased service attendance, and decreased importance placed on religion. By contrast, those who had completed a bachelor’s degree had among the lowest rates on all three of those factors. “Simply put,” they write, “higher education is not the enemy of religiosity that so many have made it out to be.” Uecker and colleagues further find mixed evidence for the influence of normative deviation and demographic factors. They conclude by speculating about other factors that might contribute to religious decline: competing activities, inadequate childhood socialization into religion, and increased privatization of religious belief and practice.

Wilkins, A. C. 2008. Wannabes, Goths, and Christians: The Boundaries of Sex, Style, and Status.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            Wilkins’ comparative ethnography of three young adult cultural projects includes two chapters on a university-based evangelical Christian group, “University Unity” (a pseudonym).  The book treats each cultural project as a case study in gender, race, and class.  Chapter 4, “Just Good People,” analyzes Christianity as a young adult identity strategy with both benefits and costs for participants.  In particular, the chapter examines the ways in which Unity Christians use group practices and rhetoric—including rejecting university party culture, focusing on self-discipline, and claiming happiness—to think of themselves as “good people.” Chapter 5, “Abstinence,” considers Unity abstinence from both sex and dating (“romantic abstinence”), focusing on the (sometimes surprising) gender implications.

Wilkins, A. C. Forthcoming September 2008. “‘Happier than Non-Christians’: Collective Emotions and Symbolic Boundaries among Evangelical Christians.”  Social Psychology Quarterly 71(3).

            Rather than viewing happiness as a mental health outcome of participation in a religious organization, this article views it as a group process—a way of talking and thinking about emotions.  The article details how participants in a campus Christian group learn to think of themselves as happy, how they learn to create new emotions, and how they learn to link happiness to their moral selves.  Because happiness is central to participants’ identities as Christians, it is also compulsory.  Finally, the article argues that participants use happiness as a symbolic boundary to draw moral lines between Christians and non-Christians.    

Wilkins, A. C. Forthcoming 2009. “Masculinity Dilemmas: Sexuality and Intimacy Talk among Christians and Goths.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 34(2).

            This article compares ideas about how men should and do behave in two college-age subcultures: Goths and University Unity Christians.  Participation in both groups provides new opportunities to achieve masculinity: Goths are heterosexually active, while Unity Christians are abstinent.  Although abstinence seems to violate conventional notions of masculine virility, Unity men use their abstinence to claim masculinity through self-discipline. Surprisingly, both Goth and Unity men talk about their relationships with women in similar ways, using a language of emotional intimacy and care.  The article concludes by examining the cultural implications of this talk.  

Wuthnow, R. 1998. After Heaven: Spirituality in America Since the 1950s. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California, Berkeley.

            In this book, Robert Wuthnow argues that American spirituality has undergone a sea change over the past fifty years, shifting from a “spirituality of dwelling” to a “spirituality of seeking.” According to Wuthnow, economic and social changes in the 1960s were responsible for the shift from taken-for-granted, place-bound forms of spirituality to an ongoing process of spiritual negotiation. Americans today must confront their spirituality in a more secular context, and must therefore relate to it in a more assertive and deliberate manner. This has led to a kind of spirituality focused on the self, eclectically pieced together from a variety of sources, and oriented to a new ideal of freedom. Wuthnow calls for a spirituality of practices that encourages deeper engagement with the sacred while maintaining spirituality’s adaptation to a more fluid time.

Wuthnow, R. 2007. After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

            Wuthnow’s latest book provides a comprehensive look at how the socio-economic, political, religious, and spiritual profiles of the current generation of young adults compare to those of the baby boomers before them. Wuthnow identifies an important trend in the religious practices of young adults today—the significant decline in participation at religious services. But secularizing tendencies, surprisingly, cannot explain this trend; rather, as Wuthnow argues, the decline in participation at religious services can be explained by contemporary family patterns such as postponement of marriage and childrearing. Wuthnow also examines the myriad ways that religious involvement shapes the social and political identities of young adults, and how American religion is changing as a result of immigration and ethnic diversity. Wuthnow’s central argument is that today’s young adults are “coming of age” later than the baby boomers before them. With fewer institutional supports available to previous generations, these young adults are taking longer to accomplish the major developmental tasks of young adulthood—and some fail. 

Zern, D. S. 1989. “Some Connections Between Increasing Religiousness and Academic Accomplishment in a College Population.” Adolescence 24: 141-154.

            In this study, Zern surveys college students about their religious beliefs and their grade point averages (GPAs). Asking separate questions about past and current religiosity, he found that neither of these individual measures of religion in the students was related to their grades. However, for about ten percent of these college students, their current religiosity was higher than that of their past or the environment they were raised in; these particular students of “increasing religiousness” during college showed a tendency to have higher GPAs than students of decreasing religiousness or those whose level did not change.