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From Medicineworld.org: College Students' Spirituality and Religiousness Vary by Race and Gender

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College Students' Spirituality and Religiousness Vary by Race and Gender


While today's college students have a very high level of interest and involvement in spirituality and religion, there are important differences among student subgroups, most significantly between African Americans and whites, and between men and women, according to new research.

A survey of 112,232 students at 236 colleges and universities found that the biggest differences between African American and white students were in their levels of religious commitment, ethic of caring, religious engagement and spiritual quest. African Americans are also far more likely than whites to believe in God, pray and attend religious services frequently.

While gender differences are not always large, women score higher on 11 of 12 scales that measure various aspects of students' spirituality and religiousness. The most marked differences are in women's higher levels of charitable involvement and religious commitment.

These findings are based on the most recent analysis of data from a major national study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. The survey was administered last fall to entering college freshmen who attend a representative sample of colleges and universities. Institute scientists reported earlier that four in five students have an interest in spirituality, three-fourths say they are "searching for meaning or purpose in life" and more than three-quarters believe in God.

"African Americans are far more engaged with religion and spirituality than other students," said Alexander W. Astin, the co-principal investigator for the project. "And while women's higher levels of spirituality and religiousness might be expected, we were surprised that some of these differences aren't more pronounced.".

Racial differences.
African Americans registered as the highest scorers on seven of the 12 overall measures of spirituality and religiousness studied - religious commitment, compassionate self-concept, spiritual quest, equanimity, religious engagement, ethic of caring and religious/social conservatism - compared to whites, Latinos, Asian Americans, American Indians and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders. Whites had the lowest scores on five of the 12 scales: ethic of caring, ecumenical worldview, charitable involvement, spiritual quest and compassionate self‑concept.

Latinos were the least likely overall to demonstrate high levels of religious engagement and, along with Asian Americans, religious/social conservatism. Asian Americans were the highest scorers on religious skepticism and the lowest on spirituality, equanimity and religious commitment. Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders were the highest scorers on charitable involvement, spirituality, ecumenical worldview and religious struggle.

Of the 112,232 students surveyed, 76 percent are white, 8 percent African American, 7 percent Asian American, 5 percent Latino, 2 percent American Indian/Alaska Native and 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Additional findings include:

  • 95 percent of African Americans believe in God, compared to 84 percent of Latinos, 78 percent of whites and 65 percent of Asian Americans.
  • 91 percent of African Americans pray, compared to 75 percent of Latinos and 67 percent of whites.
  • 53 percent of African Americans attend religious services frequently, compared to 42 percent of whites, 39 percent of Latinos and 35 percent of Asian Americans.
  • 47 percent of African Americans have a high level of religious commitment, compared to 25 percent of whites and 22 percent of Asian Americans.
  • 32 percent of African Americans have high levels of religious engagement, compared to 16 percent of Latinos and 19 percent of whites.
  • About one-third of African Americans consider it essential to seek opportunities to grow spiritually and say that it is essential for them to follow religious teachings in their everyday life, while less than one-fifth of whites and Asian Americans say the same.

According to Higher Education Research Institute scientists, some of these racial/ethnic differences can be explained, in part, by the students' religious preferences, since students of different religions differ notably on the various measures of spirituality and religiousness. For example, nearly half of the African American (47 percent) respondents are Baptist, compared to only 11 percent of whites and 5 percent of Latinos. Nearly a third of whites (30 percent) and more than half (53 percent) of Latinos are Roman Catholic, compared to about one-tenth of African Americans (11 percent). Asian Americans are the most likely to say that they have no religious preference (28 percent). By comparison, only 8 percent of African Americans and 17 percent of whites indicate no religious preference.

Gender differences
Men score higher than women on only one of the 12 major dimensions: religious skepticism (21 percent of men versus 14 percent of women are high scorers). On each of the other 11 scales, women score higher than men.

