The-Relationship-Between-Personal-Religiosity-and-Academic-Performance-Among-LDS-College-Students

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The Relationship Between Personal R eligiosity and Academic Performance Among LDS
College Students At Brigham Young University
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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
PERSONAL RELIGIOSITY AND ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE
AMONG LDS COLLEGE STUDENTS AT BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY
A Dissertation
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of
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Submitted to the Faculty
Purdue University
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by
Charles R. Line
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
of
Doctor of Philosophy
May 2005
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UMI Number: 3185795
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For Tami
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
In most humble and profound gratitude I would like to acknowledge the following
individuals for their love, encouragement, support, assistance, and sacrifice in allowing
me the privilege of pursuing a doctoral degree.
M y Wife: Tami, for her inestimable patience, sacrifice, and love.
M y Children: Andra, Megan, Kyle, Lauren, and McKenna; who all are hopefully
ready to have a full time father once again.
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My Mother: Janet, for inspiring and guiding me early in life.
My In-Laws: Leland and Susan Wright, for their love and encouragement.
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My committee: Professors Anne Knupfer, James Davidson, Tim Newby, and Bill
M clnem y of Purdue University.
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For technical assistance and moral support: Bruce Chadwick and Brent Top of
Brigham Young University, for their time, direction, resources, data, and encouragement;
Loni Gibb, my secretary, for holding the office together during the past few years - her
patience and understanding are deeply appreciated; the many students at the West
Lafayette Institute of Religion at Purdue University, for their kind words and constant
encouragement; Charles Kline of Purdue University, for giving me the chance to do
doctoral work at Purdue; John Georgeoff of Purdue University; Craig Johnson and Yong
Wang for statistical consulting; and the Church Educational System of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for their investment.
My friends, colleagues, and relatives, including: Bill Jones, Ken Huey, Rick
Bracey, the High Priest group of the Lafayette Second Ward, the morning basketball
crew with all their doctoral wisdom and support, and all my brothers and sisters across
the country.
In memory: my father, Charles R. Line, Sr., who instilled in me a desire to pursue
the study and acquisition of truth through both academic and religious inquiry.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
LIST OF TABLES....................................................................................................................... vi
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.....................................................................................................vii
ABSTRACT................................................................................................................................ viii
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CHAPTERS
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I. INTRODUCTION.......................................................................................................1
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1.1 Introduction.................................................................................................... 1
1.2 Statement o f the Problem ............................................................................. 2
1.3 Need for the S tu d y........................................................................................ 4
1.4 Theoretical Considerations..........................................................................5
1.5 Research Questions and H ypotheses........................................................10
1.6 Definition of Term s..................................................................................... 11
1.7 Limitations of the Study..............................................................................13
n. REVIEW OF LITERATURE................................................................................ 14
2.1 Early Studies................................................................................................ 14
2.2 Denominational differences....................................................................... 15
2.3 Racial and geographical issu e s..................................................................16
2.4 Considerations of Macro and Micro Religiosity..................................... 17
2.5 Indirect e ffects............................................................................................. 17
2.6 C oncerns....................................................................................................... 18
2.7 LDS Students................................................................................................19
2.8 College age students and the LDS factor.................................................21
III. M ETH O DO LO GY ................................................................................................ 23
3.1 Definitions and Assumptions of V ariables..............................................23
3.2 Sampling method and p rocedure.............................................................. 24
3.2.1 Population.................................................................................... 25
3.2.2 Pilot Study.....................................................................................25
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3.3
3.4
3.5
3.6
3.2.3 Sample..........................................................................................25
3.2.4 Instrumentation.......................................................................... 26
3.2.5 Data C ollection.......................................................................... 26
Measurement o f variables..........................................................................27
Research d esig n..........................................................................................28
Method(s) o f Data A nalysis...................................................................... 30
Possible Threats to V alidity...................................................................... 31
IV. R ESU LTS.................................................................................................................32
Purpose o f the Study.................................................................................. 32
