Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith

Christianity and the University Experience
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Students who had been raised Roman Catholic tended either to remain attenders at Catholic churches or stop attending church altogether once at university. A large majority of interviewees were white and aged between 18 and Interviewees were studying on a variety of degree programmes, including mathematics, computer science, physics and medicine, sociology, psychology, history and English. Students in the arts and humanities were over-represented, making up roughly half of those interviewed, but broader findings suggest this has more to do with the kinds of students available and willing to engage in interviews, rather than a tendency among Christian students to gravitate towards particular subjects.

Classed Aspirations and Choice of University 4. Over half had university degrees. Reflecting the correspondence between markers of status within and outside the university sector, according to our survey, students with the most highly educated parents and with highest status jobs were most likely to attend the highest status universities.

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This pattern appears to be replicated among Christian students; at the macro-level of key demographic variables, affirming Christian identity does not seem to make a significant difference to the relationship between social class background and university attended. But what kinds of perspective are articulated by the students themselves? Interviewees were asked why they had chosen to study at their particular university.

One of the few interviewees from a working-class background, also identifying as Pentecostal, echoed this vision of higher education as a means to self-improvement. As they commented, 'It was kind of a spur of the moment thing to choose Derby but I just wanted to do a little bit better than my family did so I thought the best way to get a better job was to come to Uni, which is what everyone tells you! Sometimes the desire to be near home was grounded in economic reasons — for example, money saved by living with family rather than moving away — at other times because students wished to see their families on a regular basis.

By contrast, some students said they had chosen to move away in order to put distance between themselves and their family. Slightly fewer 22 cited an emotional or affective response to the locality of their chosen university or its campus, emphasising notions of friendliness, enjoyment and sometimes scale.

The logics of class difference were also in evidence in implicit judgements about the status of different universities. Among the 17 who mentioned their university was their 'second choice', it was common for Durham students to have been rejected by Oxford or Cambridge, mirroring the status of the 'traditional' universities within the popular imagination, sometimes in spite of the more rationalistic evaluations published in league tables. Echoing the findings of Reay, David and Ball, we did not find strong evidence of the 'calculative, individualistic consumer rationalism' Reay However, the majority representation of answers citing status and careers suggests an instrumentalist approach to university is highly significant among Christian students.

Baxter and Britton, ; Kaufman and Feldman, A parallel experience can be found among churchgoing Christian students, many of whom emphasise social challenges associated with the sexual promiscuity and heavy alcohol consumption among their peers Sharma and Guest There is a perceived dissonance between what is taken to be the dominant student culture and the mores internalised by religiously observant students.

This dissonance triggers feelings of alienation and sometimes reinforces a tendency to coalesce into sub-groups of like-minded Christians, a pattern mirrored among some Muslim students Valentine et al Although with less obvious social consequences, a related sense of dissonance can be discerned in Christian students' attempts to imagine their future selves.

Campus life has its own moral trappings; life post-graduation requires that a different kind of territory be negotiated, one in which the moral and religious convictions of youth are more directly up against economic and family demands. Given the employment limitations of austerity Britain, we might expect the ideological principles fostered in campus life - whether religious, moral or political - to be especially vulnerable to disillusionment at the present time. Put more simply, the ideals of young adulthood are especially difficult to maintain during periods of economic constraint.

Christian identities are brought into conversation with classed aspirations to varying degrees and in a variety of ways. Responses have been analysed and grouped into three categories, representing patterns of orientation to an imagined future, focused respectively on aspirations for a nuclear family, ambitions to express a moral critique of western capitalism through professional life, and a sense of 'calling', deferring future plans in favour of an open-ended trust in God.

While we allowed responses to be coded by more than one category, there was only limited evidence of overlap, a clear majority of interviewees expressing a response that could be coded into one of the above. This categorisation cuts across variables of denominational background and Christian practice, suggesting all three are evident across a wide range of Christian students. They are also evident to comparable degrees in each of our five universities; some institutional divergences are apparent, but the differences are subtle, small and do not suggest our three categories are differentially fostered according to university type.

The strong presence of Christian moral critique invites analysis of how Christian resources might be mobilised in ways that subvert dominant cultural norms. The Familial Aspiration 5. The numerical dominance of women in churches reflects this, notwithstanding the fact that as men and women's social roles are becoming more similar so the imbalance is becoming less obvious Aune ; Woodhead The nuclear family remains an important plausibility structure Berger , especially in framing the moral priorities of conservative Christians, although these are sometimes accompanied by an intensification of gender images largely indebted to celebrity culture, a direction of development that troubles the presumed association between Christian identities and 'traditional' values Maddox Whether framed by the expectations of their churches or wider culture, it is perhaps not surprising that a number of our interviewees, when asked about their plans for the future, emphasised their goal of getting married and having a family with the raising of children in the Christian faith also often mentioned.

