The Relationship of Religious Belief to the Concept of Spirituality Among College Students

Rocio Martinez



Upon entering College and moving away from home, students are exposed to different religions and spiritual beliefs which may cause a decline in their practices and a change in religious and/or spiritual beliefs. This study attempts to examine the nature and degree of change among these adults.  Participants were 122 college age men and women from a small midwestern university who completed measures that assessed religious and spiritual beliefs and practices, happiness or success with their spiritual or religious beliefs, and change of view regarding spiritual and religious beliefs. Results suggest that college students do, in fact, have a declined religiosity throughout their college career and also have in inclination is spirituality during college years. Significant levels include levels of spirituality and religiousness in relation to parents' religions.


            Anthropologists tell us that all societies of humans so far, have 'displayed ritualistic, religious, and/or supernaturally oriented behavior' (Adler, 2007, p. 22). Biologically speaking, (biological psychology being one of the most active areas of study of origins in the evolution of religious beliefs and practices), 'religion is a species-typical behavior'. (Adler, 2007, p. 22-23) These behaviors have mechanisms that are strong and motivational enough to drive the species, through faith, reason, and even aha experiences; feelings of awe, which are allowed to us through emotions, due to our human condition, are simply universal (Adler, 2007).  

               From a western point of view, it seems common that many persons are raised with the notion of religion as being an integral and important part of their lives. However, many times those religions, which are acquired through inheritance, customs, societies and the like, leave unanswered questions to young adults who are trying to figure out their identities. Thus, the idea that the Self (Carl Jung used 'Self' with a capital s in order to differentiate it from the conscious and social self that other psychologists used.) (Cloninger, 2008) is in constant alteration with itself, regarding topics as that of religion and spirituality, is posed and emerging questions, such as the following, are formed. Do college students understand and accept that there is a difference between religion and spirituality? Upon gaining new awareness of diverse cultures and religious or spiritual traditions, do they convert, adopt, or incorporate these beliefs and/or practices into their lives?


The Self: Definitions

In the website of Trans4mind, according the Jung, the Self has been described as:

  1. It is the part of the psyche which organizes and directs the rest of the psyche -- the ego, the conscious mind, the personal unconscious, and all other elements of our psychological being.
  2. It is the totality of the psyche, including all of the elements, such as the ego, etc. Because the Self is all of the psyche, its viewpoint contains an objectivity, acceptance, reconciliation, and balance of the "opposites" of ego and shadow, persona and shadow, and our many contradictory feelings and impulses.
  3. It is the center of the psyche (like the nucleus of an atom) to which the other parts of the psyche are connected and subordinate.
  4. It is an archetype.
  5. It is a transcendent, unchanging part of ourselves, in contrast to the ever-varying ego, shadow, complexes, etc.

Spirituality and Religion: Definitions    

In order to understand the differences between spirituality and religion some detailed definitions are presented. In the current study, the researcher defines spirituality as an effective means of finding the Self; the Self meaning, that which a person is and the qualities they have that separates and unites them from and to others. The more connected one is to the Self the more one will understand the similarities between every being. It can be asserted that everyone is similar because all beings posses fears and insecurities. Once identified by each other through the construct of a higher but reachable power, solutions can be developed and thus a more general consensus can be reached with a more realistic schema of others.

      Spirituality, a concept which is hard to define, is that which is inherently private and personal; it concerns those intangible aspects of life which are part of the awareness of beings and is related to our being part of something 'greater and more powerful than ourselves' (Spirituality, 2004, p. 1). There exists a relationship between beings and spirituality which becomes that of 'awe and wonder' and unites people to nature and every part of existence (Spirituality, 2004, p. 1).  Spirituality is a broad concept that encompasses not only and necessarily religion but also 'strength of belief and the intrinsic involvement of the individual' (Spirituality, 2004, p. 1). Bryant (2003) refers to spirituality as involving a seeking of authentic and personal wholeness and genuineness which concerns something other than the Self (i.e. concerns for society and whom it is comprised of). Spiritual seekers put a greater emphasis on 'self-growth and emotional self-fulfillment, as well as sacredness of objects and experiences' (Kneipp, Kelly, & Cyphers, 2009, p. 189).

