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Christianity and the University Experience in Contemporary England: Preliminary Findings Dr Mathew Guest (Durham) Dr Sonya Sharma (Durham) Dr Kristin Aune (Derby) Professor Rob Warner (Chester)
The Project in Brief • The project explores how the university experience shapes the identities of undergraduate students who self-identify as Christian • Taking university as a site of religious identity construction, performance and negotiation • Multi-site, across selected universities in England (representative sample of HE sector). • Duration: September 2009-August 2012
Aims • To identify the religious beliefs and social values of Christian undergraduates • To explore the impact of the university experience – educational, social and religious – on those beliefs and values, and vice versa • To identify how organized Christian groups – from chaplaincies to CUs – help students respond to the university experience, and to examine their impact upon cohesion and division within the student body • To address implications of these findings for HEIs, government policy, and religious organizations
Key Questions • How does the university experience influence student Christian faith? • Liberalise, neutralise, consolidate, repudiate, or radicalise? • Symbolic boundaries and social construction of ethical certainties • How forceful are the dynamics of secularization and fundamentalism? • How does student Christian faith influence the university experience? • Social capital? Quality of learning? Social cohesion? Social activism? • Or privatized? – autonomous religious consumption
Methods • Quantitative - A nationwide student survey of religious and ethical convictions, and attitudes to university • Qualitative – Interview-based case studies of undergraduate Christian faith and practice in three universities
Case Studies Durham University University of Leeds University of Derby
Provisional Survey Findings Phase #1 of Survey 5 universities: Durham, Derby, Kingston, Staffordshire, Winchester. Survey launched during Easter term 2010 1,408 respondents (of whom, over 55% ‘Christian’) Only basic frequency statistics available
Provisional Survey Findings “Spirituality” not predominantly associated with belief in God as ‘spirit or life force’ Continuity more common as a perception of religious development than change (60% always been religious or non-religious; 73% say perspective on religion has remained the same since university) Non-traditional religion only followed by around 5% of respondents. Among ‘Christians’, evidence suggests concentrations of activity within non-traditional contexts
Religious Identity Generally speaking, do you consider yourself to be...
Religious Identity (ctd) No matter how you have answered the previous question, to what religion or spiritual tradition do you currently belong? Please choose the one that fits best.
In your view, and in your own words, what does it mean to be a Christian? RELATIONSHIPS/ LIVED RELIGION BELIEF/DOCTRINE Propositional Relational Relativising/inter-subjective Discursive Opponents: ‘religion’, ‘intolerance’, codified religion, ‘manipulation’ Formulaic/creedal Open-ended Closure Personalised Prescriptive Reflexive Transparent/ comprehensive Enigmatic
MARGINAL/CYNICAL RESPONDENTS “My parents were Christian and therefore so am I. Other people's guesses are as good as mine about religion.” “I am merely saying I'm a Christian as I was christened. I do not follow the faith, believe in it, or even agree with it.” “I'm not sure, but this survey does not nearly represent all views. In answering questions I have found myself choosing options that make me come across as religious. I am not. As a maths and philosophy student, though, I am open to the concept of some power or driving force or something like that. But I am by no means a Christian. I am an agnostic who leans more towards atheism than theism.” “It is a label with which to control people.” “It is an association with the society in which I live and nothing more.”
INVOCATION OF DOCTRINAL ORTHODOXY “I believe that being a Christian is believing that Jesus came down from Heaven in human form, in order that He might die for us (on the cross) and take on the punishment that we deserve for our sins, so that we may have eternal life in Heaven with God. The Bible says that it isn't through doing 'good' works e.g. going to church every Sunday, helping the elderly etc that gets us to Heaven, but believing that Jesus took the punishment for us by dying on the cross, so that we don't have to suffer the consequences for the bad things we do/ have done(sins). The Bible says in John 3:16, that God loved the world so much, that he sent His only son (Jesus) to die, so that we would not spend eternity in Hell, but spend eternity in Heaven.” “It means to admit that you have rebelled against God and trust that Jesus' substitutionary death has taken the punishment for your sins.” “Someone who accepts Jesus as the only means of Salvation, who follows Jesus, and who believes in the Trinity.” “To be a Christian is to believe in Christ - that he died for you so that your sins can be forgiven, you can enter in to a relationship with the living God and so that you have the promise of eternal life. John 3:16!” “the Lord is my saviour.”
NEGOTIATING ‘BELIEF’ AND ‘AUTHENTICITY’ “Believing in Jesus. It is likely but not essential that a Christian will try to follow Jesus' example. I also think it's crucial that Jesus is not forgotten in favour of liturgy. For example, when Christians discriminate against gay people, it undermines the whole point of Jesus' ministry to treat everyone as equal. Essentially I try to love God and love others.” “I attended a C of E primary school. At the time you do not realise you are having religion forced down your throat. Religion should be a choice. The same applies to the students loitering outside the church at university, wanting others to join. If it was not for clashes in religion today, the world may be a more peaceful place. I do believe in spirituality, karma and fate however.” “To believe in god in some way, to treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. and to follow your beliefs without forcing anyone else to.” “I believe that God sent his son Jesus to die and be resurrected in order for me to enjoy life fully.”
LOVE/FAIRNESS/RIGHT CONDUCT “Do good and be a nice person. Everyone is the same. Don't be prejudiced.” “Following a life path that does not intentionally harm or hurt another person either physically or emotionally. Having respect for other beliefs and their right to make their own choices without discrimination of any form. Living my life to the best of my ability and allowing my child to make his own choices and at the same time being there to support and help in any way I can.” “It is not based on religion, but on a framework of fairness.” “I love my God and my God loves me, what else does it matter??”
Next steps... Recruitment of further universities for phase #2 of survey (Autumn 2010) Explore in case studies how experience is used as a resource in Christian identity construction (site of personal struggle? Inherently mysterious? Project of resistance? Selective engagement in ethical boundary maintenance?) Transition from home to university – how is this negotiated? Influence on shifting perceptions of Christian authenticity?