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Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students' Inner Lives

ISBN: 978-0-470-76933-1
240 pages
November 2010, Jossey-Bass
Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students


This book is predicated on the belief that the spiritual development of college students has been largely ignored in our colleges and universities, despite the importance of spiritual matters to young people in their quest to lead integrated lives. Thus, while academics are understandably proud of their "outer" accomplishments in the fields of science, medicine, technology, and commerce, colleges and universities have increasingly come to neglect the student's "inner" development--the sphere of values and beliefs, emotional maturity, spirituality, and self-understanding.

The book defines "spiritual development" very broadly: how students make meaning of their education and their lives, how they develop a sense of purpose, the value and belief dilemmas that they experience, as well as the role of religion, the sacred, and the mystical in their lives. Each student, of course, will view his or her spirituality in a unique way. For many, traditional religious beliefs and practices may form the core of their spirituality; for others such beliefs and practices may play little or no part. While two-thirds of the students in the study express a strong interest in spiritual matters, well over half report that their professors never encourage discussions of religious/spiritual matters, and about the same proportion report that professors never provide opportunities to discuss the purpose and meaning of life.

By raising public awareness of the important role that spirituality plays in student learning and development, by alerting academic administrators, faculty, and curriculum committees to the importance of spiritual development, and by identifying possible strategies for enhancing that development, the book will encourage institutions to give greater priority to these spiritual aspects of students’ educational and personal development.

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Table of Contents

About the Authors.


1 Why Spirituality Matters.

2 Assessing Spiritual and Religious Qualities.

3 Spiritual Quest: The Search for Meaning and Purpose.

4 Equanimity.

5 Spirituality in Practice: Caring For and About Others.

6 The Religious Life of College Students.

7 Religious Struggle and Skepticism.

8 How Spiritual Growth Affects Educational and Personal Development.

9 Higher Education and the Life of the Spirit.

Appendix: Study Methodology.




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Author Information

Alexander W. Astin is the Allan M. Cartter Professor of Higher Education, emeritus, at the University of California at Los Angeles. A recent study in the Journal of Higher Education identified him as the most-frequently-cited author in the higher education field.

Helen S. Astin is Distinguished Professor emerita of Higher Education and senior scholar in the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Jennifer A. Lindholm is special assistant to the vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of California at Los Angeles and director of the Spirituality in Higher Education project.

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"A groundbreaking study of the spiritual growth of college students.... The spiritual dimension of higher education has been explored from a variety of angles for the past twenty years, but not until now have we had a competent and comprehensive body of data organized around well-defined dimensions of this complex phenomenon. This is an essential book for anyone in academia who cares about the education of the whole person."
Parker J. Palmer, author, The Heart of Higher Education, A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, and The Courage to Teach

"An extremely important book for layperson and professional alike. A stunning wake-up call for higher education—highly recommended!"
Ken Wilber, author, The Integral Vision

"Cultivating the Spirit makes a unique and important contribution to one of the least examined yet most fundamental questions about undergraduate education: how students acquire the values and convictions that help to give meaning and purpose to their lives.... The authors provide a wealth of valuable findings about this vital process and its effects on student achievement, well-being, and personal growth in college."
Derek Bok, former president, Harvard University, and author, The Politics of Happiness

"The fruit of a decade of elegantly designed and compelling research, Cultivating the Spirit provides timely and significant data for reorienting the conversation about the relationships among intellectual inquiry, traditional academic values, and the formation of the inner life. Informative, clearly written, essential, and evocative reading for today's faculty across all institutions—public and private, secular and religious."
Sharon Daloz Parks, author, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams and Leadership Can Be Taught

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Press Release

October 29, 2010
Cultivating the Spirit

Researchers Find College Students’ Spirituality Associated with Academic Growth and Satisfaction with College

 Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives details the need for Academia to “attend more to students’ spiritual development”

LOS ANGELES , CA– Researchers from UCLA’s Spirituality in Higher Education project have found that spiritual growth in college students enhances academic outcomes such as scholastic performance, psychological well-being, leadership development and satisfaction with college.  Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives, written by Alexander W. Astin, Helen S. Astin and Jennifer A. Lindholm, is the first national longitudinal study of students’ spiritual growth.  The book’s research represents a national study of college students’ search for meaning and purpose.  

For example, compared to students whose equanimity declines during college, those whose equanimity increases have a 50% better chance of earning at least a B+ average. Similarly, students whose Equanimity increases during college, compared to those whose Equanimity declines, are nearly three times more likely to end up being “very satisfied” with their college experience.

“We believe that the findings provide a powerful argument that higher education should attend more to students’ spiritual development,” stated co-author Alexander Astin.  “Spiritual development is not only an important part of the college experience in its own right, but also promotes other positive outcomes of college.”

The seven-year research study examined how students’ religious and spiritual views change during the college years and the role that college plays in facilitating the development of their spiritual and religious qualities.  The study surveyed 112,000 freshmen as they enrolled in 236 colleges and universities and then followed up with 14,527 of these students as they completed their junior year at 136 colleges. 

Some of the findings include:

  • Religious engagement among students declines somewhat during college, but their spirituality shows substantial growth. Students become more caring, more tolerant and more connected with others as well as more actively engaged in a spiritual quest.
  • College activities contribute to students' spiritual growth. Some of these--study abroad, interdisciplinary studies. interracial interaction, and service learning--appear to be effective because they expose students to new and diverse people, cultures and ideas.
  • Spiritual development is enhanced if students engage in "inner work" through activities such as meditation or self-reflection, or if their professors actively encourage them to explore questions of meaning and purpose. Spiritual development is impeded when students engage in activities that distract them from campus life opportunities--activities such as watching television and playing video games.

The seven-year study detailed in Cultivating the Spirit was funded through two generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation. The surveys were conducted as part of the Higher Education Research Institute’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program, the nation’s oldest and largest study of higher education.




About Spirituality in Higher Education

For more information, visit http://spirituality.ucla.edu/ and www.cultivatingthespirit.com.

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