This was frequently described either with no mention of careers or alongside a more dismissive comment about career choices, side-lined as relatively unimportant in comparison with having a family. Alternatively, careers were mentioned but alongside a strict demarcation of family life as the proper focus for nurturing Christian faith in contrast to professional life, which was understood as functioning according to different rules.

In this sense, Christian students collude with the secularisation narrative that locates religion increasingly within the domestic or private sphere, rather than integrated into professional life cf. They also position themselves as divergent from the 'progressive' image of the 21st century university.

About Christianity and the University Experience

Many of them will need to be seriously rethought in the wake of this book. However, markers of distinction emerge not in reference to contrasting social or religious groups but to expressions of moral degeneracy, principally focused on indulgence, acquisitiveness and self-servitude. These opportunities largely emerge via vibrant, popular, student-oriented local churches and student-led on-campus societies, both of which offer a variety of formal and informal roles through which students may develop new skills — such as public speaking, facilitating group activities, organisation and leadership — and find a channel for the expression and recognition of existing talents. Many echoed Gloria's approach in wanting their future children to choose for themselves once they are adults, but felt a firm childhood rooting in Christianity was important as a frame of reference for this choice. It is clear that Christian students not only exist but come in many shapes and sizes - as indeed do universities.

While this image is contested and demands careful evaluation of the public discourses of higher education alongside the empirical realities of student life Falconer and Taylor , it nevertheless valorizes a model of gender and sexual inclusivity at odds with the heteronormative assumptions associated with traditional Christianity and upheld by these student interviewees. I think they're pretty standard, kind of secular goals! Selective application was in evidence among a number of interviewees, although rarely with Sophie's self-conscious restraint. Indeed, the connection between being a Christian and having a family was largely assumed, as if the latter were the most obvious and immediate expression of living out a Christian life.

As Judy, a 21 year old creative arts student at the University of Derby, put it, 'I'll always have in my mind that I don't think I'll be settled until I get married and I would like to have children. Gloria, a mature pharmacy student at the University of Kent, was not atypical in her perspective: I do expect to get married in a church. If I was to have children — not decided on that one yet — but if I was they would be Christians and would be raised as Christian.

I would let them make up their own minds as to whether they wanted to stay as that. Many echoed Gloria's approach in wanting their future children to choose for themselves once they are adults, but felt a firm childhood rooting in Christianity was important as a frame of reference for this choice. According to Martha, a 20 year old biomedical sciences student at the University of Chester, 'At least if you've gone through the process of being part of a religion and then decided for yourself this isn't for me, then hopefully you can understand why people will believe.

Presenting religious upbringing as a means of empowering and enriching a subsequent faith decision enables Christian students to resolve these tensions, claiming Christian faith as central to primary socialisation while at the same time upholding the axiomatic value of neo-liberalism, i. Several interviewees were already engaged to be married or expected to be in the near future. This is a trend often found within evangelical churches, and reflects their commitment to an ethical position that restricts sex to within heterosexual marriage Page et al Moreover, romantic relationships are commonly viewed as permanent from a relatively early stage, with a prolonged non-married state inviting questions about the proper intentions of those involved.

In this sense, a conservative sexual ethic appears to foster a life-course pattern that runs counter to the cultural norm in the contemporary UK, in which decisions about marriage and family are often now deferred until the late twenties or thirties, especially among the middle classes. This pattern, characteristic of an extended 'emerging adulthood' Arnett is less evident among churchgoing Christian students, many of whom appear to have integrated a heteronormative set of domestic plans into their aspirations whilst still at university. This pattern — while predominantly affirmed by female interviewees — was not restricted to them, with some male students also placing family, rather than professional life, at the heart of their hopes for the future.

However, emerging patterns do hint at a complex combination of accommodation and resistance to cultural norms not unrelated to social class identities. The desire to start a family early, and in conformity with a heteronormative nuclear model, affirmed by these students as central to the long-term formation of their Christian selfhood, becomes especially striking the more it appears counter to the cultural norm among emerging adults.

