Campus Spirituality Thriving

Campus Spirituality Thriving

LSOE's Mahoney leads study on religion and higher education

By Patricia Delaney
Director of Media Relations

Religion and spirituality have found new life on American college campuses through a variety of academic and extracurricular pursuits, according to a recent study led by a Lynch School of Education researcher.

The report, co-authored by Asst. Prof. Kathleen Mahoney (LSOE), cites "a groundswell of interest in religion and higher education at large, and a post-modern moment more conducive to integrating faith and learning than at any time in the past 50 years."

This finding was part of a study evaluating the 10-year, $15.6 million Lilly Endowment Inc. initiative to help church-related colleges and universities - Boston College among them - strengthen their religious identities and heighten the profile of religion in the academy at large. The effort has been largely successful, the report said, and to such an extent that state and private institutions also are exploring religion and faith matters more vigorously.

"We're not claiming any sort of religious restoration," said Mahoney. "But there is certainly more interest in religion and spirituality in higher education today than there was just 10 years ago."

The study, "Revitalizing Religion in the Academy: An Evaluation of Lilly Endowment's Initiative on Religion and Higher Education," was distributed last week to Lilly Endowment grantees and hundreds of leaders and individuals in higher education interested in religion and spirituality.

The evaluation was undertaken at the request of the endowment, which funded the project with a two-year, $332,592 grant to Boston College. Mahoney, who served as principal investigator, worked with John Schmalzbauer, a professor of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross, and James Youniss, a professor of developmental psychology from the Catholic University of America.

During the 1999-2000 academic year, the evaluation team talked with endowment-funded project directors, visited colleges and universities, attended conferences, conducted surveys with program participants, studied literature on religion and higher education, and interviewed more than 150 persons interested in and knowledgeable about religion and higher education. Portions of the evaluation are to be published in a book that explores the current state of religion in higher education.

Mahoney and her co-authors found that "religious dynamism within society, widespread interest in spirituality, and postmodern disenchantment with the concept of value-free inquiry" have helped bring back religion to the forefront in higher education.

"For those concerned about the role religion plays in higher education, this report provides some grounds for optimism," said Mahoney, who added, "Lilly Endowment should be pleased as it has played an important role in encouraging discussion about religion in the academy during the past decade."

During the course of the initiative, begun in 1989, the endowment made 70 grants totaling $15.6 million in support of approximately 45 projects. These projects included: in-depth studies to illuminate the history and current state of religion in higher education; programs to help faculty and staff integrate faith and learning; and conversations at the campus, denominational, regional and national levels to deepen understanding of church-related higher education and the role religion plays in the academy.

Awards were made to small denominational colleges, large religious universities and secular research universities as well as seminaries, independent research centers, church boards of education, and denominational associations of higher education.

The research team found that the initiative fostered high quality discussions about the relationship between faith and learning, and created a sense of community locally and nationally among those interested in religion and higher education. Colleges and universities were encouraged to be more thoughtful about their religious heritage, and to strengthen institutional practices in support of it, the study found.

Projects or activities supported by the initiative also heightened a sense of religious vocation among younger faculty, the report says, and resulted in high quality research about religion and higher education.

The report is available on-line.


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