Reliability: Threats to V alidity.................................................................32
Data Assessm ent......................................................................................... 35
Relationships Between Pairs o f V ariables.............................................. 39
Data A nalysis.............................................................................................. 42
Further Assessment.....................................................................................46
Summary...................................................................................................... 52
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4.1
4.2
4.3
4.4
4.4
4.5
4.6
Introduction.................................................................................................. 53
Summary o f S tu d y ...................................................................................... 53
Discussion o f R esults..................................................................................54
Limitation of the Results............................................................................ 60
Implications for Educators and Religious Leaders................................ 62
Suggestions for Further R esearch.............................................................63
Conclusions.................................................................................................. 64
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5.1
5.2
5.3
5.4
5.5
5.6
5.7
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V. DISCUSSION AND FINDINGS............................................................................ 53
LIST OF REFERENCES............................................................................................................66
APPENDICES
Appendix A: Threats to Validity................................................................................... 73
Appendix B: Survey Instrum ent................................................................................... 74
Appendix C: LDS Theology and Education............................................................... 80
Appendix D: Tables for Descriptive Stats & R egression......................................... 81
V ITA ............................................................................................................................................ 138
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LIST OF TABLES
Table
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Importance o f Religion in the Lives o f American Teenagers........................................20
2.
Descriptive Statistics o f Demographic Variables (Controls V ariables)...................... 36
3.
Descriptive Statistics o f Academic Variables (Dependent V ariables).........................36
4.
Descriptive Statistics o f Religiosity Variables (Independent Variables)..................... 36
5.
Q-Q Plot: Academic Achievement and Perceptions....................................................... 39
6.
Pearson Correlations - IV : Religiosity/Belief; D V : Academic Performance..............41
7.
Pearson Correlations - IV: Religiosity/Private; DV: Academic Perform ance........... 41
8.
Pearson Correlations - IV: Religiosity/Public; D V : Academic Perform ance............ 41
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9. Coefficients - Controlling for Religious B elief................................................................ 48
10. Coefficients - Controlling for Religious B elief - Interactions....................................... 49
11. Coefficients - Controlling for Public Religious P ractice................................................ 50
12. Coefficients - Controlling for Private Religious P ractice...............................................50
13. Mapping o f Religious Denominations: Religiosity & Academic Performance
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vii
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Figure
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1. Model for Predicting Academic A chievem ent...................................................................23
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ABSTRACT
Line, Charles R. Ph.D., Purdue University, May, 2005. The Relationship Between
Personal Religiosity and Academic Performance Among LDS College Students at
Brigham Young University. M ajor Professor: Anne M. Knupfer.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relationship between
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personal religiosity and academic performance. Social theory often claims that if any
relationship exists between religion and academic performance it is negative or non­
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existent. Recent studies suggest that perhaps a relationship can exist where religious
practice acts as a facilitating agent by influencing pro-social behaviors, thus impacting
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academic performance in positive ways. Certain denominations appear to have stronger
correlations than others when measuring these two variables against each other. In the
present study, LDS college students from Brigham Young University were surveyed as to
their religiosity; which was defined in terms of religious belief, public religious practice,
and private religious practice. Academic performance was also ascertained. Multiple
regression techniques were employed to measure the strength of the relationship among
variables. A strong relationship was found when using variables that assess private
religiosity, especially the area of personal scripture study, living church standards, and
personal prayer. Public religious practice had a moderate impact on academic
performance using certain variables related to church meeting attendance. Religious
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belief variables were found to be completely negligible in their impact on the same.
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These findings agree with similar studies done with LDS high school students.
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CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
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In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it
that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, 'This is better
than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said-grander,
more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed'? Instead,
they say. ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.' A
religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence o f the Universe as revealed by
m odem science might be able to draw forth reserves o f reverence and awe hardly
tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.
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Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision o f the Human Future in Space, p. 50.
