Spirituality in Higher Education

I stumbled on the web site for a project engaged in studying Spirituality in Higher Education, based at UCLA. It gives an interesting look at the state of religion on US college campuses, both with regard to students and faculty.

Now, I don’t know how much to trust their findings. Many of the publications and reports I’ve looked at on their web site are permeated by a combination of saccharine spirituality-speak and the equally stupid language that academics lodged in schools of “education” favor. They’re funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Their primary purpose is to “Provide a framework for colleges seeking to expand opportunities for students to explore spirituality.” And a couple of years ago I took one of their surveys of faculty. I remember the questions as rather blatantly leading toward “more spirituality” kind of responses. (On the other hand, halfway through I was so pissed at what I perceived to be their angling for affirmations of religion in the classroom that I was determined to finish the survey in as negative a way as possible.)

Still, there is some interesting, possibly even accurate material buried in their reports, even though they constantly spin their information to make it look like college faculty spend half their free time in prayer. For example, a recent news release called “Strong Majority of College and University Faculty Identify Themselves as Spiritual” also shows that much of the high religiosity is due to religiously-affiliated institutions; faculty in public institutions are significantly cooler toward religious influences on education. And both natural science and social science faculty are coolest toward religion among the professoriate. As they damn well should be.

Overall, however, as with just about anything the Templeton Foundation touches, the end result seems to be propaganda rather than knowledge. Their helpful conclusion? “These findings suggest that highly spiritual faculty, compared to their less spiritual colleagues, are not only more likely to employ teaching methods that directly engage their students, but have also been better able to integrate their personal and professional lives.” Maybe so—it’s as with a lot of the Templeton-funded “research” that shows that religion leads to increased happiness, better sex lives, and a killer tennis game. I don’t see anything intrinsically objectionable with such claims, but I’m less than fully confident in the competence of the people who are doing the studies.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • Anonymous

    it’s as with a lot of the Templeton-funded “research” that shows that religion leads to increased happiness, better sex lives, and a killer tennis game.

    If Templeton’s christian apologists have taken that approach, they have capitulated to the humanistic world view about the focus of values. (It reminds me of how the ID advocates have conceded the validity of the proximate materialistic explanation of biology, only to differ from mainstream biologists about how the machinery of life orignally came into existence.)

    By contrast, the old apologists (for example, the heretic- and witch-burning sort), didn’t much care about human well being in this world. If John Calvin could visit a modern American Calvinist church, for example, he probably wouldn’t know what to make of a congregation of recently bathed, unverminous, well nourished, well dentitioned and well dressed human bodies where even most of the women tower a head or two above him. They didn’t get that way from following christian teachings, but from the application of modern science to human welfare.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12570500114162230634 Daniel

    I find it funny that you can have Christians screaming bloody murder at the loss of faith that occurs as their kids gain a university education on the one hand, and they will turn around and cite “pervasive spirituality on university campuses” as evidence that “even smart people know God exists”, or some similar non sequitur.