College Students, CRI, and Spiritual Struggles: Drilling down through the Sources

Zotero1

The first set of sources in my Zotero library

Millennials’ involvement in church has been one motivating factor in my spiritual journeys research. When I came across an article titled “Religion as Bridging or Bonding Social Capital: Race, Religion and Cross-racial Interaction for College Students” my interest was piqued. The title suggests that college students and their social interactions can benefit from an understanding of religious beliefs.

The article asserts that colleges have a responsibility to promote cross-racial interaction and cultivate an environment in which students from diverse backgrounds meaningfully engage with each other. The authors of the study recognize that structural, organizational, and social factors, i.e. religious affiliation, influence student interaction. Religion, interestingly, seems to be the most segregated aspect of American daily life both on and off campuses; Parks and Bowman cite research, particularly that of Bryant, that implies participation in religious communities has a negative relationship with diversity-related behaviors. Such organizations instead promote bonding of likeness. (Park & Bowman, 2015).

Zotero2

The second set of sources in my Zotero library

Consequently, the goal of this quantitative survey study is to examine whether religious observance, religious world view, and participation in religious student organizations affects cross-racial interaction (CRI). This is significant because college tends to be first opportunity for  young adults to interact with and make connections between different racial/ethnic groups.

The study presented the following five hypotheses:

  1. Participation in campus religious groups is associated with lower CRI.
  2. Students attending a religious group with a majority of the same race would have lower CRI than groups with a more diverse majority.
  3. Students who identify as Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Hindu (religious minorities) would have higher CRI than the Protestant reference group.
  4. Students with higher religiosity will have lower CRI.
  5. There will be a negative relationship between religious activity and white students (Park and Bowman, 2015).

The study found that students belonging to religious minorities all had higher CRIs than Protestants. The authors were surprised to find that significant effects between religious group participation and CRI were lacking. Instead, religion seems to make it easier for students to create bridges between students of different races (Park and Bowman, 2015).

Because this study seemed to reflect a positive conclusion in regard to millennials and religiosity, I chose to investigate more of Alyssa Bryant’s study, a study Park and Bowman seemed to use as a counterargument and jumping off point for their study.  I found “The Impact of Campus Context, College Encounters, and Religious/Spiritual Struggle on Ecumenical Worldview Development” through the university online database.

This quantitative study of 14,274 college students analyzes how students develop an ecumenical worldview.The study used a four page survey to examine the extent to which religious/spiritual struggles mediate the relationship between campus contexts/college encounters and worldview. The findings illustrate that college experiences bring students into contact with religion, spirituality, and diversity in classroom and co-curricular settings. More challenging experiences tend to provoke religious and spiritual struggles, and while the struggles “stimulate acceptance of, interest in, and understanding of others…,” the experiences may cause lower levels of psychological well-being, physical health, and self-esteem (Bryant, 2011).

While Bryant’s article illustrates what might help students of different backgrounds and religions relate while on campus, it doesn’t clearly define spiritual struggles. The term interests me so I went to the references page and found the following article: “A Phenomenological Analysis of College Students’ Spiritual Struggles.”

This qualitative research study expands upon a 2008 quantitative research study that identifies correlative factors of students’ spiritual struggles. This follow-up study used interviews, transcriptions, and journal reflections to define and classify the spiritual struggles of college students.

The study found that spiritual struggles of college students can be summarized in one word: CONTRAST. Bryant, Walker, and Luzader write, “At their core, spiritual struggles were steeped in the conflicting, contradictory, and paradoxical aspects of life….Spiritual struggles revolved around deeply felt dualities in the most fundamental aspects of the human experience.”  As the chart from page 60 of the study reveals, religious struggles of young twentysomethings arise out of questions sparked by new experiences or new interpretations of previous experiences.

image

Millennials may be confused about church, but had I read the sources from bottom to top, instead of top to bottom, I would have recognized that positive experiences arise for this young generation out of religious questioning and exploration. Hope and faith may not be as lost as I had assumed they were. Faith, instead, is a starting point for relationships and connections as long as this generation stops being afraid to learn about it and discuss it.

References

Bryant, Alyssa N. “The Impact of Campus Context, College Encounters, and Religious/Spiritual Struggle on Ecumenical Worldview Development.” Research in Higher Education 52.5 (2011): 441–459. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.

Park, Julie J., and Nicholas A. Bowman. “Religion as Bridging or Bonding Social Capital Race, Religion, and Cross-Racial Interaction for College Students.” Sociology of Education 88.1 (2015): 20–37. Web. 5 Mar. 2015.

