Center for Social Concerns researchers to study effects of religious belief

Author: Paul Horn

Are college students with strong spiritual and religious beliefs more apt to develop a strong sense of social responsibility and show compassion toward others? And do those who identify as religious minorities face greater spiritual challenges?

These are just two of the many questions that will be answered through new research being undertaken by staff members of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns.

The research will make use of data from the first longitudinal study documenting changes in student attitudes about spirituality during the first three years of college. Conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, the study surveyed 14,527 students attending 136 colleges in the fall of 2004 and again in the late spring of 2007. The study found that, while attendance at religious services declines, college students nationwide show significant growth in a wide spectrum of spiritual and ethical considerations during their first three years of college.

Further analysis of the HERI research will be conducted by two teams respectively led by Jay Brandenberger, the center’s director of experiential learning, and Nicholas A. Bowman, post-doctoral research associate at the center.

Brandenberger’s team will investigate the impact of religious and spiritual engagement on students’ sense of compassion and social responsibility, including the impact of spirituality and religiosity on pro-social orientations and behaviors such as compassion, caring and social responsibility among college students; the extent to which these prosocial orientations and behaviors conversely influence spiritual and religious development among college students; and the impact of college experiences on pro-social attitudes and values.

The team led by Bowman, with Jenny L. Small, who recently completed doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, will examine the spiritual development and well-being of college students who identify with “marginalized religions,” as opposed to those who identify with more socially privileged or prominent religions. They will examine the effects of the religious affiliation and makeup of the institutions attended by such students and how their college experiences affect their spiritual development and well-being.

The research will be conducted from May to December of this year, and the researchers hope to present their findings to journals that focus on higher education and faculty and student development.

Contact: Jay Brandenberger at 574-631-5293 or