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Does Liberal Arts Education Affect Religion?

Does Liberal Arts Education Affect Religion?

Alaina works through whether or not liberal arts education affects religion.

By Alaina Martini

March 19, 2012

As I was exploring topics to cover for my final story in my newswriting class, I came across the issue of whether or not liberal arts education affects the religious practices of college students.

The issue really intrigued me because I attend a liberal arts university, and have been taught about many different perspectives since beginning classes in the fall. I’ve seen the religious practices of people around me change, and I wondered whether or not the type of education being received had anything to do with these changes.

The Barna Group, a “leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture,” has conducted multiple studies on young adults and their religious practices. I found one statistic particularly interesting, “nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.”

Why is this? Is it a product of education received from a secondary institution?

I talked to a number of students on campus to see what they had to say. I was surprised to find that almost everyone I talked to had a very strong religious belief. Some said that school made them stronger in their faith and spiritual journey.

Others said that college classes have opened their eyes to new cultures and perspectives, allowing them to alter their religious beliefs. Still others said that they are anti-religion, but attributed that to their life experiences, not on any course curriculum. No matter who I talked to, every person had a definitive opinion on the subject.

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While these student opinions were very enlightening, I wanted to see if there was some solid fact that could put the issue to rest. I found a seven-year study done by three UCLA professors, Alexander W. Astin, Helen S. Astin, and Dr. Jennifer A. Lindholm. The study began in 2003, and data was used from 14,527 students from 130 higher education institutions throughout the nation.

The professors found that spiritual growth doesn’t pertain to the type of education, liberal arts or conservative, but rather depends on the experiences of the students.

“Educational experiences and practices that promote spiritual development – especially service learning, interdisciplinary courses, study abroad, self-reflection, and meditation – have uniformly positive effects on traditional college outcomes,” according to the study results.

Before researching this issue, I thought that education had little to do with the changes in religious beliefs of students. Delving in, conducting research and talking to other students has, for me, confirmed that if faith and spirituality is important to the student, they will continue to grow and practice it. If it isn’t important, it will be shoved off to the side.

I actually enjoyed doing my own research and getting opinions from other students for this assignment, which I definitely didn’t expect. I encourage all students to question issues that intrigue you and then do your research in order to form an educated opinion, you might be surprised at what you find.

What do you think: does education affect religion? Is that good or bad?


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