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"Too Smart to be Religious?" Discreet Seeking Amidst Religious Stigma at an Elite College

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Boucher, Kateri; Kucinskas, Jaime

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Abstract To advance understandings of how religion manifests in subtle, nuanced ways in secular institutions, we examine student religiosity and spirituality at an elite liberal arts school marked by a strong intellectual collective identity. Using mixed research methods, we examine how the college’s structures and dominant culture influence students’ religiosity and spirituality. Despite an institutional commitment to promoting students’ self-exploration and inclusion of social “diversity,” we found both campus structures and mainstream culture deterred open spiritual and religious exploration and identification. The structure of the college and its dominant secular, intellectual culture reinforced: (1) a widespread stigma against religious and spiritual expression, (2) a lack of dialogue about the sacred, (3) discreetness in exploring and adhering to sacred beliefs and practices, and (4) a large degree of religious and spiritual pluralism. Our findings additionally illustrate that early exposure to the campus culture’s critical regard for religion had a long-lasting impact on students’ religiosity. A majority of students kept their religious and spiritual expressions hidden and private; only a marginalized minority of students embraced their expressions publically. To increase students’ comfort with religious and spiritual exploration, we propose that colleges foster intentional peer dialogues early in the college experience. Furthermore, we recommend that campus communities prioritize religious and spiritual literacy and respect. (author's abstract)
Keywords college; university; elite; student; religiousness; spirituality; religion; attitude; religious criticism; identity formation; collective identity; secularization; stigmatization; exclusion; faith; diversity; discrimination; stereotype; tolerance
Classification Sociology of Religion; Sociology of Science, Sociology of Technology, Research on Science and Technology
Document language English
Publication Year 2016
Page/Pages p. 40-51
Journal Social Inclusion, 4 (2016) 2
Issue topic Religious Diversity and Social Inclusion
ISSN 2183-2803
Status Published Version; peer reviewed
Licence Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works