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Matters of Faith

June 16, 2009

Matters of Faith

By Patricia O’Connell Killen, Ph.D.

Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies Professor of Religion

At PLU, students talk about spirituality. They think about the meaning of life – human experiences of love, joy, creativity, success, suffering, death, of making and keeping commitments, of extending oneself on behalf of others. Students grapple with the meaning of integrity. They seek to find a purpose, something that is, in the words of some of my former students, “worth giving your life for.”

PLU students search for, and articulate to themselves and to each other, convictions that provide steadiness and inspiration. They test their aspirations and convictions against the ideas, concepts and theories they engage in class. They search out faculty who will converse with them about how what they are learning in their courses connects to who they are becoming. They spend time with mentors who listen as they give voice to their developing senses of themselves and their vocations in the world.

The vignettes that follow provide a glimpse into the spirituality of PLU students – each one’s whole, integral, embodied response to life. These spiritualities are diverse. Some are theistic, others humanistic or naturalistic. Some are rooted in historic faith heritages, others emerge more from improvisation. Some reflect a connection with recognizable faith communities. Others are more solitary.

PLU students’ conversations about spirituality continue a two century tradition that is part of the transition into full adulthood in a nation where religion is voluntary. Their conversations also reflect a decade-plus intensification of students’ interest in open exploration of spirituality as part of their educational journeys. PLU students’ spiritual quests exemplify those found in a large-scale study of students who entered 236 diverse colleges and universities in the United States in the fall of 2004. In 2007 UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute published the findings in The Spiritual Life of College Students: A National Study of College Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose (

Today, more than ever, students seek an educational experience that challenges them to think, not just about the disciplines they are studying, but also about themselves and their world. Centered in the Lutheran tradition of higher education, benefiting from the Wild Hope project’s work encouraging discussion of “big-enough questions” and implementing a revitalized general education program this fall, PLU is well prepared to welcome seeking students. Here they will find that the pursuit of academic and professional excellence, the discernment of a life path or vocation, and the identification of a worthy purpose are intertwined.