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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Winter 2007
Volume 34 Number 1

“Do You Buy into the Whole Idea of ‘God the Father’?” 
How College Students Talk about Spiritual Transformation

Jenny L. Small

Students’ spiritual lives have been understudied in higher education and students’ personal beliefs have been under-explored in the classroom environment.  Yet, spirituality is a key aspect of many students’ identities, and one they desire to explore.  The purpose of this study is to bring to light the experience students had in one university class that, counter to the usual academic expectations, was specifically designed to foster their spiritual development. 

This work will be important for colleges and universities due to their roles as “mentoring communities”.  This study could persuade educators to increase their focus on the spiritual elements in students’ lives, and influence faculty members to understand spirituality as an area worthy of academic study.  Higher education faculty and student affairs administrators could use the findings of this study and better understand many students’ yearnings to discuss the topic of spirituality and, in the process, explore their identities.  Consequently, this study provides analysis of both narratives and interactional dialogue spoken by students in focus groups held to gauge their experiences in the course, in order to reveal how one course on spirituality impacted students’ lives.

Study Design

This study took place with students who were about to conclude their enrollment in a course entitled Psychology and Spiritual Development.  Focus groups were held to discuss students’ reactions to and interpretations of the course, and their reflection papers and essays written for the course were collected. 

The original orienting question for this study involved trying to understand if and how an academic classroom setting designed to expose students to spirituality fostered their spiritual growth.  The research questions were:

Discourse Analysis techniques were applied in order to examine students’ reactions to the course and their understandings of their own spiritual transformations.

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