I normally don’t read academic papers but when one has a title like the following, I tend to pay a bit of attention:
Spirituality and Academic Performance at a Catholic Law School: An Empirical Study
What did it study?
This empirical study explores whether a student’s spirituality affects academic performance during the first year of study at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota). A spirituality index measured 1) frequency of attendance at religious worship, 2) frequency of discussion of religion with others from different faith traditions, 3) the presence and strength of the connection between God and morality, and 4) the presence and strength of the view that entry into the legal profession is a divine calling.
Professor Scott A. Taylor compared this “spirituality index” to academic performance.
And guess what he found…?
Much to my surprise, I found a negative correlation between strong spirituality and the variance index… This negative correlation suggests that a high spirituality index adversely affects predicted academic performance.
Someone else can dissect the actual paper (PDF) and methodology further, but here’s an idea of the analysis.
The students were grouped into three groups — high, medium, and low spirituality:
The members of the high spirituality group had a mean [first year grade point average] that was 0.29 below their [predicted first year grade point average]. In comparison, the other two groups performed very close to expectations. Although 0.29 may seem like a small number, in terms of class rank at a law school, a difference of this magnitude accounts for a substantial percentage of class rank. So, for example, a student with a 2.65 grade point average after the first three semesters at the University of St. Thomas School of Law would be ranked at 116 of 158 students. By comparison, a student with a 2.95 would be ranked at 85 of 158. This is almost a 20% difference in class standing, or 31 places in the ranking.
So how do you reconcile these results with the mission and methods of a Catholic law school? Taylor offers a host of possible explanations:
A statistical fluke is always a possibility for a correlation that appears to arise from factors other than chance.
Perhaps students of strong faith, having placed God at the center of their identity, can see their place in the communities of worship, love, friendship, family, service, and education in a balanced way. These students have integrated their multiple vocations into their identities and have sought an integrated balance among competing interests. They are prepared to succeed in law school, but they are not prepared to subordinate other important parts of their lives that make up the multiple vocations that Dean [Jerome] Organ has described.
One of my colleagues on the faculty at the Law School suggested that a strong God-centered moral standard may impair a law student’s ability to perform legal analysis on papers and on exams. Under this theory, students with a strong spirituality index undertake legal analysis with a preexisting and inflexible sense of right and wrong. As they look at the facts, they adopt a “right” answer approach based more on moral standards or moral instincts and less on legal standards.
When I was discussing my study with one of my former students, he suggested that a person who is true to Christian teachings would place generosity and charity ahead of self-interest and competition. He thought that a “true” Christian would not have a strong sense of competition (no powerful desire to win in the race for top grades). Instead, such a student would help others by forming study groups, sharing materials, and spending time to help fellow students who appeared to need help. This former student thought that the “true” Christian would be willing to sacrifice limited study time if it meant being true to religious values.
Sounds like a lot of grasping at straws…
Taylor, Scott A., “Spirituality and Academic Performance at a Catholic Law School: An Empirical Study” . California Western Law Review, Vol. 45, 2008 Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1131778.
[tags]atheist, atheism, Catholic, LSAT, law school[/tags]