The largest gender differences are on charitable involvement, a 10-point difference in high scorers (20 percent of women and 10 percent of men); religious commitment, a 9-point spread (30 percent of women and 21 percent of men); and religious engagement, a 6-point .

gap (22 percent of women and 16 percent of men). Six-point gender differences also are evident on equanimity (25 percent of women versus 19 percent of men) and ecumenical worldview (16 percent of women and 10 percent of men).

The largest gender differences are on charitable involvement, a 10-point difference in high scorers (20 percent of women and 10 percent of men); religious commitment, a 9-point spread (30 percent of women and 21 percent of men); and religious engagement, a 6-point gap (22 percent of women and 16 percent of men). Six-point gender differences also are evident on equanimity (25 percent of women versus 19 percent of men) and ecumenical worldview (16 percent of women and 10 percent of men).

Women are also more likely than men to pray (75 percent versus 62 percent) and to score high on religious/ social conservatism (18 percent versus 13 percent) and being on a spiritual quest (27 percent versus 22 percent).

When it comes to gender differences in high scorers within racial groups, the largest gap is evident for African Americans on religious commitment, an 18-point difference (53 percent of women vs. 35 percent of men). The 13-point gender difference in the percentage of African Americans who are high scorers on religious engagement (36 percent of women vs. 23 percent of men) is also nearly double that found in any other racial/ethnic group. By contrast, there is no measurable gender difference in the percentages of Asian Americans who are high scorers on religious engagement (19 percent of women and 19 percent of men).

Relative to other groups, notable gender differences also exist on religious/social conservatism for African Americans (26 percent of women vs. 16 percent of men) and American Indians/Alaska Natives (25 percent of women vs. 16 percent of men).

American Indians/Alaska Natives also show the largest within-group gender differences on charitable involvement, a 14-point gap (27 percent of women vs. 13 percent of men); and religious skepticism, an 11-point difference (11 percent of women vs. 22 percent of men). Ten‑point gender differences on ecumenical worldview are evident for both American Indians/Alaska Natives (23 percent of women vs. 13 percent of men) and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (29 percent of women vs. 19 percent of men).

The study
These findings on racial and gender differences are part of the Higher Education Research Institute's multi-year study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, that examines how college students think of spirituality and its role in their lives, as well as how postsecondary institutions can better facilitate students' spiritual development.

Last spring, the institute released a report based on the survey findings, "The Spiritual Life of College Students," which indicated that students "are searching for deeper meaning in their lives, looking for ways to cultivate their inner selves, seeking to be compassionate and charitable, and determining what they think and feel about the a number of issues confronting their society and the global community.".

In addition to documenting high levels of interest and involvement in spirituality and religion, the study showed that students have high expectations for the role that colleges and universities can play in their spiritual and emotional development. More than two-thirds say that it is "essential" or "very important" that their college enhances their self-understanding and rate highly the role they want their college to play in developing their personal values. Nearly half also say that it is "essential" or "very important" that colleges encourage their personal expression of spirituality.

The scales, or factors, described in this release measure various aspects of students' spirituality and religiousness by combining many questionnaire items with similar content. The Higher Education Research Institute research team developed 12 scales, which include three measures of spirituality (spirituality, spiritual quest and equanimity), five measures of religiousness (religious commitment, religious engagement, religious/social conservatism, religious skepticism and religious struggle), and four other dimensions that are related to spirituality and religiousness (charitable involvement, compassionate self-concept, ethic of caring and ecumenical worldview).

The institute is widely regarded as one of the premiere research and policy organizations on postsecondary education in the country. Housed at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, it serves as an interdisciplinary center for research, evaluation, information, policy studies and research training in post-secondary education.

More information and a copy of the full report, "The Spiritual Life of College Students," are available at http://www.spirituality.ucla.edu.


Did you know?
While today's college students have a very high level of interest and involvement in spirituality and religion, there are important differences among student subgroups, most significantly between African Americans and whites, and between men and women, according to new research.

Medicineworld.org: College Students' Spirituality and Religiousness Vary by Race and Gender

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