Spirituality can 'stand apart from religion' (Bryant, 2003, p. 724) because it is so similar to a type of lifestyle in which a person uses the mind, the body, and the spirit to search for their own truth by guidance of the sacred. Although others believe it is 'distinctive from the body, as distinctive from both the religious and the secular' (van der Veer, 2009, p. 1097). According to Taliaferro (2009, p. 84), researchers define spirituality as 'a general sense of life purpose and life satisfaction, with no specific reference to religion'.  Spirituality, which not only helps to form a closer relationship to God or the higher being, can also be of great advantage to physical, mental, and emotional health. Therefore, it is believed that spiritual health gives 'meaning and purpose' to persons and opens the path for ethical and 'personal fulfillment' (Taliaferro, 2009, p. 84).      

 On the other hand, the Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender (2003, para. 1) defines religion as 'a system of beliefs in divine or superhuman powers, and ritual practices directed towards such powers' and 'an ideology that involves the individual in a unique commitment and a unique network of relationships, real and imagined'.  The most basic and common belief in religions everywhere is that invisible spiritual entities live in an invisible, intangible world and that we as human beings can have a relationship with those spirits. (Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2003) At the core and at the root of every religious and even spiritual belief and practice exists the notion of spiritual entities that guide in some way or know of a higher knowledge and have insight into information that human beings do not.

     Religion is believed to be an institution which contains an order and a structure that if followed correctly can mediate between that 'invisible supernatural world and the visible, human, and natural world' (Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2003, para. 5). However, that social institution itself cannot exist without believing in the intangible forces. According to the Encyclopedia of Women's Health (2004), religion is a code of conduct with set, organized beliefs practiced with certain rituals. Commitment to a certain religion is thus one way of measuring religiosity. (Encyclopedia of Women's Health, 2004) Religion may be spiritual at the core but is behavioral in nature. (Alyssa, 2003) Kneipp, Kelly, and Cyphers (2009, p. 189) say that the researchers Wink and Dillon (2003) operationalized religious dwellers as people who 'tend to accept traditional forms of religious authority; they inhabit a space created for them by established religious institutions and relate to the sacred through prayer and public communal worship'.

     Spirituality makes up an 'important force in the lives of many young people who do not benefit from organized religion' (Taliaferro, 2009, p. 84). Students entering college come seeking the right answers to the questions that have been left unanswered. They report to be more interested in spirituality now than they have before and therefore hope that universities will help them develop spiritually and emotionally (Taliaferro, 2009) because they are raised assimilating the doctrine of whatever faith their parents hold (Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 2003). However, both religion and spirituality provide meaning and represent important resources that can change a person's orientation in life (Taliaferro, et al., 2009).

Questioning Faith

            According to Norman Adler (2007), a professor of psychology at Yeshiva University, students graduating from high school and coming into college seek answers to their yet unanswered questions. These 'Big Questions' (Adler, 2007, p. 20), become a type of spiritual struggle that is familiar to many when they begin reflecting upon their faith, their purpose, and their meaning in life (Bryant & Astin, 2008). Some individuals are even raised practicing rituals related to their religions without understanding the true meaning of those rituals; something that motivates them in that search for answers (Mullikin). As a result to such religious or spiritual problems, young adults begin to lose or question their faith, consider religious conversion, and even question their 'spiritual values' (Bryant & Astin, 2008).

