Title

Engaging Differences of Religious Belief: Student Experiences with an Intergroup Dialogue Course

Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart, PhD

Second Advisor

Michael Coomes (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Christina Lunceford (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kenneth Pargament (Committee Member)

Abstract

This study examined the experiences of eleven students who engaged in conversations across religious difference during an intergroup dialogue course. Phenomenology was utilized in order to best discover the essence of the shared dialogue experience of these participants. Two, semi-structured interviews lasting approximately 60 minutes in length were conducted with each participant. Individual case profiles were then created and later aggregated to determine the findings for this research study. The participants in this study came from varying religious backgrounds and had prior experience talking about religious doctrine and practices with family and friends. These earlier conversations did not necessarily help or hinder these students as they engaged one another in conversation during the dialogue course but they did serve as a type of foundation for talking about religion with others. Throughout the semester, students shared their ideas, perspectives, and beliefs about religion as course facilitators introduced such controversial topics as abortion, interfaith dating and marriage, and religious dress. As these discussions among classmates were occurring, students were learning how to ask questions of others, to be less judgmental, to challenge the stereotypes associated with varying religions, and to further identify with their own religion. As we encourage administrators and faculty to facilitate student engagement across differences, we need to look at additional avenues that assist students in exploring their religious beliefs and interacting with religious difference. Additionally, we need to continue to examine the introduction of trending and controversial topics to determine if this approach is an effective method for encouraging dialogue. Further research related to religious dialogue ought to include examining whether prior experiences with religious dialogue helps or hinders students with engaging their peers in conversation, as well as the long term impact of the intergroup dialogue course on the perspectives of self and others of religious difference.