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  • Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives
  • Christy Moran Craft and Benjamin E. Kohl
Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives. Alexander W. Astin, Helen S. Astin, and Jennifer A. Lindholm. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011, 228 pages, $40 (hardcover)

Because they believe that colleges and universities have not directed sufficient attention to students’ “inner development” (p. 2), the authors of this book sought to provide insight into the spiritual and religious growth of college students and the role that college plays in such development. Within the nine chapters contained in the book, along with a detailed appendix, the authors clearly describe the [End Page 362] methodology and results of a 7-year study that should challenge faculty and administrators alike to reflect upon the importance of “cultivating the spirit” of the students with whom they work.

In the first chapter, the authors discuss the reality that most students are interested in spiritual and religious matters and suggest that to “ignore students’ spiritual side results in fragmentation and a lack of authenticity” (p. 7). After providing their definitions of spirituality and religiousness, the authors conclude the first chapter with both an overview of the study as well as the key findings that “while students’ degree of religious engagement declines somewhat during college, their spirituality shows substantial growth” (p. 10) and that such growth enhances other college outcomes. Next, the development of the survey used in the research along with the five measures of spirituality and five measures of religiousness used in the study are described in chapter 2. The authors created the survey such that all students, irrespective of their spiritual or religious perspective, or lack thereof, should be able to respond in a meaningful way. To this end, specific references to denomination-specific beliefs were held to a minimum.

The authors spend the next three chapters highlighting findings related to their measures of spirituality. In chapter 3, they introduce the concept of spiritual quest, defined as an engagement in the search for meaning and purpose in life, and discuss interesting gender and religious differences with regard to that measure. Another spirituality measure, equanimity, describes the capacity to frame and reframe meaning under stress while maintaining a sense of composure and centeredness. This measure, discussed in chapter 4, shows significant growth among students during college and is positively related to other measures of spirituality and religiousness. Chapter 5 covers the final three measures of spirituality—ethic of caring, ecumenical worldview, and charitable involvement—all reflective of a sense of caring and connectedness to others. The authors view these measures as those that bridge the notion of spirituality with many religious traditions. Additionally, they discussed the effects of various college experiences (e.g., encouragement from faculty to explore issues related to meaning and purpose) upon these particular measures of spirituality.

The next two chapters highlight the five religiousness measures. Religious commitment (an internal quality), religious engagement (an external quality), and religious/social conservatism are all discussed in chapter 6. The authors found that students’ level of religious commitment changes very little during college, although participation in religious activities influences this measure. Furthermore, religious engagement and religious/social conservatism both decline during college. Interestingly, Baptists, other Christians, and Mormons display the highest levels of commitment, engagement and religious/social conservatism. The final two measures of religiousness— religious struggle and religious skepticism—are discussed in chapter 7. The authors reported an overall increase in the level of religious struggle from the undergraduate freshman year to the junior year. Religious skepticism, however, shows very little change, though six of the seven items suggested decreased skepticism.

The importance of spiritual growth with regard to its effect upon educational and personal development is discussed in chapter 8. Specifically, the authors focused upon the impact of religiousness and spirituality upon three outcomes: intellectual/academic, personal/emotional, and attitudinal. In this chapter, the authors also included a discussion about how some of the same practices that promote spiritual development can lead to other positive educational practices. Chapter 9, the final [End Page 363] chapter, provides a summary of the findings of the study with the goal of encouraging higher...


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pp. 362-364
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