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Auguste Comte, considered by m any to be the father o f sociology, postulated
what he termed to be a fundamental law o f history. He argued that societies, and the
individuals o f which they are comprised, experience three stages o f development:
theological, metaphysical, and positive (French for "scientific"). Comte reasoned that as
people become more sophisticated and contemporary, they would give up religious
explanations in favor o f those derived from science. Comte held to the belief that by the
end o f the nineteenth century religion would be nullified and replaced by science. His
prediction, although not fulfilled precisely, did hold some merit. The erosion o f religious
belief and its associated institutions in both the British Isles and the United States during
late nineteenth century have been well documented (Rudolph, 1962). Illustratively, early
twentieth century observers, such as Arnold Bennett, noted: “I never hear discussion
about religious faith now. Nobody in m y acquaintance openly expresses the least concern
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about it. Churches are getting em ptier... .The intelligentsia has sat back, shrugged its
shoulders, given a sigh of relief, and decreed tacitly or by plain statement: ‘The affair is
over and done with” ’ (Cox, 1982, p. 8). Likewise, Albrecht (1989) surmises that the
industrial world views religion and its associated interpretations as superfluous and
unnecessary, due to the advent of secular humanism and the corresponding impact of
contemporary science and education. Given this, one would expect secular education and
religion to be antithetical entities, hardly to be associated with each other.
Statement of the Problem
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There have been some social scientists in the past fifty years or so who have
attempted to connect religion and education, although such efforts have historically been
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the subject of much debate and even outright disdain. If any correlation between the two
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has been claimed, at least historically, it has tended to be a negative one. This is to say
that modem sociological perspective assumes that increased academic performance will
lead to (or at least be correlated with) decreased religious faith. According to Johnson
(1997), social scientists “have long ceased troubling themselves with exclusive
investigations of the relationship between formal education and religious belief...they
could simply assume as a matter of course that formal education induces a weakening of
faith” (p. 231). Chadwick and Top (2001) note that there are many researchers who claim
that higher education generally leads to secularization and a decline of religious practices
and personal spirituality. Regnerus (2000) cites various studies that likewise document
the secularizing effects of education on religiosity. Similarly, the converse has been
argued: the more religious, the less academically inclined one would tend to be. In
studies, such as Zem (1989), conclusions were noted that purport a negative relationship
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between religious belief and practice, and academic performance. As all trained social
researchers know, however, it is often difficult to determine which way cause and effect
variables flow. It is even more difficult, if not outright inappropriate, to claim causation
in the first place. That variables relate (or not) to each other is a better way to articulate
the issue.
Suffice it to say that religious concerns have not traditionally been viewed as
plausible additions to models that seek to ascertain academic performance (Darnell &
Sherkat, 1997). Interestingly, religion has been positively correlated with other activities
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which many would consider prosocial behaviors. For example, religious commitment and
physical health, according to McIntosh & Spilka (1990), are frequently correlated.
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Religious commitment has also been found to relate to a person’s ability to handle
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stressful events in a more productive way (Pargament, 1990; Seligman, 1991). The
development of social competence (Thomas & Carver, 1990), dealing with traumatic loss
(Balk, 1983; Palmer & Noble, 1986), and avoidance of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as
decreased teenage sexual activity (McIntosh, Fitch, W ilson, & Nyburg, 1981; Udry,
1988) have all been positively correlated with religious activity. Family stability, too, has
been correlated with religious activity (Shrum, 1980; Filsinger & W ilson, 1984; Pearce &
Axinn, 1998). Studies have also shown that religious activity can be correlated with
longer life expectancy (Hummer, Rogers, Nam, & Ellison, 1999), emotional health and
suicide avoidance (Donahue & Benson, 1995), lower levels of divorce (Booth,
Branaman, & Sica, 1995), greater marital satisfaction (Greeley, 1991), decreased
domestic violence towards spouse (Ellison, Bartkowski, & Anderson, 1997), greater
paternal involvement in family life (Wilcox, 2002), and various other factors related to an
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individual’s overall feeling of well being and happiness (Hammermeister & Peterson,
2001).