Causes of a Questioned Faith

            There are, of course, numerous upon numerous causes of a questioned faith among college age students. However, only a few will be mentioned in this research. According to Murray and Ciarrocchi (p. 24), religiousness was found to be associated more with 'authoritarianism, religious orthodoxy, intrinsic religiousness, parental religious attendance, self-righteousness, and church attendance'; meaning that it can also emphasize shame and guilt.  Religiousness has become an institution where punishments for sins and shame and guilt have been the premises that make followers get overly involved and perhaps even become fanatics. With such a distant and unreachable God, they will do everything in their hands to please Him and not get punished by Him thus becoming someone they are not. For instance, various writers reported that the culture and religion of Jewish adolescents 'might increase their likelihood of experiencing stressful situations' because of insulting comments and conflict with peers which contributed to their religious and spiritual struggle (Bryant & Astin, 2008, p. 3). This struggle made them ask themselves if God truly cared for them, if God was punishing them, or if God was omnipresent. (Bryant & Astin, 2008) Also, according to Bryant and Astin (2008), it was found that students who attended sectarian church affiliated institutions have more spiritual struggles than students in public or nonsectarian private institutions because they are asked difficult and controversial questions about their faith. So, they may find the experience difficult to handle.

            A large amount of the cases that cause students to question their faith are due to difficult circumstances encountered (Bryant & Astin, 2008) at the age where they are beginning to find out what they want and who they are. These events could range anywhere from the loss of a relationship to sexual assault or homesickness to suicidal emotions or cognitions (Bryant & Astin, 2008). Also, students entering college that have 'weak spiritual orientations' become 'vulnerable to struggle' when they do not accept things in existence like 'evil and suffering' and have ambiguous, unfamiliar, unpredictable attachments to a remote God (Bryant & Astin, 2008, p. 3). On the other hand, students who are religious and take part in religious and spiritual conversations with peers and who are also spiritual questing are linked to be struggling (Bryant & Astin, 2008). However, the study seems to suggest that spiritual struggle is positively associated with students who accept people with different backgrounds and views of this nature and who have grown stronger during their college years (Bryant & Astin, 2008).


Moving Away from Home, Peer Interaction, and College

When students graduate from high school, leave home, and enter college, they experience a change that they never have had before (Uecker, Regnerus, & Vaaler, 2007). Their cognitive appreciation of the world outside their home (Uecker, et al, 2007) becomes different as their search for identity, beliefs, and values becomes more intense. Now, they do not have their parents looking over them and they begin to be exposed to different ethnic and religious beliefs and practices. According to Mullikin, parents do play one of the biggest roles when it comes to the formation of a child. Parents are 'the primary source of communication from birth to school age'. (Mullikin, p. 182) A child's first introduction and set of belief systems regarding religion comes from the beliefs of their parents' religious rituals (Mullikin). In other words, young adults are so used to the pressure of their religion and their parents that when they enter college they come to experience a freedom that they never have had before and become confused. However, as Bryant, et al., (2003) described in their study, college students who live at home with family tend to have much smaller declines in their religiosity than students who live at school or independently.  A child is certainly influenced by their parent on 'religious and spiritual identity, but the extent and longevity of that influence is unclear' (Mullikin, p. 183)/

Having children is an experience that sometimes parents use to reinforce their own religiosity 'as they seek help in providing children 'with a core set of values'' (Uecker, et al, 2007, p. 1672). Some parents help their children to embark a certain direction towards a specific religion; while others only give them a small amount of information so the children can decide what practice, be it religious or spiritual, becomes their central value (Mullikin). Upon entering college, young adults begin to exercise their 'individual choice' more so than they had before. Sometimes, their new peers start playing a more important role in their lives and thus influence their beliefs (Mullikin, p. 184). Also, due to their emerging exposure to different aspects of life in higher education, students will even begin having 'more secularized perspectives on the world' (Uecker, et al, 2007, p. 1668). Greater freedom will also lead students to stop practicing religious activities and rituals (Uecker, et al, 2007). So then, the first year of college has the strongest potential for an impact and change in the lives of incoming students in regards to their spirituality and religiosity. They can be immersed in a new culture with many possibilities, diverse points of view, and positivistic biases (Bryant, et al., 2003). Borrowing from Bryant, et al, (2007), other researchers suggested that


[i]n living at home the student is not only reinforced in the religious value system of parents and sibling but is also insulated from any of the potentially challenging effects of close and continuing association with other students whose religious values may be quite different.


