- It’s All About Jesus: Faith as an Oppositional Collegiate Subculture
In the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Bill Cosby’s long-running animated series, “Fat Albert and Cosby Kids,” was a staple on Saturday morning programming. Each episode blended humor, music, fun, and an important lesson about life. Cosby, who voiced some of the characters, appeared on screen in live action sequences, periodically, to guide the story and provide insights and explanations. At the start of each episode he always lightheartedly cautioned the viewer, “This is Bill Cosby comin’ at cha with music and fun, and if you’re not careful you may learn something before it’s done.” This was the experience of reading Magolda and Ebben Gross’s ethnography, It’s All About Jesus: Faith as an Oppositional Collegiate Subculture. The authors, like Cosby, give voice to the characters, tell richly descriptive stories, and come forward to offer perspectives and interpretations. And before it’s done, important lessons are learned about student culture, higher education, and qualitative research methodology.
It’s All About Jesus is an unblinking examination of Students Serving Christ (SSC), a pseudonym for an evangelical Christian group at a Midwestern public university. Over the 2-year ethnography, Magolda and Ebben Gross utilize observations and interviews, rich narratives and penetrating analysis, to provide their readers access to the inner workings of this overlooked collegiate evangelical student subculture. From their perspectives as both insiders and outsiders, the authors observe the organization and how students affect [End Page 448] one another, from recruitment, to leadership development, to graduation, to preparing for life after college.
The authors fill a void in higher education which, while not being hostile, has been indifferent to the presence of faith-based student organizations; perhaps largely out of misunderstanding of the important role they can play in students’ lives. Though focused on a specific student organization, the authors offer broader lessons about religion in higher education, cocurricular pedagogy, student culture, and student learning.
The first three chapters of the book, in a very engaging manner, provide an overview of key elements of the research method. The authors deftly establish the need and purpose of the study by identifying the research questions, setting, and theoretical framework. In addition, they detail the emergent design of the study, including the procedures used to insure research quality. In the third chapter, the authors position themselves as the researchers and “lay bare” their own religious journeys, an essential step in setting the context and insuring the integrity of the process.
In chapter 4 the authors move from the methodology and focus on five participants of the study and the themes that emerge from these biographies. The fifth chapter places the reader in the presence of the organization’s leadership as they plan their recruitment strategies for the upcoming fall. In chapter 6, the theme of the oppositional subculture, introduced in earlier chapters, is examined more closely as authors explain how the student organization distinguishes itself as a subculture by opposing the dominant secular university, the dominant secular student culture, and the other larger and more dominant Christian organizations on campus. Chapter 7, perhaps the densest in the book, focuses on learning principles as two single-sex Bible studies, as well as a mentor training workshop, are observed. The authors describe the pedagogy of the leaders/ teachers of each of these learning experiences and then analyze the practices using a variety of theoretical models.
In chapters 8 and 9, the authors observe a set of training workshops that provide the readers with a sense of the structure and outreach efforts of the SSC which includes the role training and development play in perpetuating the subculture—creating new leaders and teaching them how to recruit non-Christians. In chapter 10, the authors attend a senior seminar designed to prepare students for the transition from the structure and comfort of the SSC to the challenges of secular life after graduation. Chapter 11 chronicles the six SSC...