Given the many positive social correlates to religious activity as previously
mentioned, one would think that perhaps the same might possibly hold true with
religion’s impact on educational achievement. At the very least, one might question why
theoretical notions and empirical findings suggesting otherwise might possibly be valid.
Interestingly, there has been a growing body of empirical evidence in recent years that
suggests that religiosity might be a significant factor in the development of positive
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attitudes towards and high performance in educational achievement.
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Need for the study
Many studies have been done which address the general issue of religion in the
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lives of American youth (Smith, 2003). However, studies dealing with the relationship
between religiosity and academic performance are relatively few in number, since this
field of study is relatively new. Even at that, early studies in this area have focused on the
impact of religious schools on academic achievement, rather than personal religiosity’s
impact on the same (Chubb & Moe, 1990; Coleman, Thomas, & Kilgore, 1982; Lee &
Bryk, 1993). According to Jeynes (1999), very little work has been done to assess these
questions with regards to specific minority groups, of which LDS (Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormon) youth can be considered. Furthermore,
many studies which do involve such an analysis containing a religion variable generally
do not use religion as a variable of focus but rather as a control variable. Thus,
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researchers do not seem as concerned with assessing the direct affect of religion (Smith,
2003).
Even fewer studies have been done with LDS students; of those, exclusive interest
has been given to the high school level. One note of interest in these studies is the high
correlation between religiosity and academic performance that exist with LDS high
school students. Given this finding, it would be of interest to know if the same results
would be found with LDS college students. This inquiry is all the more intriguing, given
the fact that LDS college students between the ages of 18 and 25 often experience a
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heightened period of disengagement from their religious beliefs and practices. In fact, the
attrition rate during these ages is at its highest level (Albrecht, 1989). Studies suggest
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similar findings with youth of various Christian denominations. Therefore, do the high
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correlations (between religiosity and academic performance) with the LDS high school
aged students still hold true for LDS college students? Given this occurrence, it would
seem intuitive that there might be a corresponding decrease in association between
religiosity and academic performance. If this is not the case, however, it would be a very
interesting finding since it would tend to support the notion that education, at least with
LDS college students, does strengthen religious conviction, even after controlling for age.
Theoretical Considerations
If a connection between religiosity and academic performance exists, it would be
worthwhile to examine why this might be so from a social theory perspective. As
articulated by Emile Durkheim, functionalism seeks in part to explain the origins of
religion and its social correlates. Although D urkheim spoke of religious considerations at
the societal level, many of his ideas may be applicable at the individual level. Durkheim
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argued that religion serves as a functional element in society, influencing pro-societal
aims such as education. He has emphasized religion’s role in reinforcing societal
integration and legitimizing society’s values and norms through divine sanctions for
normative behavior. He has asserted that society’s “norms, roles, and social relationships
are closely reflected by religion” and that “the latter is nothing more than these
characteristics expressed in somewhat different form” (Cited in Ronald Johnstone, 2001,
p.28).
Durkheim has postulated that religion has four primary social functions. First,
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religion serves as a disciplinary and preparatory function; that is, religious rituals impose
self-discipline necessary for social life. Members of a society need to accommodate
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constraints, controls, and boundaries. Education, especially advanced education, requires
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persistence and discipline as one pursues the rigor o f academic study. If religion can
instill such virtues as patience and self-control a religious individual would presumably
do well in academics. Illustratively, an emphasis on scriptural literacy by clergy would
have an effect on academic performance in that these activities foster skills such as
reading, pondering, synthesizing, and questioning. Second, Durkheim has asserted that
religion provides a cohesive function, thus bringing people together and reaffirming their
common bonds. A sense of solidarity is developed through joint participation. Third,
religion serves as a revitalizing function. It links members of society to the past and
thereby to each other. Fourth, Durkheim has argued that religion aids in establishing a
feeling of social well being. Religion helps individuals and groups through periods of
dismay and darkness. Religious service attendance has the potential to bring order and
organization into a person’s life where there might be chaos and dysfunction.
