Monday, November 18, 2013

Christianity and the University experience chapter 1 and 2

Introduction is here.

Universities are different. I’d never thought of that before but that’s the claim of Chapter 1 of Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith. This chapter places the context – universities – in historical and cultural context. It suggests six different groups of university, based on their founding story. The suggestion is that the founding story will shape the story, which in turn will shape the experience of being Christian. It’s obvious, but for me, quite illuminating. Each campus will thus require a unique approach, based on it’s story and physicality.  The chapter describes how during the 1960s, higher education was the fastest growing industry in UK. Then again in the 1990s, the number of universities jumped from 50 to 100. Then in the last decade the impact of marketization, diversification and globalization. The term “university experience” has become a driving force, positioning students as customers in a competitive market. The result has been McDonaldization (for more see The McDonaldization of Society: 20th Anniversary Edition) of education – calculable, efficient. This phrase, “university experience”, becomes a way to understand the way society has changed and the resultant impact on faith, in this case, in the particular context that is the university.

In other words, one way to understand the mission challenges of today is to research the contemporary university experience.

In Chapter 2, we settle into the question of what makes a Christian student. This is qualitative research (over 100 indepth interviews), so it begins with three students – Grace, Jerome and Eva. They share an affirmation of Christianity as their religion of choice. They view their identity as shaped by social relationships (rather than doctrine). This faith is something that is evolving in dialogue with their experience being University students.

Alongside the qualitative research is the quantitative data gained from surveying over 4,500 students. This is analysed by examining the practical expression of Christian commitment. A particular part of being a university student is that one belongs in two places – campus and home. This allows a mapping of how Christian identities are expressed in transition. From this emerges five categories:

  • active affirmers (26%) – are involved at church in both home and campus. They often have a theological and intellectual expression of faith, in which they are confident. Features include a belief in substitutionary atonement.  “This is the only category that includes unequivocally positive references to evangelism, although even these are few and far between.” (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 42)
  • lapsed engagers (9%) – attend frequently at home but infrequently during term. They tend to include a disproportionate number of Roman Catholics, Anglicans and independent Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Being a Christian involves living a good life and following the example of Jesus.
  • established occasionals (14%) – includes a consistently occasional attendance whether at home or on campus. Yet, “[i]t is the category that includes the most Christians who have volunteered for political causes within the previous 12 months.” (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 44) A degree of theological sophistication was evident in those interviewed, as was a following of Jesus example.
  • emerging nominals (16%) – this group attend occasionally at home but not during term time. While there is little evidence of a cynical from Christianity, for many certain aspects of Christianity lack sense.  However Christianity remains a ultimate framework for life.
  • unchurched Christians (31%) – this group attend neither at home or during term time. They make a moral association with the Christian life. They are critical of the Church as betraying these ideals and are uncertain of their childhood connections to faith.

Some summary conclusions are offered. These include the fact that “the more persistently and regularly engaged students are with church, the more likely they are to affirm doctrinally orthodox beliefs.” (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 49)  This should not be overstated however, given that there are significant numbers in each of the five categories who believe they have become more religious while at university.

Posted by steve at 09:44 PM

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