Rockenbach, Alyssa Bryant, Coretta Roseboro Walker, and Jordan Luzader. “A Phenomenological Analysis of College Students’ Spiritual Struggles.” 53.1 (2012): 55–75. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.

Advertisements

Kendrick Lamar: Rapper or Vessel?

The senior cheerleaders on the team I coach were the first ones to introduce me to Kendrick Lamar. They asked if we could put his song “i” into our pep rally mega mix. I listened to the free clip available in the iTunes store and said it sounded good. When the girls brought the mix cd to practice, my heart almost exploded into my chest. There was some language coming out of the speakers in our high school gym that was much too explicit for me to have approved. I labored for hours to censor the swear words out of the mix without distorting the sound too much. I was sweating, but I was successful. All of the students loved the song and the routine.

Now, with this experience in mind, imagine my shock when I saw that Revelant Magazine tweeted a link to an article titled “Kendrick Lamar: All I am is a Vessel, Doing His Work.” Um, there’s no way bknation_Kendrick-Lamar-hoodie.jpgthat this could be the same Kendrick Lamar who was rapping about the the mother “effers” who doubted him. Why would someone who uses that language be calling himself God’s vessel?  My mind went back to media debate from a few years ago, started when Kathy Griffin won an Emmy and declared she wanted to thank everybody but God. Huffpost Live discussed this claim and the thanks to God that celebrities give after winning awards, a video in which Gospel music producer John Murray states,  “I just want your work to be at least church appropriate. If you can’t necessarily perform your work or at least go to church without feeling like a hooker in church, I think maybe you shouldn’t be thanking God.” I felt like Murray should be sharing this statement with Lamar.

Then, I clicked on to read Relevant’s article. The article was short, only two paragraphs in length, but it linked to a profile of Lamar the New York Times published today. The profile, seemingly purposed to address the spiritual and politic implications of his new album, To Pimp a Butterfly, shares the key aspects of his spiritual journey and relationship with God. As it turns out, Lamar considers himself to be “saved,” thanks to a grandmother of one of his teenage friends in Compton, California approached him in a grocery store parking lot following the murder of one of Lamar’s friends and asked if he accepted God. He goes so far as to call the woman an “angel for [he and his friends].”

Just because Lamar considers himself to be save, he maintains his humanity and recognizes that he is more susceptible to sin. This new album was a way for him to explore, reflect, and share the stories of his struggle. Joe Coscarelli, the author of the Times article, writes “[Fame] brought only more opportunities for sin and self-doubt, an internal chaos reflected not only in Mr. Lamar’s intricate stories but also in vigorous jazz- and funk-inflected production that builds on the smoother West Coast sounds of his debut.” Okay, so now, maybe  I can see how he would be working as a vessel. He’s sharing his constant struggle to do the right thing. Just because he isn’t what one would consider saintly doesn’t mean that he can’t be working to serve God.

As the picture to left of this picturuseyoue, which I conveniently found in my Facebook newsfeed when brainstorming for this post (coincidence?), reminds us, a servant of God doesn’t have to be perfect. If God found a purpose for Noah, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, and David, it doesn’t seem so absurd that he might find a purpose for a rap artist who liberally uses the “F” word. Perhaps Lamar is correct, and he can share the stories on his album because it’s part of God’s plan. Lamar is quoted in the Times article as saying, ” I know that from being on tour — kids are living by my music…My word will never be as strong as God’s word. All I am is just a vessel, doing his work.” Lamar doesn’t seem to be too prideful for his own good; in fact, he seems humble and understanding that he is a part of something bigger than himself. He seems like he wants to contribute anything that he can.

Knowing this, I went back and took a closer look at the lyrics from the song, “i.” The intro verse of this song reads, “I done been through a whole lot: trial, tribulation but I know God. The devil wanna put me in a bow tie. Pray that the holy water don’t go dry.”  The first sentence demonstrates that all of the difficulties Lamar has gone through but asserts that he has never wavered in his belief that God was with him. The second line that mentions the devil, according to Rap Genius contributors, alludes to funeral attire, as bow ties are often worn by the deceased. Because he hails from such a high crime area, it seemed likely that he would meet a fate similar to the terrible one of his friend. He looks to God though, the “holy water” to protect him and prays.

A majority of the song continues, arguing that as long as you love yourself, you can then love the seemingly dark place that is the rest of the world, as it is “illuminated by the hand of God.

