Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Discussing spirituality with students 

Where does spirituality fit into a college experience? The latest findings from a continuing national study of spirituality in US higher education, released Tuesday, reveal that faculty views on the subject diverge some from student perspectives.

While 81 percent of faculty consider themselves spiritual persons (and 64 percent call themselves "religious"), only 30 percent agree that "colleges should be concerned with facilitating students' spiritual development." Nearly half of college freshmen in an earlier survey called it "essential" or "very important" for colleges to encourage their personal expression of spirituality.

(source.) The study, by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, will strike some as being a little odd. If spirituality is so important to students, why can't faculty discuss it? 56% of students surveyed (in a pilot, not the full study discussed above) said faculty never provided opportunities to discuss the meaning and purpose of life; 62% said faculty never encourage discussion of spiritual matters.

...findings to date suggest that college students place a premium on their spiritual development and many of them hope�indeed, expect�that the college experience will support them in their spiritual quest.

I guess my view is different because I worship in a mission church. The thing I've decided we Lutherans do worst is talk about faith with others ... and that's even true for this small core of high-commitment people I worship with. It is hard to find places where you can talk about faith; much of what we do in and outside worship service is to discuss what to do when an opportunity appears, and how to be receptive to the opportunity. Then you pray for opportunity, and, well, the Holy Spirit does the rest.

This raises in my mind two problems for the classroom. For some, the classroom is about the subject matter you prepared, the purpose you created: In short, it's about you. But spirituality is seldom about you. It's about your Creator. It is hard to shift focus like that. Second, it's difficult to see where opportunities arise. I know faculty who would never talk about their church activity, yet will happily discuss their family life or off-campus friendships. If what we really do is profess, a word with many definitions, to what extent are we just giving tongue to words and to what extent do we affirm and think and confess? I don't think there is a bright line there.

But it's not anything particularly worrisome that faculty have a hard time with this. Anybody has a hard time with this, and the concerns of not professing faith for fear of offending someone of a different faith, and of course we'll find most faculty want to stay far, far away from the topic.

Nevertheless, we should know that student are expecting us to talk about it. And less than half of faculty agreed with the statement that "the spiritual dimension of faculty members' lives have no place in the academy." So the question is, how to bring it in?