            Different ethnic activities and diverse interactions with peers, like participations in cultural workshops, having friends and roommates of different ethnicities or races and taking ethnic studies courses (Bryant, Choi, & Yasuno, 2003) may or may not necessarily change the view of students but will certainly bring a new awareness to them that will make them think about and understand new ways of living. These young adults can also turn to peers in order to work through their struggling situations. Experiencing diverse religious or spiritual beliefs together with different types of practices and/or rituals can expose them to new perceptions (Mullikin) that might change their present point of view if they see that those new perceptions are helping them cope more than the ones they were raised with. Also, in consideration are diversity issues such as the 'effects of ethnic, racial, and cultural differences' (Hoffman, J.L. Hoffman, Dillard, Clark, Acoba, Williams, & Jones, 2008, p. 26) which might bring to the table different ways of seeing things (different perspectives) and different levels of influence.  

            According to Uecker, et al. (2007, p. 2667), religious disaffiliation is usually between thirty and forty percent during the young adulthood years and no 'religious group is immune to this phenomenon'. One of the most commonly perceived sources of decline in religion and disaffiliation is higher education. In their research, Uecker, et al. (2007), found that other researchers described the environment of the university as the abandonment of religious faith.  They believe that higher education broadens the horizons of students and exposes them to bigger 'countercultural values' which helps to cause a decline in their participation and the belief that they might have in the Bible (Uecker, et al. 2007. P. 1669).

In addition, other studies suggest that students who concern themselves more with 'economic production and financial success' worry much less about issues concerning their faith and do not enroll in classes that 'might challenge their faith (Uecker, et al. 2007, p. 1669). Students who major in fields such as the social sciences and the humanities are the ones that most likely diminish their religious practices (Uecker, et al. 2007). According to Bryant & Astin (2008, p. 14), the major of psychology is the 'fourth environmental variable related to struggles of a spiritual nature'.  It pushes students to introspect and analyze their own psyche in regards to the relationship between the mind, body, and spirit (Bryant & Astin, 2008).

Other studies say that fourteen percent of students report their religious conviction to have declined during their college years and forty-eight percent report their religiosity remained the same. Thirty-eight percent said that they strengthened their beliefs (Uecker, et al. 2007). The overall practice of religion itself however, declined much more during college years; practice being defined as religious discussion, participation in groups, prayer, meditation, and church attendance (Uecker, et al. 2007). According to Bryant, et al. (2003, p. 724), studies suggest that the overall religiousness of students and their participation in religious activities do decline greatly during college years and 'patterns of religious change are reflected in disaffiliation from traditional churches', service attendance, prayer, and changes in belief. Although their external religious activity slows down, college students do consider themselves religious due to their maintained spiritual or religious belief (Uecker, et al. 2007).

The Ups and Downs of Religion and Spirituality in College

            As in the words of Kuh (2006, p. 40), 'religion has always had a place in American higher education'. Religion and spirituality are not just a part of baby boomers who now understand their mortality and what part faith plays in their life. More and more college age students are practicing their faith or 'exploring spiritual dimensions' of their internal development (Kuh, 2006, p. 40). College students are spiritual and they are open about it if they have to be. According to a study from University of California- Los Angeles, eighty percent 'of students express a strong interest in spirituality' (Adler, 2007, p. 20). However, they are also religious; many of them, more than fifty percent of them, go to religious services 'at least once per month' (Adler, 2007).