As I write this, I have the song playing, and my mom is still complaining about Lamar’s language and her inability to understand any words besides the “bad ones.” I, on the other hand, have realized that maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. After all, in addition to being religious and working to change the rap industry, Lamar doesn’t drink or smoke. He does say of himself, “From my perspective, I can only give you the good with the bad.”

If we can overlook some of his word choice, we can definitely see the good.

Dear Lauren: A Research-Related Surprise! Love, iTunes.

As you may know, this week, I’ve been working on a series of posts about religion, Christianity, and music. The first post touched on my experiences with music in church. The second post reflected on my impressions of three recommended worship bands. With this post, I’m examining how I’ve unknowingly been a fan of some Christian music for years and the implications of my discovery.

The Discovery

iphone-what-if-its-notNow, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but my iPhone is like an additional appendage of my body. I take it everywhere with me, and I almost always have at least one app running throughout the day. Saturday night was no exception. While I was getting ready to go to a designer bag bingo fundraiser, I set my phone on the bathroom counter and turned the volume up as my iTunes Music app shuffled through my library. Relient K came on as I was steadying my hand to put on eyeliner. That’s when I heard the line.

“But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.”

Good thing I hadn’t started drawing on my lid yet, because if I had, I’m certain I would have poked my own eye out in surprise. That line sounds extremely Christian, I thought as I put the eye pencil down on the counter. I started the song over and listened. Other lines from the song “Be My Escape” that struck me included the following:

  • “He’s told me the way and now I’m trying to get there.”
  • “I’m a hostage to my own humanity”
  • “I fought You for so long. I should have let You in.”

This may or may not surprise you, but in high school, I went through a major alternativRelientKRelientKe, pop punk music phase. Relient K’s Mmhmm was among one of my favorites. I had always thought “Be My Escape” was a song about a desired relationship, a song about a guy waiting to finally get the girl. Was I naive? Or just blissfully unware?

Perhaps because I’ve been researching religion and spiritual journeys lately, the lyrics so obviously reveal the speaker’s connection with God. I’m going to claim that I was unaware. As it turns out, Relient K is classified as Christian rock band.

The Findings

Formerly unbeknownst to me, Relient K’s second album, Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…But Three Do, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Gospel album. Soon after, the band broke into the mainstream music scene in 2004 with the release of Mmhmm, an album that went on to peak in the top 15 of the Billboard 200 chart.

Adownload (1)fter sitting back and reading through lyrics of my favorite songs on Mmhmm, my favorite of the band’s albums, I feel like the band is having a conversation God rather than discussing love come and gone. For example, the song “The One I’m Waiting For” sounds, at first listen, like a song about a young guy wanting the popular girl and being rejected. “And she’s so confident that she’s what everybody wants. But nobody wants her to know that.” This girl is admired, and the singer is left in the cold, alone, tapping his foot in anticipation for the rest of eternity. “And I’m still waiting for you to be the one I’m waiting for.”

However, a more nuanced listen might suggest that the guy in the song isn’t just waiting for the girl to like him; he’s waiting for her to change, waiting for someone who would be worth waiting for. Waiting. For. Could “the one I’m waiting for” mean more than just waiting for her to be good enough for him? Could it mean waiting for her to be the one worth waiting until marriage for? Ah! Abstaining–there’s a definitive Christian value.

This discovery sparked further discoveries, as I scrolled through my iTunes library to see if anything else in my library related to Relient K.

I came across Anberlin‘s “Paperthin Hymn,” which shares the line “When life is in discord, praise ye Lord.” H220px-Paperthin_Hymnmmm.

I went to work on researching Anberlin and found that many of the band’s members call themselves Christian but that Anberlin doesn’t recognize itself as a Christian band. However, they also imply that some of their songs may have Christian messages. In an article cited on Beliefnet, lead vocalist Steven Christian (I promise, that’s his real name) shares, “I just simply write about life experiences, and when God comes out, then God comes out … But I’m also not going to inhibit that or I’m not going to try to create that feeling just to sell records to more Christians or talk about God less just to sell more records to the general market.”

The notion that their songs may also be interpreted as religious is also supported by the fact that the band was Tooth & Nail Records, a known force in the Christian music scene.

Much like Anberlin, Switchfoot, creators of the song “Meant to Live,” which declares “Dreaming about Providence and whether mice or men have second tries. Maybe we’ve been livin’ with our eyes half open. Maybe we’re bent and broken. We were meant to live for so much more,” is also often described as a Christian band. The members, also like Anberlin, work to reject this classification. Lead singer Jon Foreman, as cited on CTK Blog, states, “I am a believer. Many of these songs talk about this belief. An obligation to say this or do that does not sound like the glorious freedom that Christ died to afford me.”

