Chris Boyatzis, Professor of Psychology
Three mixed-methods studies assessed whether students at Christian colleges maintain a traditional faith over time. For a population of recent, two-year, and four-year alumni at two Christian colleges (Study 1), as well as first-year and senior undergraduate students at one of the two Christian colleges (Studies 2 and 3), we measured changes in denominational commitments, religious attitudes and behavior, and descriptions of changing points in faith. We analyzed the interview data (faith changing points) for instances of moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD), which Smith and his colleagues (Smith & Denton, 2005; Smith & Snell, 2009) have identified as characteristic of emerging adults’ religiousness. MTD is described as a watered-down faith in which God is understood as a personal helper who sets moral standards but places little demand on the believer. Our findings indicate that undergraduates and alumni from Christian college contexts maintain solid faith commitments that are not consistent with MTD. Instead they hold a robust, traditional faith marked by trust in God, ownership of their own faith, and an embrace of historically central religious constructs, consistent with the traditionalists (Smith & Snell, 2009) and conservative believers (Arnett, 2014). In their traditionalism, the undergraduates in Study 3 experience themselves as having greater concern for spirituality (or faith) than when they entered college, but no greater concern for religiousness (or institutional commitment), describing themselves as “more spiritual but less religious.”
Cook, Kaye V.; Kimball, Cynthia; Boyatzis, Chris; and Leonard, Kathleen C. “Religiousness and Spirituality Among Highly Religious Emerging Adults.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 34, no. 3 (2015) : 252-265.