The idea of students reflecting on their spiritual or religious belief and their search for meaning 'is consistent with exposure' to the educational practices of liberal art colleges (Kuh, 2006). The latter helps students be more open to different views about similar matters of spirituality and religion (Kuh, 2006, P. 20). Even though there is much evidence that secularization is declining among college students, there seems to be a great increase in students who are committed to matters of faith (Bryant, et al., 2003). In the aforementioned study, references referred to have found that undergraduate students are spiritual seekers instead of religious dwellers; many of them building their spirituality without regard to boundaries (Bryant, et al., 2003).

Studies have shown that spirituality is 'more predictive of college adjustment than religiousness' because, although both are important, spirituality itself plays a bigger part in a person's adjustment than does religiousness (Kneipp, et al., 2009, p. 193). Often times, for instance, when looking into different types of religious coping, negative methods prevail such as reappraisals of God's power, spiritual discontent, and reappraisals of a punishing God (Bryant & Astin, 2008). Orientation towards a religious quest is 'associated with tolerant values, promoting tolerant action, principled moral reasoning, and helping behavior' (Bryant & Astin, 2008, p. 5).

According to Bryant, et al., (2003, p. 732), there is a great deal of unknown information in regards to the religious and spiritual experiences of college students and much less is known about their commitment to spirituality. The results of the latter study show that students are entirely committed to 'integrating spirituality into their lives' even though they become much 'less religiously involved' and 'less likely to attend religious services, discuss religion, and pray or meditate' by the end of the first year than before they entered college (Bryant, et al., 2003, p. 732). The majority of students in this study, however, who were very spiritual were also very religious, and vice versa (Bryant, et al., 2003).

To Convert or not to Convert

According to Zinnbauer and Pargament (1998), researchers cannot agree on a consensus when it comes to the process of religious conversion. They believe there have been diverse views ranging from positivistic views to a concern that it is only a 'form of thought reform' (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para. 2). In their research, they have found that different 'definitions of conversion have ranged from a rapid personality change' to a 'reorientation of the soul' (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para 3). In their study, Zinnbauer and Pargament (1998. Para. 4) defined religious conversion as a 'radical change in the self in response to either emotional turmoil or enduring stress through which the self becomes identified with the sacred'. They defined spiritual conversion as 'one type of religious conversion in which the self becomes identified with a spiritual force' (Zinnbauer and Pargament, 1998, para. 4).

Also, Zinnbauer and Pargament (1998), characterize religious conversion as either a slow or quick process in which the self is extremely transformed into something better. However, in modern times, it is believed that there is a slow and 'rational process of active search and self-realization' (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para. 6). In addition, they considered the spiritual conversion to be 'intrapsychic', involving of the higher power, and of change as having evident effects on 'the mental health of the convert' (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para. 9). Furthermore, the process of spiritual conversion sees the convert as a person who goes through the conversion process in order to 'resolve life difficulties' (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para. 9).

It is believed by many researchers that conversion and its process involves a radical change (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998). Some researchers believe conversion as being 'the habitual center of [a person's] personal energy' by which these ideas become the core beliefs in the minds of persons (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para. 10). Others describe the process as a change that is accomplished easily and 'grows out of existing behavior' (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998, para. 11). Although, conversion could also be described as the process of adopting the mask of a persona that is not radically different from the one that was left behind (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998). In the end, for most, the process of conversion is that by which a person who has been through turmoil and unhappiness ends up becoming unified, consciously superior, and content (Zinnbauer & Pargament, 1998).

Religion and College or Spirituality and College

            'Higher education is not the enemy of religiosity [or spirituality] that so many have made it out to be' (Uecker, et al., 2007, p. 1683). Students in college do participate much less when it comes to practicing their religion but it may only be due to their new lives as emerging adults who do things like participating in the 'late-night orientation of young adult life' (Uecker, et al., 2007, p. 1683). However, for the majority, according to Uecker, et al., (2007), it seems as though their faith goes unmoved during their years in college. Moreover, many times, these young adults are so 'undersocialized in their religious faith', especially before college, that they have a hard time understanding faith-challenging matters when they appear (Uecker, et al., 2007).

