Does getting a college education in a faith-based context develop more virtuous graduates? Baylor University researchers have been given a $2.7 million grant to find out.
The John Templeton Foundation has awarded the grant to Baylor — a Baptist-affiliated school in Waco, Texas — for a project titled “The Role of Meta-identity in Developing Moral Communities Within Higher Education.”
Project co-leaders are Sarah Schnitker, associate professor of psychology, and Perry Glanzer, professor of educational foundations and resident scholar with Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. The research will be done in partnership with colleagues from Baylor, the University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College, the Oxford Pastorate, Loyola Marymount University and the Anselm House Christian study center.
Over a two-year period, researchers will follow students at three religiously affiliated institutions, five centers or institutes for Christian study that promote spiritual formation and community for college students, and five secular universities.
A Baylor news release said researchers hypothesize that Christian study centers adjacent to secular universities “are uniquely positioned to provide a hybrid model of educational and religious development.”
“This grant really helps us to understand the role of context in developing character strengths and virtues and the different ways that religious context in particular might influence how different models merge and influence virtue development across time,” Schnitker said. “We’re really interested in Christian study centers as a unique hybrid model of providing both intellectual and religious context, and how that affects the development and moral formation of college students.”
Parts of the new study will be fashioned after an existing Baylor study, the Spirituality and Character Study, which examined the influence of a Baylor education on a student’s faith and character. That previous study led by Schnitker, Glanzer and Kevin Dougherty, associate professor of sociology, demonstrated stronger character development among Baylor students. It found that Baylor seniors reported higher measures of character —including forgiveness of others, forgiveness of situations, gratitude, openness to revising one’s viewpoint and respect for others’ viewpoints — than freshmen. Seniors also reported more curiosity, faith, judgment, love of learning, perseverance, prudence and wisdom.
“We came to the realization that in order to figure out how to strengthen spiritual development and virtue, we had to determine where students are at to begin with,” Glanzer said. “We were able to acquire a great deal of data analyzed by a multidisciplinary team to find out our effectiveness and to determine what really works. We’ve used the data to change the way we do things and make improvements in various areas, such as chapel, or addressing different student groups. It’s a form of Christian stewardship and accountability in that we can examine how well an institution does the things it seeks to do in serving students. I’m excited that this research can be translated in the organizations where this research takes place.”