Matthew Heller is a CREV Faculty Fellow for 2018-2019
Matthew Heller (Department of Psychology), Longitudinal Study of Religious/Spiritual Development in Emerging Adults
Christian teaching is clear that authentic belief in God should lead to beneficial moral and social outcomes (e.g., fruit of the Spirit, love of one’s neighbor). Alongside their purely educational goals, private Christian colleges and universities understand their mission to help form the character, morals, and spiritual lives of their students. My research examines the question of how and to what extent spiritual and religious development occurs in emerging adults, focusing particularly on the role of faith-based institutions. I apply tools and methods common in psychology to study the formation of religious and spiritual beliefs within a Christian university environment. This study enhances previous research by utilizing a longitudinal survey design comparing Christian university students to secular university students, as well as age-mates who are not enrolled in higher education. Through this project I explore the impact of numerous variables, including social influences (faculty, peer groups, family), extracurricular involvement (e.g., athletics), religious and spiritual variables (e.g., denomination, attendance, self-rated importance), and demographics. I also utilize several psychometrically strong scales of religion and spirituality (e.g., Religious engagement, Social/religious conservatism, Religious commitment, Gratitude, Self-control, Patience, Faith Maturity Scale). Through this research I hope to illuminate some of the remaining questions and advance the discussion about Christian higher education’s role and impact on character development.