The Role of Catholic Campus Religious Ministries in the Formation of Young Adults (2017-2018)


U.S. universities are more open to religious life and development than is often assumed, and campus ministries hope to play an important role in bridging the religion of adolescence and that of independent adulthood. However, very little research about campus ministries exists, leaving both campus ministers and scholars unsure of what roles campus ministries play in students’ religious, social and personal development.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team aims to collect a unique panel dataset of Catholic college students to better understand religious trajectories during college and how they relate to other attitudes and behaviors.

Catholics in the U.S. have shown a unique religious, social and political trajectory since the 1968 release of Humanae Vitae compared to other religious groups. There is a significant difference between what the Catholic Church formally believes and what American Catholics privately practice and believe. By focusing on Catholics, the team can address the organizational challenges faced by campus ministries and understand how personal religion and affiliation with the organization interact with students’ development in the larger world.

The 2016-2017 version of this project team is piloting the survey at Duke, conducting cognitive interviews of the survey questions and analyzing the data to assess potential bias in answering the questions and in deciding to complete the survey. This information will be used to revise the piloted survey in time to administer the full survey to students at multiple universities in Summer 2017.

Data will be collected from Catholic college students at multiple universities. A number of measures will be assessed, and the 2017-2018 team will field additional modules to answer previously unaddressed research questions. From this dataset, team members will conduct research and write articles.

The team will also create resources for campus ministries that will aid their goal of serving college students. Campus ministries have limited funds to allocate toward program evaluation and student needs, and they have even less ability to assess what leads students to avoid or leave campus ministries. Because this team will be sampling all students, regardless of their participation in campus ministries, findings will help ministries to address key questions regarding why students participate and what keeps them away. The resources will describe the types of Catholic students that ministries can expect to interact with, outline reasons students participate or choose not to participate, describe the outcomes associated with different activities put on by ministries and suggest ways to further engage contemporary students.

Anticipated Outcomes

Original research articles published (including coauthored articles with undergraduate team members); resources for campus ministries produced

Student Opportunities

The team will meet once a week with additional one-on-one meetings as necessary. The project will include multiweek modules that end with a significant deliverable.

Students will get experience writing research questions, designing methods for answering those questions, actually collecting that information and analyzing the resulting data. They can expect to strengthen their use of theory, learn about research methods and directly apply summarizing and statistical methods to real data. Because students directly contribute to the research questions that guide the survey, they also will have the opportunity to contribute to research articles.

Graduate students can likewise expect to get experience conducting original research and writing research articles. They will have further influence to introduce larger modules to add to future waves of the survey or implement in other forms. There will also be opportunities to conduct qualitative interviews if funding is available. Students (both undergraduate and graduate) will be thoroughly involved in the survey, directing research questions, proposing survey items, testing those items, administering qualitative interviews, analyzing data and writing reports on findings. The team will be engaging with campus ministries from upwards of 11 universities. Team members will work with them to help address questions they have about their own ministries and college students, and help them to better sample Catholic students on their campuses.

Learning objectives include being able to summarize a body of literature and derive answerable research questions from it; being able to write survey questions and test them to ensure they effectively measure the desired concepts; design a survey that effectively elicits responses and addresses the desired questions; and run and interpret simple statistical tests, including t-tests, chi-squared tests and ordinary least squares regression models.

The team will ideally include a mix of students from sociology, political science and psychology. Students in economics, the humanities, public policy and other disciplines can also find a place on the team that fits the team’s goals as well as leverages the students’ interests and experiences. Some background in research methods is preferred but not required.


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018

Team meetings will take place on Thursday afternoons.

  • Fall 2017: Investigate existing research on selected topics; produce literature reviews; assess methods of inquiry for research questions; receive training in relevant research methods; amend survey to include any additional questions
  • Spring 2018: Administer the second wave of a multi-university survey; receive statistical training in R; analyze data from waves 1 and 2; use project survey data to help answer research questions discussed in the Fall 2017 semester; deliver materials and findings to campus ministers


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, The Role of Catholic Campus Religious Ministries in the Formation of Young Adults (2016-2017).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Peter Arcidiacono, Trinity - Economics*
Mark Chaves, Trinity - Sociology
V. Joseph Hotz, Trinity - Economics

Graduate Team Members

Simon Brauer, Graduate School - PhD in Sociology*

Undergraduate Team Members

Samantha Heino, Biology (BS), Evolutionary Anthropology (AB2)
Gerardo Parraga, Economics (AB)

* denotes team leader