The Contours and Expressions of Contemporary Student Spirituality at a New Zealand University: An Exploratory Study
As a chaplain at two tertiary institutions, I have an interest in students’ spirituality as well as the relationship between spirituality and students’ well-being. The aim of this project was to explore the contours and expressions of contemporary student spirituality at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand (NZ). In particular, to investigate how students at one residential college understood their sense of spirituality, how they supported it and lived it out in practice, and what difference they perceived their spirituality made to their well-being while at university. Seventy (14%) of the 495 students, in the college selected, agreed to participate in the study. This project drew on research into student spirituality conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) among more than 100,000 college students in the USA between 2004 and 2007. This thesis employed a survey instrument based on the HERI one, modified in a minor way (some linguistic changes to suit the NZ context). In addition to the HERI format, a number of open-ended questions were added to the survey to add some richness and depth to the quantitative questions. The thesis sought to answer three main questions. Regarding the first question, In what ways do first year students at one residential college at the University of Otago conceptualise and operationalise their sense of spirituality? , the overall findings suggested that students were able to articulate definitions and/or experiences of spirituality and/or religion that accorded well with definitions in the literature. For example, meaning and purpose, relationship, beliefs and values, etc. When asked to describe their current views about spiritual/religious matters (from a list of options), more than half of the respondents indicated that their views were either conflicted, doubting, or seeking. This may suggest that quite a large number of respondents were possibly engaging somehow with religious/spirituality-related questions. But just 10 percent reported that they seek to follow religious teaching in their everyday life. Regarding the second question, How do the results of this study compare with those found by the UCLA HERI study of student spirituality in the USA? similar mean scores were reported by both Otago students and the USA students in the HERI study with respect to spiritual identification, an awareness of being on a spiritual quest, and a sense of equanimity. Similarities between the mean scores for the HERI and Otago cohorts were also observed for most of the spiritually related qualities, except charitable involvement with lower scores for Otago. With regards to the religiosity scales, the US respondents scored considerably higher than the Otago students. NZ census figures have indicated, and anecdotal evidence supports, the understanding that New Zealanders are far less religious than North Americans with respect to religious identification and practice and are far more religiously sceptical. Concerning the third question In what ways do students’ sense of spirituality contribute to their well-being?, both answers to individual questions and the different scales suggested that respondents were definitely interested in areas of spirituality that related to well-being, even if they may not have realised or articulated in other answers that they were interested in spirituality. These areas included the search and interest in questions of purpose and meaning in life, and a desire to feel centred, a sense of peace and connectedness to the world. The results also suggest that as an institution we may need to be somewhat concerned about the status of well-being of first-year students. The survey was conducted in a residential college for first year students. Seventy students, 14 percent of the total population responded to the survey. All respondents were 18 or 19 years old, 67 percent were female, and 70 percent were born in New Zealand. Overall the demographic characteristics of the respondents reasonably reflected those of the total college population Overall, the findings suggested that there are some distinct possibilities for tertiary chaplains to play a role in enhancing the well-being of first-year students. The aspects of spiritual and psychological well-being seem closely connected. Chaplains might play a greater role in the context of staff development, as well as direct involvement in teaching optional or compulsory courses.
Advisor: van der Meer, Jacques; Pratt, Keryn; Morrison, Hugh
Degree Name: Doctor of Education
Degree Discipline: College of Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; spirituality; first-year; students
Research Type: Thesis