Making meaning how student affairs came to embrace spirituality faith religion and life purpose
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Making Meaning: How Student Affairs Came to Embrace Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Life Purpose. A forthcoming publication from ACPA Books and Media / Stylus Press Jenny L. Small, Boston College (Editor). Overview of the session. 9:00 – 9:10: Introduction

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A forthcoming publication from ACPA Books and Media / Stylus Press

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Making Meaning: How Student Affairs Came to Embrace Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Life Purpose

A forthcoming publication from

ACPA Books and Media / Stylus Press

Jenny L. Small, Boston College (Editor)

Overview of the session

9:00 – 9:10: Introduction

9:10 – 9:50: Two section presentations (including Q&A for each)

9:50 – 10:00: Break

10:00 – 10:20: Third section presentation (including Q&A)

10:20 – 10:40: Small group conversation #1

10:40 – 10:50: Break

10:50 – 11:00: Discussion of themes

11:00 – 11:20: Small group conversation #2

11:20 – 11:30: Concluding conversation

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This program explores the forthcoming edited volume, Making Meaning: How Student Affairs Came to Embrace Spirituality, Faith,Religion, and Life Purpose,being published by ACPA Books and Media (2014). In the last 10 to 15 years there has been a dramatic proliferation in research and best practices surrounding spirituality, faith, religion, and life purpose in the field. This session studies the questions what has enabled this topic to become an integral aspect of the field, and how we can build upon this success for the future.

Questions we will address

How we reached a “tipping point” (Gladwell, 2000)

What the driving forces behind the change were

What fundamental transformations were caused by these changes

How these changes impacted people and institutions

How we can build upon this success

What lessons we can apply in the future

Learning objectives

History and current state of religion, spirituality, faith, and life purpose in 3 arenas: research, association work, and practice.

Shared vision-building of where the work on religion, spirituality, faith, and life purpose can go in the future.

Utilizing an example of past fostered changes as a lesson for how to facilitate future change.

Vivienne Felix and Nicholas A. Bowman, Bowling Green State University

Sam Siner, University of Texas at Austin

Tricia Seifert, University of Toronto


Historical Influences

Colonial Colleges

Models of education from abroad

Christianity in higher education

Discriminatory Practices

  • Education as societal stratification

  • Historical changes in demography of U.S. population

  • Admission and treatment of Jewish students

Fowler and Parks

  • Fowler’s Stages of Faith (1981)

    • Privileged toward a certain experience?

  • Parks’ Big Questions, Worthy Dreams (2000)

    • Moving toward inner-dependence

    • Creating mentoring communities

Religious Diversity and Faith Development

  • Jewish students (MacDonald-Dennis, 2006)

    • Developing Jewish identity

    • Creating inclusive communities (Kushner, 2009)

  • Muslim students (Peek, 2005)

    • Developing Muslim identity

    • Creating inclusive communities (Ali & Bagheri, 2009)

Religious Diversity and Faith Development

  • Atheist students

    • Specific challenges and development theory (Nash, 2003; Siner, 2011)

    • Creating inclusive communities (Goodman & Mueller, 2009)

Further Research

Intersections between religion/spirituality/faith and race, culture, sexual orientation, etc.

Student experiences at public vs. private secular vs. private religious universities

Student experiences with other worldviews (e.g. Hinduism, agnosticism, Baha’i)

Broad Religious/Worldview Groups

Religious majority students

Religious minority students

Religiously unaffiliated students

Student Experiences and Outcomes

Perceiving a hostile religious/worldview climate

Religious/spiritual growth

Well-being and academic outcomes

Forecast for future research 

Sharon A. Lobdell, University of Michigan-Dearborn

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, Bowling Green State University

Professional Associations

How Professional Organizations Are Reshaping Higher Education

  • Putting critical issues regarding spirituality, religion, and meaning making into the spotlight

    • New programs

    • New/revised policies

    • Holistic approach to student learning

    • Promoting and sharing scholarship

  • Create associations and partnerships that encourage programs and sharing of resources

  • National/International membership brings many life experiences to the table

How Do These Associations Define Professionals?

Sharon: “I was out of touch until I was exposed to a climate where my religious beliefs were embraced…this nurturing allowed me to grow.”

Dafina: “Participating in ACPA’s CSFRM was one of the most spiritually formative experiences of my life.”

As professionals help guide the journey of the students they work with, they can engage in an intrapersonal journey to discover their own beliefs.

Affiliation with these associations can be critical, especially if the professional does not have a safe or open climate at their institution.

Graduate Programs

Through their research and collaborative efforts, these associations can help shape graduate programs by creating/influencing the scholarly material, articles, and competencies that will round-out the graduate preparation process.

In turn, graduates from these programs can bring more individuals with knowledge and skills concerning religious pluralism and interfaith dialogues into the profession.

Questions for the Audience

Did your grad school curriculum include any discussion on spirituality, religion, or meaning making?

How are you engaging issues of spirituality, faith, religion, and life purpose through your professional association involvement?

What do you need from your professional associations as support networks for this engagement?

10 minute break

Kathleen Goodman and Katie Wilson, Miami University

Frank Shushok, Jr., and Patricia Perillo, Virginia Tech


Campus Practice in Support of Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Life Purpose

Case Study: Miami University

Campus Practice in Support of Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Life Purpose

Courses and pedagogy

Co-curricular practices

Spirituality and health initiatives

Interfaith initiatives


Campus Practice in Support of Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Life Purpose

  • Sources of change

    • Leadership of professional organizations

    • Increased grant funding

    • Highly visible research

    • Personal interests of campus faculty and admin

  • Room for improvement

    • Lack of widespread commitment

    • Lack of training

    • Need to be more inclusive

Campus Practice in Support of Spirituality, Faith, Religion, and Life Purpose

  • Possibilities and Provocations

    • Stop using the public institution defense

    • Enhance education and training

    • Create new structures and partnerships

    • Broaden the notion of spirituality

New Openness for Spiritual Learning

2009 - Florida State University launched its Spiritual Life Project

2010 - University of Massachusetts, Amherst established the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life

2012 - Stanford University appointed its first chaplain for atheists

2013 - Elon University (NC) opened its first multifaith center for religious and spiritual life

Students’ Meaning-Making in Practice

Campus leaders “should make a thoughtful, evidence-based, purposeful effort to get in each student’s way; in fact, shaping a certain kind of campus culture may be the biggest contribution campus leaders can make.” Light (2001)

Students’ Meaning-Making in Practice

Integrative learning—learning that “engages the students in the systematic exploration of the relationship between their studies of the objective world and the purpose, meaning, limits, and aspirations of their lives” (Palmer, Zajonc, & Scribner, 2010)—is a pedagogical approach that gets in the way.

Students’ Meaning-Making in Practice

“Tragedy is a special, unique and powerful time to invite students to learn about some of the most important questions related to living: Who are we? Why are we here? How can we make the world more humane and just? (Shushok, 2010) - Virginia Tech got in the way after the April 16, 2007

Encouraging Spiritual Exploration on Campus—Three Good First Steps

1. Space and Place

2. People and Roles

3. Conversation and Community

How does this impact your research, practice, service, graduate studies?

What are the compelling issues, challenges, opportunities?

How does this presentation of the field align with your campus reality?

Small group conversation #1

10 minute break


  • Themes of the book

    • Timeline of change

    • Virtuous cycles

    • Inclusion of diverse voices

    • Historical shifts

  • Other themes of this session

The future of meaning-making through research, practice, and professional associations: where do we go from here?

Small group conversation #2

Concluding conversation

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