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Supporting Durkheim’s ideas, M uller and Ellison (2001) found that religious
involvement (measured by service attendance, participation in religious activities, and
conception of one’s self as a religious person) is connected to education in the sense that
religious high school students generally had higher parental educational expectations.
Therefore, students participated in many discussions about the importance of academics,
as well as the process of planning and goal setting that resulted in higher academic
performance. These youth also reported higher educational expectations for themselves.
Additionally, the study found relationships between measures of religiosity and the
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amount of time spent on homework. Relationships were also reported between measures
of religiosity and higher math scores. These students also tended to take more advanced
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courses and were more inclined to avoid truancy. Religious involvement, then, seemed to
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influence two groups the most: mainly the best and the worst performers - stimulating the
brightest and shielding those most at risk. The inculcation of self-discipline and
persistence were cited as theoretical reasons for these relationships. Muller and Ellison
asserted that positive role models found in religious settings potentially shaped the values
of their youth in positive social directions. They theorized that perhaps the time spent by
youth in religious activities simply limited the time spent in other activities, thus avoiding
potential at-risk influences.
It stands to reason that any church that emphasizes the attainment of religious
growth via educational attainment would perhaps see a corresponding link between these
two variables amongst its faithful members. This is especially the case when academic
achievement is actually promoted as a doctrine of comportment. This is to say that
faithful members are so categorized because of their devotion to keeping many if not all
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tenets of their faith. If academic achievement is part of their core beliefs such individuals
would be more inclined, generally speaking, to attain academic proficiency than their
non-faithful counterparts. Empirical research is needed to confirm this theory.
Religion can also have a cohesive function. Stark (1984) has argued that the social
behavior o f youth is not so much a function of their religious beliefs and practices as
much as one of their religious environment. Such environments can provide motivation
and inspiration to achieve academically. Stark theorized that students who are religiously
oriented have been in part socialized at church. Thus, they “fit in” better at school where
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such things as cooperative learning are stressed. Religious youth who perform well
facilitates academic proficiency.
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academically do so because they find themselves in a system where social integration
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Additionally, religion can have a revitalizing function. Regnerus (2003) theorizes:
“The ritual action o f attending worship services, in contrast with theological differences
that mark distinct religious affiliations and beliefs, is a process that operates
independently of particular belief systems and organizational affiliations. Religious
service attendance constitutes a form of social integration that has the consequence of
reinforcing values conducive to educational achievement and goal setting” (p. 21, see
also King and Elder 1999; Regnems and Elder 2001).
Finally, religion can aid in establishing feelings of social well being. Studies
suggest that religious people are more likely to have an internal locus of control (Jackson
& Coursey, 1988; Shrauger & Silverman, 1971). This is significant given the fact that
educational researchers have found a rather consistent relationship between possessing an
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internal locus of control and performing well in school (Gamer & Cole, 1986; Johnson,
1992; Jeynes, 2003).
Could it be argued, though, that there might exist other sociological explanations
that would infer no association between religiosity and academic performance? Is it
possible that increased religious activity might lead to decreased academic performance
because o f simple logistical considerations: lack of time - one’s religion stresses faith so
much that the individual avoids academic study. Obviously there are counterpoints to
functionalist arguments.
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Conversely, might academics tend to weaken faith? It is a plausible argument that
an individual could belong to a faith group or subscribe to a religious belief that has many
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historical fallacies, which, if studied in depth (academically), would thus weaken his
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faith? The abstract and ethereal nature related to religious myth and fantasy, as portrayed
through one’s religious tenets, might not square with objective reality and secular
perceptions. Thus, academic endeavors could tend to weaken faith.
