REC Seminars & Presentations

The Search for the “Right” College: An Overview of White Evangelical College Decision-Making with Implications for Practice 

Thursday, September 21, 2023 — 3:00pm (ET)

Brandon N. Edwards, PhD Harvard University

Although white evangelicals have long been skeptical about non-sectarian higher education, the current climate in the United States necessitates a fresh look at possible sources of their beliefs. This is relevant since many of the current culture wars center on education. For instance, book bans in Texas public schools, funded by evangelicals, take aim at non-heteronormative sexuality, abortion, and transgenderism. Likewise, in Florida, legislation promulgated by evangelicals and signed by the governor takes aim at “woke-ism” in public K-12 and post-secondary institutions. Furthermore, while some evangelical student groups have been unrecognized by university administrators seeking to implement “all-comers” policies, others have been denied funding for conservative speakers on campus. Simultaneously, evidence suggests that whereas enrollment at non-sectarian colleges and universities has declined or stagnated, it has increased at evangelical institutions.  

Edwards’s research seeks to understand how evangelical high school students navigate the college enrollment process in the current polarized climate. Since individual students are impacted by actors such as family, peers, church, and school, the research adopted an ecological approach. To ensure this, the findings draw from 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork at a Southern Baptist church in Charlottesville, Virginia. Specifically, participant observation and semi-structured interviews were undertaken with five students and their families, peers, clergy, and teachers across a variety of contexts.  

Using discourse analysis and inductive coding, three major findings emerged. First, when considering post-secondary options, youth clergy urged students to get “plugged in” to evangelical culture due to a perceived ontological security threat represented by a rapidly shifting society. Second, mainstream “culture” was understood in pejorative terms. Relatedly, parents and clergy endeavor to inculcate their students with a biblical understanding of “culture” that forms the basis of their “worldview.” Third, although models of college choice theory partially explain how evangelicals decide where to enroll, an important factor not included is this same “worldview.” Taken together, the findings indicate the need for university administrators, faculty, and parachurch organization leaders to consider the evangelical mindset toward non-sectarian higher education and implement opportunities for students to feel included and engaged.  

Together, we will consider a few questions. Is DEI the right vessel for discussions about religious identity among college students? Specifically, could DEI be used as a means for helping white evangelical students feel more included at non-sectarian universities? If not, why not? 

Recent Events

Headshots of three teachers, two women and one man, superimposed on the image of a chalkboard with the title Teaching Religious Literacy: Teacher Panel. Text on the chalkboard says Wednesday, January 10, 2024 3:30pm (ET)

Teaching Religious Literacy: Teacher Panel

January 10, 2024 – Join three secondary religion teachers for a conversation about how they teach about religion in their different contexts. They will share examples from their classrooms and discuss the challenges of teaching about religion in today’s educational climate.

Read More »

Religious Literacy: Children’s Museums as Playful Spaces to Engage Young Children and Adults

November 1, 2023 — Children’s museums provide playful spaces within the public sphere for children and adults to engage together through familiar and novel content and platforms. This talk explores processes in developing religious literacy within the informal educational context of Boston Children’s Museum (BCM). To guide critical theory-practice connections, we reflect on how as collaborators in the Religious Literacy Initiative we sought to provide children and the adults who care for them opportunities to: 1) unpack how beliefs and values develop as a facet of identity; 2) increase comfort around differing belief systems and uncover commonalities; and 3) celebrate religious, cultural and familial traditions. 

Read More »

Podcasting as Pedagogy

October 12, 2023 — World Religions high school teacher Greg Soden will offer tips, show examples and rubrics, and discuss the various tools available to educators who want to assess their students via podcasting!

Read More »