Higher Education Ph.D. Dissertations


The Nature of Spiritual Questioning Among Select Undergraduates at a Midwestern University: Constructions, Conditions, and Consequences

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education Administration

First Advisor

C. Carney Strange

Second Advisor

Bruce Edwards (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Michael Coomes (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dafina-Lazarus Stewart (Committee Member)


This study explored the constructions of spiritual questions in the lives of undergraduates at a Midwestern University, with regard to the nature of the spiritual questions they construct during the college experience; the sources, motivating forces, and factors that trigger their materialization; circumstances and contexts that influence the spiritual questioning process; how such questions relate to and impact the various aspects of their lives; any associated effects and outcomes of these queries being asked; and how such questions align with a range of potential identifiers.

Employing the emergent methods of constructivist inquiry, this qualitative study included a sequence of two semi-structured interviews with each of sixteen undergraduate students who represented a wide variety of ethnicities, nationalities, college levels and majors, and religious, spiritual, and secular traditions. A subsequent iterative analysis of interview transcriptions and observation notes allowed for the categorizing and organization of themes, first within individual participant cases and then across all cases. Reports were generated for each participant and then aggregated to form a general construction of the problem in response to the research probes.

More than 900 spiritual queries emerged during the study and were arranged within a grounded framework of eighteen different topical groups across six broad categories and twenty-three distinct question types within four larger classifications. Moreover, eleven major conditions for these students’ spiritual concerns were identified, including thirty sub-categories of circumstances and contexts that influenced their spiritual questioning process. Furthermore, participants reported numerous consequences of their spiritual questions which were grouped into five major categories and nineteen sub-categories.

This study extended previous inventories of such questions, provided additional depth and detail, and added clarity to the religious, spiritual, and secular storylines of a select group of contemporary college students. In doing so, the data yielded implications for scholars and practitioners alike, especially in regards to the nature of the spiritual questions themselves, the associated conditions and consequences of such queries, and the intersectionality of personal descriptors. The study concluded with recommendations for campus-based practice and for future research, incorporating suggestions for more effective strategies and additional methodologies.