Understanding Student Faith

This in itself marks a pattern of resistance, although, as we will discuss below, it is one bound within classed norms that reinforce assumptions about the power of the individual subject. Christian Counter-narratives and Moral Critique 6. By contrast, the majority of our interviewees actively challenged this bifurcation. These students integrated their Christian values into their career plans, imagining a future in which their faith might be applied, advanced and embodied within the context of their working life.

For a few, this aspiration remained undeveloped, in some cases on account of their university degree programme leading them in a direction whose resonance with Christianity was difficult to discern. For example, Jack, a 20 year old at the University of Kent, reflected on his degree subject, Management Science, commenting: Others imagined their eventual occupation as a potential context for evangelism.

Christianity and the university experience : understanding student faith.

Leanne, a 20 year old languages student at Durham, imagined a working environment 'where I'm able to share the gospel with people…because I just think it's the best news and love people to hear it. While this conception of work as a 'mission field' was in evidence, most interviewees offered a more closely integrated perspective, one that conceived of their choice of career and mode of doing it as mirroring their ethical convictions as Christians.

Of course, by placing herself 'up with the high flying', she also imagines herself occupying the echelons of the professional elite, even while aspiring to be a prophetic voice among them. In this respect, she anticipates a career much like those successful evangelical professionals in the metropolitan US and UK, who integrate elements of their Christian identities into their working lives in the corporate private sector Lindsay and Smith ; Strhan Ruby's perspective affirms an ambition to occupy the same space while also challenging the values upheld by her professional peers.

Indeed, evident contrasts could heighten her Christian presence within the working environment; as Lindsay and Smith argue, 'efforts to bear witness to one's faith are most visible when set in relief against competing symbols and practices. The principal grounds for such judgements centred on assumptions that certain careers promote selfishness or materialism or simply do not contribute anything worthwhile to society.

By contrast, their own choices focused on altruism and humanitarian concern, with careers cited including healthcare, teaching or working in the charitable sector. For some, moving into a caring profession is a natural extension of their faith. For example, Helen, a mature humanities student at the University of Chester, referred to voluntary family-related work she already does: Gordon, a 21 year old maths undergraduate at Durham, made sense of his own perspective in counter-reaction to his degree programme: And I understand that from a business perspective, but that doesn't sit particularly comfortably with my faith; and I definitely think from an employment perspective I'd much rather have a job that I feel is valuable, and is where God wants me to be, and helping other people, than something fairly arbitrary in business or finance.

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I'm not saying that those are bad things; I'm just saying I feel that God's given me different gifts and is sort of calling me in a different direction. While a moral critique is arguably implicit, he is keen to preserve individual integrity as a pre-eminent value: Others were less equivocal in their criticisms of the corporate world, like Jessica, a 21 year old maths and computer science student at Durham, who recounted her recent experience at a careers fair, recalling that she was 'the only one going around asking about corporate social responsibility.

It's things like wanting a clear conscience that affects my future choice more because I know I could live [in] poverty a lot more easily than I could live with a lot of guilt. Both of Jessica's parents have university degrees and they both work in intermediate managerial, administrative or professional occupations.

As a Durham graduate, her stock of cultural capital will be significant and she may, in the not-so-distant future, find herself among the elite networks she alludes to above. The CUE project findings are published in a number of publications, some already available, others planned for the near future. As more become available, more information will be posted on this site.

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Sonya Sharma and Mathew Guest, " Navigating religion between university and home: Christianity and the University Experience: What impact does the experience of university have on Christian students? Are universities a force for secularisation? Is student faith enduring, or a passing phase? Analysing over 4, responses to a national survey of students and nearly interviews with students and those working with them, this book examines Christianity in universities across England.

Christian Advice to Public College/University Students ft. Andrea

It explores the beliefs, values and practices of Christian students. It reveals how the university experience influences their Christian identities, and the influence Christian students have upon university life. Christianity and the University Experience makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the survival and evolution of religion in the contemporary world.

It offers fresh insights relevant to those working with Christian students, including churches, chaplaincies and student organisations, as well as policy-makers and university managers interested in the significance of religion for education, social responsibility and social cohesion. Historical, Cultural and Scholarly Contexts 2. What makes a Christian student? Institutional Variations in the University Experience 4.

Is the University a Force for Secularisation?


What impact does the experience of university have on Christian students? Are universities a force for secularisation? Is student faith enduring, or a passing. Abstract. What impact does the experience of university have on Christian students? Are universities a force for secularisation? Is student faith.

The Challenges of being a Christian Student 6. Organised Christianity on the University Campus 7. Social Differences Amongst Christian Students: Age, Class, Ethnicity and Gender 8. How many Christian students are there in England's universities?