            According to Hoffman, et al., (2008), Fowler's stages of faith explain thoroughly the articulations of the development of faith in young adults. His theory states that 'most college-age students should be in stage 3' and that a lot of people do not or cannot go farther than this level (Hoffman, et al., 2008, p. 27). He explained stage 3 'as reflecting a more traditional and often rigid belief system that tends to depend upon or conform to religious groups or authority figures' (Hoffman, et al., 2008, p. 27). People who are in this stage do not care to examine their beliefs critically, 'leaving their God image unexplored and undifferentiated' (Hoffman, et al., 2008, p. 27).

However, Fowler's stage 4, which begins in young adulthood, 'is a transitional stage' through which they introspect and reconstruct the beliefs they had before (Hoffman, et al., 2008, p. 24). Because of this, some researchers believe that students in college will have a harder time 'distinguishing between different emotions' in relation to God and this may also bring struggle when differentiating 'between religious cognition and religious experience' (Hoffman, et al., 2008, p. 24). Fowler, in his work, used the term 'shipwreck' to describe the beginning of this transition in the life of young adults who are moving towards 'gladness' and 'amazement' (Bryant & Astin, 2008, p. 6).

College years are a very important time for young adults when searching for meaning in life and examining their core values and beliefs (Hoffman, et al., 2008). Inclination in religious behaviors and attitudes tend to be the norm during these years because of the freedom that these individuals experience from their separation of parents, religious environments, and the exposure to different cultures in peers and faculty members (Hoffman, et al., 2008) as well as the different perspectives that their classes might bring. As Maslow proposed, the ultimate purpose in life is to self-actualize by attaining 'the sequential satisfaction of a hierarchy of more basic human needs'each of which must be satisfied in turn before the individual can experience full self-actualization' (Francis & Hills, 2008). Or, to put it in the terms of Rogers' actualizing tendency, there is a 'built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potentials to the fullest extent possible' (Boeree, 2006).

Research Hypotheses

            Religion and spirituality, which have been displayed in all known human societies, not only play a crucial role in the struggle of young adults finding their identities and meaning in life but also play a very important, if not the most important role in their life and well being. Understanding that, although engrained by family and society itself, faith in a supreme being is at the core of people's beings and that humans strive to be the best they can be. Being operationlized in a survey, the following hypotheses were posed:

1.      College seniors will be more spiritual than first year students

2.      First year students, as opposed to seniors, will have the same religious background as their parents, especially if the parents practice their religion.

3.      Religious practice, during college years, declines.




            Participants were recruited from a small Methodist liberal arts university in the midwestern United States. A total of 150 undergraduate students completed surveys including women and men with ages ranging from 18 to 46. Levels of education included students from the first year of college (freshmen) all the way to fourth year of college (seniors). Majors of participants ranged from fine arts to social sciences and business to mathematics, etc.  Participants were provided a predetermined closed survey with a few open response items to clarify their religious denomination or faith affiliation, if any, and spiritual practices, if any. The varied responses were sorted into the following groups: Jainism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity ' denomination, Agnostic, Atheist, Other.


            The survey used to collect data was created by the researcher. Questions were counterbalanced and mixed between different sections in order to maintain interest of participants. The questionnaire was returned immediately to the researcher once it was completed. A copy of this survey is in Appendix A.

 Demographics Measures. Five additional demographic items were used besides the usual ones (i.e. gender, age, major, minor, etc). Three items included measures of self religious affiliation and parents' religious affiliation; choices included the major religions of the world. Two other items included the type of school attended before entering college; be it religious, private, home, combination, or other.

Religious or Spiritual Practice Measures. Rated on a 5 point Likert scale, five (5) items regarding religious or spiritual practice were used. Three of them included measures of self (e.g., 'I meditate') and two of them included practice regarding each parent (e.g., 'My mother practices her religion').

