Grant will fund longitudinal study of students at centers and institutes for Christian study, secular universities, and religiously affiliated universities
By Derek Smith, Baylor University Marketing & Communications
WACO, Texas (Feb. 7, 2022) – Baylor University researchers will examine virtue formation in higher education moral communities, both secular and faith-based, with a $2.7 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The project, “The Role of Meta-identity in Developing Moral Communities Within Higher Education,” is co-led by Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, and Perry Glanzer, Ph.D., professor of educational foundations and resident scholar with Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, in partnership with colleagues from Baylor, the University of Notre Dame, Wheaton College, the Oxford Pastorate, Loyola Marymount University and the Anselm House Christian study center.
Over a two-year period, researchers will conduct longitudinal studies of students at three religiously affiliated institutions, five centers or institutes for Christian study that promote spiritual formation and community for college students, and the five secular universities whose students those Christian study centers serve. Institutes or centers for Christian study are organizations and facilities adjacent to campuses that serve students in a shared religious context to think and live as Christians, students and citizens.
The research team will employ both qualitative and quantitative data gathering and interviews, along with program mapping and evaluation, to measure intellectual, moral, performance and civic virtue development and to investigate the impact on virtue formation across different contexts. Researchers hypothesize that Christian study centers adjacent to secular universities are uniquely positioned to provide a hybrid model of educational and religious development. Institutes and centers for Christian study stand to benefit from the research, as researchers will create a toolkit comprised of best-practices for virtue development, along with journal articles, books and more.
“This grant really helps us to understand the role of context in developing character strengths and virtues and the different ways that religious context in particular might influence how different models merge and influence virtue development across time,” Schnitker said. “We’re really interested in Christian study centers as a unique hybrid model of providing both intellectual and religious context, and how that affects the development and moral formation of college students.”
Survey and interviews methods for the project stem in part from a unique Baylor University project designed to examine the impact of a Baylor education on a student’s faith and character. The Spirituality and Character Study, which was led by Schnitker, Glanzer and Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, provided longitudinal data indicating stronger character among students. That approach informs the new study funded by the John Templeton Foundation beyond the Baylor campus.
“We came to the realization that in order to figure out how to strengthen spiritual development and virtue, we had to determine where students are at to begin with,” Glanzer said. “We were able to acquire a great deal of data analyzed by a multidisciplinary team to find out our effectiveness and to determine what really works. We’ve used the data to change the way we do things and make improvements in various areas, such as chapel, or addressing different student groups. It’s a form of Christian stewardship and accountability in that we can examine how well an institution does the things it seeks to do in serving students. I’m excited that this research can be translated in the organizations where this research takes place.
“We’re incredibly grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for this grant and for the ways they make character and human flourishing a central part of what they do in higher education,” Glanzer said.
Additional Baylor research team members include Karen Melton, Ph.D., associate professor in child and family studies; Wade Rowatt, Ph.D., professor of psychology; and Dougherty. Andrew Hansen, Ph.D., program director at Anselm House serving the University of Minnesota serves as a co-principal investigator. Ward Davis, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College, and Daniel Lapsley, Ph.D., ACE Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, partner on the project in data collection. Jason Baehr, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount, and Jonathan Brant, Ph.D., faculty of theology and religion at University of Oxford, also are consultants.
“This is an incredibly exciting team-science approach that provides extensive multidisciplinary experience,” Schnitker said. “There have been very few studies of this size that have looked at character development across time in college students, and that’s what’s so meaningful about this grant as we bridge perspectives people have on virtue development through rigorous inquiry.”