Once again, I receive clarification that, yes, that so much more we are meant to live for might mean Heaven. It might mean God. The band writes and believes as they see fit, whether they have a label or not.

I not only possessed Christian music, but I enjoyed it.

The Meaning

If anything, my findings about some beloved songs from my high school days seems to have proven a few things for me.

1. Christian music isn’t something only for the highly devout. It doesn’t live in churches. It lives and breathes in our society. It’s enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike. It can interpreted as being about God. It can be interpreted as being about a relationship. It can be interpreted as the listener so chooses, meaning it appeals to a wide audience, and that’s key for success.

2. Christian music doesn’t have to be evangelical. It doesn’t have to be working to convert or change its audience. It can simply be about the artist sharing his or her feelings and his or her concerns. If others happen to enjoy it and relate, that is just a bonus.

3. Christians can clearly still have an edgy side. Guitar riffs, loud drums, and somewhat abrasive sounds can be found on each of these bands’ albums. It’s not something made for the stereotypical old church lady, a small Sunday school student and a teenager. It  can just appeal to the teenager.

And even though I’m not a teenager, it still appeals to me, and I will continue to rock out to it as I drive with my windows down.

Extremism: The Commonality between ISIS, “Jesus Camp,” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

Snow hit New Jersey Thursday, and school was closed for two days. Translation: I was off from work  and afforded the luxury of what to do with my free time. As you may have seen from my previous post, I spent Wednesday night preparing for the storm by watching Jesus Camp, a documentary about a Pentecostal Evangelical children’s summer camp. I spent Thursday reading Writing Ethnographic Field Notes and preparing to write about my observational experience in my campus’ student center. Friday, I decided to do some more research on religion in pop culture. Translation: I spent a lot of time scrolling through Twitter and a lot of time watching Netflix’s newly released original series, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I had no idea this would actually become a productive task.

As I learned in just the first episode, the lead character in the series, unbreakable_kimmy_2701_NAKimmy Schmidt, was kidnapped by a fanatical “religious leader” of a doomsday cult who convinced four women God had brought the apocalypse to Earth and killed everyone but those who lived safely in their underground bunker. The show, then, picks up 15 years later, when Kimmy is rescued by SWAT team members and begins trying to make sense of life above ground by re-evaluating flashback experiences to her time in the bunker.

Three hours, and 6 episodes in, I was wondering why someone who seems so intelligent (for only having an 8th grade education) would believe this ridiculous message. Twitter, surprisingly, was there to answer my question when I received the following tweet in response to one about my blog.

While it was relevant, I hadn’t really tweeted anything about Islam. In fact, my knowledge of Islam is extremely limited to things I’ve heard in the media–things about Islamic extremists. I clicked the link in good faith, thinking I might learn something applicable to my research, even though it seemed more like a spammer trying to get traffic to his page than anything else.  What I found was a link between the facts I’d garnered about ISIS from the media, the documentary I’d watched, and the doomsday cult that captured Kimmy Schmidt.

Yes, I recognize that it may seem extremely unsympathetic of me to make a comparison between a group that is violently and publicly killing Christians and a comedic sitcom about a nonsensical cult, but hear me out. The issues at the heart shine light on some very important concepts in religion. I am not working to justify the actions of any extremist group but merely working to help us understand why the followers of extremist groups might do what they do in the name of God.

In the article “Belief vs.Trust” by Dr. Safdar DushanTappeh, as tweeted to me by @islamrevisited, Dr. DushanTappeh argues that in every religion “there are always some notions, rules, and rituals that cannot be explained rationally and the religious person is expected to blindly swallow them with the added flavor of belief and trust.” This would explain why we, as bystanders, can’t wrap our heads around the actions of self-proclaimed religious groups that seem so blatantly anti-religious. His thesis, then, argues that this blind trust is the same corruption religion was formed to confront. With this argument, religious belief and religious trust are not the same.

DushanTappeh moves to define the following two terms in his writing:

1. Belief: The foundation of religious thought, the unprovable principles around which a religious man or woman will structure his life. 

2. Trust: The reliance a religious man or woman puts on the source of beliefs, whether divine creator, religious text, or religious leader.

The problem with beliefs is that while they are the foundation of religion,they have to come from somewhere. A religious person often looks to his or her religious leaders for guidance in understanding and practicing beliefs. This seems logical and valuable. Religious leaders are trained in interpreting and sharing religious texts. Why shouldn’t they be trusted by their congregations? Well, it is important to remember that interpretation is subjective. And one thing I will always remember from my English professors in college is that some interpretations can be wrong, particularly those that take parts of the works out of context.

ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq andisis-army-700x430 al-Sham), according to Graeme Wood’s article in The Atlanticfollows a “distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.” ISIS isn’t Islam. ISIS is leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s version of Islam. Islamic State’s chief spokesperson, as cited by Wood, juxtaposes biblical punishments with modern violence by calling Muslims to “smash his head with a rock,” poison him, run him over with a car, or “destroy his crops.”

So, yes, ISIS is attracting psycopaths and adventure seekers, but it’s central messages are derived from coherent and learned interpretations of Islam. The messages are just being skewed by Baghdadi, and the followers are misplacing trust in him.

This is the same way, in my opinion, the children in Jesus Camp, misplaced trust in Becky Fisher who called them soldiers in a war for God. This is the same way Kimmy Schmidt believed Richard Wayne Gary Wayne who declared the world was ending. Believers see an authority who is telling them something terrifying, telling them they have a duty, and. perhaps out of fear of God, they listen, even if it means going against their gut instincts.

Extremism in religion is problem caused by misplaced trust. This insight probably won’t help us solve the problems extremism creates, but it might help us understand why it seems to overtake rational, moral human thought.

The “Hey, what’s that on your forehead” Day Contradiction

In class this week, we discussed using Twitter as a research tool. I learned of the site Followerwonk, a site that helps you search user profiles and biographies for key words.  I did a quick search for some of the following key words: pastor, priest, Catholicism, and Christianity. The search returned so many results, and I quickly began following users in hopes that I might make some valuable digital connections.

It was then that I stumbled upon the hashtag #ashtag. It took me a minute before I got it, but then I remembered. Ash Wednesday is today. The hashtag includes priests encourage Catholics to attend church services and receive ashes. I get this. Twitter is a great way to reach out to the younger, technology-addicted generation of Catholics who may not be interested in heading to church on a Wednesday. A minute more of scrolling through, and I, much to my surprise, let out a gasp.

Could it be?

OnWednesdays
Photo credit: Twitter

Was I actually seeing…

FullSizeRender (2)
Photo credit: Twitter @markalves

…ridiculously inappropriate Ash Wednesday-related memes?

Going into this research, I had a vision of the Catholic church. It was traditional. It was stuffy. It was boring.I could sit in mass and easily claim that half the attendees were over 40 and the other half were there being held against their will for a CCD attendance requirement. In between claims, I could fall asleep.

But now priests are tweeting. They’re making puns with “ash” and “ass.” They’re responding with sincerity to Twitter profiles that make jokes about the Catholic faith, even if those jokes are in good fun.

Twitter
Photo credit: Twitter

I feel like I have entered a parallel universe where everything I had learned has suddenly been tossed out the window.

It’s interesting. It’s exciting. It’s refreshing. It makes sense. Social media is a great way to keep a notoriously lethargic, disengaged age group engaged and active.

In the past 12 hours, I became very pro-Catholic Twitter.

Then I went to an Ash Wednesday service at my church. It was packed, which bolstered my enthusiasm. I had to park two blocks away from the church on a side street and cross a main road, giving me more time to muse about what it all meant. I continued thinking that maybe I was wrong all along about people turning away from Catholicism.

The Gospel reading, though, left me confused. I followed along in the Liturgy book with Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 to learn that Jesus told his disciples, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.” The priest’s homily reminded me and my fellow parishioners that these ashes are a symbol to remind us to be less selfless in the coming 40 days in hopes of getting closer with God.

If I am not supposed to take part this in action for others to see, if I am supposed to anoint may head and wash my face, if I am supposed to be less selfless, why are the Twitter priests telling me to post a selfie with my ashes? Why am I being asked to so publicly commemorate my worship actions? It seems to be a contradiction, and it doesn’t make much sense.

Christianity Today posted an interesting article calling into question the piety of the #ashtag. It suggests that a more appropriate way to spread awareness would be personal conversations, a lost art.

It seems as though the Catholic community is trying to be open to the majority but in doing so, it is challenging its own doctrine. I feel like this may be why the Catholic church has remained so deeply rooted in traditional practices–when it tries to reach out and be socially relevant, the results are inherently problematic.

Going forward, I would love to discuss this issue with a priest while conducting my research. I also feel as though it would be an excellent segue into a conversation about making religion more appealing to a young generation and why such a task may or may not be difficult.

But first, let me take an #ashtag.

ashtag