Religious or Spiritual Involvement Measures. Rated on a 5 point Likert scale ranging from 'not at all' to 'to a great extent', eight (8) items measuring exposure, openness, and involvement in religious or spiritual related topics were used. Two of those items regarded exposure to different spiritual or religious beliefs and practices (e.g., 'I have been exposed to different religious/spiritual beliefs and practices besides my own'. Three items measuring religious or spiritual openness (e.g., 'I discuss religious topics with others') and three items measuring involvement were used (e.g., 'I consider myself a spiritual person').

Religious or Spiritual Belief Measures. Rated on a 5 point Likert scale, eight (8) items were used that referred to spiritual or religious belief; development (e.g., 'I believe my religious/spiritual practices help me develop my spirituality'), openness (e.g., 'I believe there are other religious/spiritual practices, besides my own, that can better help me develop my spirituality'), differences (e.g., 'I believe there is a difference between spirituality and religion') achievement (e.g., 'I believe religions show me what I can achieve with my life'), happiness (e.g., 'I feel happier/more successful when I incorporate my religious/spiritual beliefs into my daily life), and values (e.g., 'I believe these set values are more important than others. Please check one' were measured.

Religious or Spiritual Change Measures. Two (2) items measuring spiritual or religious change were used. One item is related to change of view (e.g., 'I have changed my religious/spiritual views since I entered college') and another item measures the betterment of the change (e.g., 'If so, the change has allowed me to get to know myself better').


            A survey was constructed by the researcher. After the construction of the survey, it was field tested among peers in a classroom and critiqued. Minor revisions were made and the questionnaire was sent to the Institutional Review Board of the university. The survey was considered exempt and authorization for its administration was given.

A convenience sample of participants was used. Participants were approached during lab hours at the university and were asked if they would agree to participate and take the survey which would only take about ten minutes of their time.  Every one of the students that were approached agreed to participate. A small percent of the participants selected themselves into the sample by approaching the researcher and asking for a survey. The rest of the were administered the survey during class the first ten minutes of one of their classes. The sample size was determined due to sample size on previous experiments at the university.

            A consent form was attached to all surveys with the following included given blank lines for initials and date, contact information for researcher and mentor, advance that participation was voluntary and would not affect their grade in that particular class, and that they were free to withdraw at any time. Refer to Appendix for copy of survey.  The researcher analyzed data using ANOVA, Independent t-tests, and Pearson's Correlation Coefficient.



            To test the hypothesis that college seniors will be more spiritual than freshman, a one way ANOVA of year in college (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) by level of spirituality was performed. Results indicated a trend in difference in spirituality based on year in college,     F(3, 119) = 2.454, p =. 067. Planned post hoc testing (LSD Pairwise tests) indicated some unexpected results that were not hypothesized. Freshman (M = 20.17, SD = 7.48) and sophomores (M = 20.61, SD = 6.16) were significantly less spiritual than seniors (M = 27. 58, SD 20.31). Freshman (M = 20. 78, SD = 6. 48) and sophomores (M = 18.77, SD = 4.8) were also somewhat less religious than seniors (M = 21.75, SD 5.25).

            To test the hypothesis that first year students, as opposed to seniors, will have the same religious background as their parents, especially if the parents practice the same religions, a Pearson's Correlation Coefficient of students (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) religion to mother's and father's religion was performed. Results indicated that there was a strong correlation between students' religion and mothers' religion, r = .536, p < .001. There was a strong correlation between mothers' religion and fathers' religion, r = .536, p < .046. However, there was no correlation between students' religion and fathers' religion, r = .103, p < .260. Next, a Pearson's Correlation Coefficient of first year students to mothers' religion and fathers' religion was performed. Results indicated that there was a correlation between the students' religion and mothers' religion, r = .618, p < .001. There was also a correlation between students' religion to fathers' religion, r = .535, p < .001. In addition, a Pearson's Correlation coefficient of seniors' to mothers' religion and fathers' religion indicated that there was no correlation between students' religion and mothers' religion, r = .058, p < .804. Furthermore, there was no correlation between students' religion and fathers' religion, r = .174, p < .450.

