Sunday, August 19, 2007

Does College Secularize Students?

The problem with when what's considered a given hasn't been tested is that we often find out it's not a given.

For years the running assumption has been that higher education secularizes students. Christians have typically believed that secularization of the young results from the promulgation of a secular agenda, while those of a more secular bent have preferred the explanation that more education naturally exposes the irrationality of religious faith.

Like most people who haven't given it much though, I had usually accepted the conventional thought that college tends to be a secularizing force. Now, though, a study has been released that shows it might not be so.

A new study by Mark Regnerus, Jeremy Uecker, and Margaret Vaaler in the Spring 2007 issue of Social Forces suggests both sides are wrong from the outset. Their conclusion is that higher education doesn't secularize students.

It actually makes sense to me. Do you agree?


Greg said...

What I read in the above CT article seems reasonable and in line with what I've personally observed.

For instance, during my first week of college, there were some fellow freshmen who told me they needed to "start making up for lost time." At least one of them came from a deeply religious family. Obviously, whatever their planned "way of life" for the next few months was going to be, it had been thought out well before any college class had influenced them.

Although, I think the article makes it clear that most of today's colleges don't really force students to wrestle with matters of faith, whereas in the past (60's and 70's) it was more common for students to be challenged in such areas by their professors (or course material) regarding morals, beliefs, and ultimate truth. In that case, the article is essentially saying that colleges were more likely to "secularize" in the past (60's and 70's) than today.

This reminds me of a story my mom tells of a class (probably psychology) she took at Ohio State in the late 60's. When she walked into the classroom on the first day, the professor wrote in huge letters, taking up the ENTIRE blackboard, that special four letter word that begins with an "F" and ends with a "K." He then began that course by essentially explaining to his students, "This is a normal word for me. I use it quite frequently. Get used to it."

chris ridgeway said...

Hiya Mr. Westy. :)

I think how we define "secularizing" is worth examination as well. Isn't it inadvertently used as a cultural word (as in, "After leaving for college, Jess no longer wears her WWJD bracelet!") describing a move from a cultural Christian environment (involving language, tradition, ritual, clothing) outward to a less ensconced environment.

It might not describe actual sense of personal faith and kingdom-living at all.

Parents have asked me often over the years whether they should send their kids to a christian college or a "secular" state school (i.e. U of I). You know my answer. I think the daily in-your-face integration with the rest of society is precisely the maturation that 18-yr-olds should be ready for...

Westy said...

I think the daily in-your-face integration with the rest of society is precisely the maturation that 18-yr-olds should be ready for...
And I would argue, if it doesn't happen at age 18, it'll happen at age 22.