Religious Leaders of the Future?

Why do we care? Depending, of course, on your stance, religion can be seen as a potential savior of American society (not to mention individuals). In this regard, the Heritage Foundation has been adamant that religion is of critical importance to sustaining social stability. Others note that the spiritual lives of American undergraduates are both important to them (perhaps increasingly so), and nurturing that spirituality critical to higher education's public responsibility. (See AACU 2005 report here.) UCLA's HERI Institute has reported, too, that there is a positive relationship between students' spirituality and achievement. Still others, including those who commented on a recent description of this study at the Friendly Atheist site think all this important because, hey, atheism is a good thing and college majors may be a way to increase atheist demographics.

For all of these folks, whether you are a helicopter parent or not, a college student about to declare a major or not, it matters how education and religion are related -- it matters for our future. Today's undergraduates are, almost every higher education institution claims, tomorrow's leaders. As UCLA's HERI has noted, political engagement among first-year college students has hit a 40-year high. So: do we, or do we not, want religious leaders? If so, what sort of religious leaders? Turns out, college major (may) matter.


This article was first published at Religion Dispatches and is reprinted here with permission.


Susan Henking is Professor of Religious Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY - coordinate colleges for women (William Smith) and men (Hobart College). Her work focuses on theories of religion as well as religion in relation to gender and sexuality. She is co-editor, with Gary David Comstock, of Que(e)rying Religion (1997) and, with William Parsons and Diane Jonte Pace, of Mourning Religion. She also writes on higher education. The views shared here are, of course, not those of her employer, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, but of Susan Henking.