Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

“Too Smart to be Religious?” Discreet Seeking Amidst Religious Stigma at an Elite College

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Abstract:  To advance understandings of how religion manifests in subtle, nuanced ways in secular institutions, we examine student religiosity and spirituality at an elite liberal arts school marked by a strong intellectual collective identity. Using mixed research methods, we examine how the college’s structures and dominant culture influence students’ religiosity and spirituality. Despite an institutional commitment to promoting students’ self-exploration and inclusion of social “diversity,” we found both campus structures and mainstream culture deterred open spiritual and religious exploration and identification. The structure of the college and its dominant secular, intellectual culture reinforced: (1) a widespread stigma against religious and spiritual expression, (2) a lack of dialogue about the sacred, (3) discreetness in exploring and adhering to sacred beliefs and practices, and (4) a large degree of religious and spiritual pluralism. Our findings additionally illustrate that early exposure to the campus culture’s critical regard for religion had a long-lasting impact on students’ religiosity. A majority of students kept their religious and spiritual expressions hidden and private; only a marginalized minority of students embraced their expressions publically. To increase students’ comfort with religious and spiritual exploration, we propose that colleges foster intentional peer dialogues early in the college experience. Furthermore, we recommend that campus communities prioritize religious and spiritual literacy and respect.

Keywords:  college; diversity; higher education; lived religion; religiosity; spirituality



© Kateri Boucher, Jaime Kucinskas. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.