In their national study, Hardaway and Roof (1988) argued that the higher the
educational level, the more their respondents tended to have antithetical thoughts and
beliefs towards religion. They theorized that this was because higher education expanded
one’s mind, providing exposure to “countercultural values” (p.36), which weakened
previously held religious beliefs. Many sociologists today hold to this notion which views
higher education as a means of secularization, noting that higher education tends to erode
religious beliefs. The most recent research argues that education diminishes religious
beliefs but at the same time enhances religious participation (Chadwick, 2005). The
explanation is that education increases sociability, which includes involvement in church,
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thus increasing an aspect of religious participation. At the same time, however, education
reduces religious beliefs, which is different from religious participation. The consequence
is that the highly educated tend to drift towards liberal denominations that allow
divergent beliefs. Such individuals, upon finding socio/religious homes for their beliefs,
become active in them accordingly.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
This present study is an examination of the relationship between the individual
religiosity of LDS college students at B YU and their academic achievement. The
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relationship between religion and education is very complex and involves issues of
quantity (amount of education and degrees of religiosity) and quality (types of education
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and types of religious experience). A researcher could treat either one (religion or
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education) as the independent variable impacting the other one. This study examined both
types and degrees of religious experiences of individuals and the relationship that exists
with these variables measured against academic performance and perceptions. The
researcher’s specific goal was to look at the effect of religiosity on academic
performance, thus treating religiosity as the independent (explanatory) variable and
academic performance as the dependent (response) variable.
Research questions included:
1)
What is the relationship between personal religiosity and academic
performance among LDS college students from BYU?
2)
What religious factors, if any, are useful in predicting academic
achievement of these students? Why might this be so?
3)
What factors are not useful in predicting academic achievement of these
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students? Why might this be so?
Research Hypotheses include:
H01: All measures of religiosity, when used collectively, do not help predict
the perceived level of academic performance of LDS college students.
H02: Personal religious beliefs do not help predict the perceived level of
academic performance of LDS college students.
H03: Public religious practice does not help predict the perceived level of
academic performance of LDS college students.
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H04: Private religious practice does not help predict the perceived level of
Definition o f Terms
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academic performance of LDS college students.
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Various approaches have been used to measure or ascertain an individual’s level
religiosity. For example, Durkheim (Chalfant, 1994) examined the areas of religious
beliefs and rites of worship (rituals practice). W ach (Ibid.) added a social or fellowship
aspect to the foregoing model. Fichter (Ibid.) sought to examine to what degree
individuals practice or participation in their religion. The researcher employed Glock and
Stark’s (Ibid.) comprehensive measures of religiosity, still used by many social scientists.
These measures look at five areas: ideology, ritual, experiential, intellectual, and
consequential dimensions. Professor James Davidson (1969) further delineated these
measures by adding to each the following: Ideology (vertical belief - God, horizontal
belief - man), Ritualistic (practice - public or private), Experiential (frequency,
interpretation), Intellectual (quantity, approach to knowledge, i.e. faith vs. doubt; analysis
vs. synthesis), and Consequential (affects of religion - personal [inner peace, etc.] vs.
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social consequences). Davidson found that ideological and intellectual have in general a
negative relationship, while ritualistic and experiential are positively related. The
researcher used several of these measures, including the following with their associated
definitions:
Religious beliefs are those points of religious doctrine in which individuals
believe or in which they place their faith. The specific beliefs examined in this study
include the following: God, Jesus as the Christ, the Book of Mormon as scripture (i.e.
God’s divine word to mankind), Joseph Smith as G od’s prophet, and the current
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President of the LDS Church as God’s representative on earth (i.e. spokesperson).
Public religious behavior, also to be referred to as extrinsic religiosity, includes
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church attendance, religious affiliation, and other “outward” manifesting characteristics
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of an individual’s faith orientation. The specific public religious behaviors examined in
this study include the following: sacrament meeting attendance (primary church meeting
similar to communion from other Christian faiths), Sunday school meeting attendance,
Priesthood/Relief Society meeting attendance (these meetings are service groups for men
and women respectively), and participation in LDS Church social activity.
Private religious behavior, also to be referred to as intrinsic religiosity, includes
personal religious practices and devotions such as private prayer and scripture study. The
specific private religious behaviors examined in this study include the following: living
LDS Church standards of conduct, scripture reading, private prayer, charitable
contributions known as tithing, and adherence to the LDS Church code of health known
as “the Word of W isdom.”
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
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