            To test the hypothesis that religious practice, during college years, declines, a one way ANOVA of level of church attendance by year in college was performed. Results indicated that there was a non significant F(3, 119) = 2.467, p < .065. Post hoc testing showed that sophomores (M = 2.06, SD = 1.04) attended church significantly less than freshman (M = 2.88, SD = 1.42) bur that juniors attended almost as much as freshman (M = 2.84, SD ' 1.42).


In conclusion, religion and spirituality are an important and basic part of people's lives. They contribute much to who we are and how we behave. Spirituality and religion also show how our species evolves through time and perhaps even through space. With a study as simple as this one, much is shown in relation to the evolution and variance in behavior of college age students as the years pass in regards to religion and spirituality.

The first hypothesis of college seniors being more spiritual than freshman is supported by showing a trend that seniors actually are more spiritual than freshman. Post hoc testing showed, however, that freshman and sophomores were significantly less spiritual than seniors. This, perhaps, indicates that because students, for example, are exposed to different cultures, become busy with full schedules, begin a much more dedicated social life, spend years living away from home, and many other reasons, they become somewhat less religious and much more spiritual. Spirituality thus becomes more important in their lives because it is an intimate relationship with God or a higher power in which they can directly associate or communicate with Him at any time without necessarily separating a specific time to visit a church or group gatherings.

The second hypothesis of first year students, as opposed to seniors, having the same religious background as their parents, especially if the parents practice the same religions was supported significantly with very strong correlations.  The first correlation that was run of overall students to parents indicated that there was a strong correlation between mothers' religion and students' religion and no correlation between fathers' religion and students' religion. This seems to suggest that because children spend much more time at home with their mothers and are raised and taught perhaps more by the mothers than by the fathers, the children inherit or adopt the religion that their mother practices. The second correlation was run between freshman students and parents' religion; it indicated that freshman did have a high correlation between their religion and their parents' religions.  Perhaps, the results suggest that there are a larger percent of freshman students whose religion is highly correlated with that of their parents. The third correlation which was run between senior students and parents' religion indicated that there was no correlation between students' religion and parents' religion. The hypothesis was supported indicating that perhaps, as students leave home and spend years in college, they begin to lose the religious background they were raised with.

The third hypothesis that religious practice, during college years, declines was not supported. Results indicated that there was a non significant F and that sophomores practiced their religion significantly less than freshman and juniors. This might suggest that first year students come into college with a certain religion and as they begin to be exposed to other religious cultures they question themselves and their faith during the second year in college. Later, during their junior year, they perhaps pick up once again the same or a different religion that they can practice.

As with many other studies, a limitation of the current study is that there was a small convenience sample of only 122 participants. This might greatly influence the results of the study and might not be indicative of the population of the university; some results might be skewed. Also, the survey was created by the researcher which indicates that it might not be an accurate measure of the hypotheses proposed.  In addition, it might be better and perhaps more realistic to create a bigger study encompassing many universities from around the country with sample sizes that are indicative of each of the populations. Furthermore, the survey could be revised or a more accurate measure created. Moreover, further research could focus on many different aspects of religion and spirituality during college years such as gender, cultural background, race, religious background, etc.

            What the current study implies is, seemingly, simply and plainly that students begin to deviate from their religious background as they enter college because of many reasons related to their new life such as the separation from their parents, college social life, exposure to different cultures and beliefs, courses that challenge their faith, and so on. It seems as though students become much more spiritual than religious as they reach their senior year in college. It is also suggested that the religion students come into college with changes when they reach the senior year. Perhaps, the results found in this study only have to do with McKendree University or possibly, it is norm throughout the universities all around the country. That is a question that can be answered only with further research.


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