Student researchers uncover impacts of religion on campus

San Jose, Calif., senior Robbie Ridder presents some of the research conducted for his religion on campus course. Lilly Yablon | Photographer

By Zach Babajanof-Rustrian | Intern

As part of a semester project, Baylor student researchers found that there’s an increase in closeness to God connected to an increase in Bible reading, that sororities are more likely than fraternities to have religiosity and that lower- and working-class students feel less sense of belonging at Baylor.

Students who are taking the religion on campus course conducted this research to analyze religious life. Dr. Kevin Dougherty, professor of sociology, said students were divided into three groups, with each one answering a different research question from a list of eight they were provided.

“The design of the course was for graduate students and undergraduate students to study religious life at Baylor,” Dougherty said. “The students used data from the Baylor Faith and Character Study, which two of the three teams are using surveys of seniors from spring of 2020. And then one of the teams is using longitudinal data that looks at students from their first semester on campus in the fall of 2018 to when they graduated in the spring of 2022.”

Do not conform to this world: Increased Bible reading predicts increased religiosity and prosociality during college

The team, consisting of Seven Springs, N.C., graduate student Chloe Davis; Mission Viejo, Calif., senior Dane Radigan; and San Jose, Calif., senior Robbie Ridder, worked together to research how the frequency of reading the Bible changed from freshman to senior Baylor students and how that affected their religiosity.

“The literature was very clear: At religious and secular institutions alike, religious activities tend to decline,” Radigan said. “At Baylor, that may not be the case. … About 30.6% had an increase in Bible reading, while a whopping 42.6% stayed the same. [Baylor] might be a little unique.”

Radigan said the team was able to determine that an increase in religiosity comes with an increase in Bible reading.

“Increasing Bible readings predicts more feelings of closeness to God, so [as] you’re reading the Bible more, you’re also becoming closer to God,” Radigan said. “This has great implications for what is happening here at Baylor. Students are becoming closer to God. They’re believing, and they’re feeling increases in religiosity.”

Ridder said the team is curious if this phenomenon is the case at secular colleges as well.

“The question we would like to ask now is: does this happen across the world? Is Baylor truly an anomaly, or do secular institutions have these things as well?” Ridder said. “We would love to do this research at secular universities and also not in the southern Bible belt.”

Divinely inspired or worldly wired: The religiosity of fraternity and sorority members at a Christian university

Boerne senior Will Baxter, Waco graduate student Erin Ellis and Junction City, Ky., graduate student Isaiah King looked into the correlation between religiosity and Greek organizations.

Baxter said the team looked at 884 spring 2020 seniors and how they felt Greek Life membership impacted their Christian orthodoxy, vertical faith maturity (relationship with God) and horizontal faith maturity (relationship with others).

“In various literatures across disciplines, women tend to exhibit greater religiosity than men on a variety of metrics,” King said. “As predicted, sorority membership positively predicts Christian orthodoxy and vertical faith maturity, but interestingly, we didn’t find any effects on horizontal faith maturity, which is what we expected to be the strongest relationship.”

Baxter said the team noticed some gaps they would like to research further.

“The area of interest to me that we just didn’t have data for was to understand how religiosity may change based on a longitudinal study,” Ellis said. “We didn’t have the ability to know whether or not they were members in their first year at Baylor. We only had senior data, and so I would be really intrigued to know if there’s a difference even in the amount of time you spend in a fraternity and sorority and how that may impact religiosity.”

Belonging and social class at a religious university: Can discussions of religion and purpose close the gap?

Mansfield junior Hudson Graber; Charlton, Mass., graduate student Nick Andre; and Savage, Minn., graduate student Meghan Fletcher researched how social class impacts Baylor students’ sense of belonging and whether discussions about religion with professors could help close that gap.

Graber said the team gathered results from spring 2020 seniors and found that the sense of belonging of the 16% of students in the lower and working classes was a 4.25/6 ratio. Comparatively, that of middle-class students was 4.85 and that of upper-class students was 5.10.

“As we did later analysis, we did find that there is a difference between lower- and working-class to upper-class students,” Andre said. “We did find that discussing the meaning and purpose of life does predict belonging, if it’s coming occasionally for lower- and working-class students.”

Fletcher said the team also found that the relationships students build with faculty and staff can help build a sense of belonging.

“Seeking [faculty and staff’s] role in your life really can have long-lasting impacts,” Fletcher said. “When they offer up office hours or offer up that they want to meet you and get to know you more, I would take them up on it and try to get to know them and try to get the most out of your college experience.”