Sex & the Soul

I’ve just been reading Sex & the Soul by Donna Freitas. Freitas is Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University. The book shares information from 111 interviews conducted as part of a larger study titled Sexuality and Spirituality in American College Life. The semi-structured interviews allowed Freitas to gather qualitative data that she acknowledges is “an interpretive act” (p. 247) based upon the perceptions of those being interviewed and Freitas as the interviewer and interpreter of the data.

Freitas identifies four main categories based upon schools participants attended. These are public, nonreligious private, Catholic, and evangelical. The topics covered during the semi-structured interviews included college experience in general, religious background, campus social life, dating, virginity, and hooking up.

Here’s an excerpt from her conclusions:

As I have noted throughout, the great divide in American higher education is not between religious and secular schools, but between evangelical colleges and everyone else. When it comes to sex and religion, Catholic schools are little different from public and private ones. Many parents surely imagine that sending their children to a Catholic school implies that they will be educated within a Catholic community. But unless the college of choice is an institution well known for its orthodoxy, this is unlikely the case. What matters most to either faith maturation or spiritual seeking at college is not so much whether an institution has a religious affiliation but whether it has a reilgouis campus culture – one that is meaningfully integrated into campus life and therefore feels and acts like a powerful presence. [p. 213]

We will want to have a better understanding of what sets evangelical colleges apart from other colleges, and what the potential benefits and drawbacks are of the different college experiences. In a recent Christianity Today interview, Freitas mentioned a few unique aspects of evanglical colleges, including “lively” conversations “about sex, dating, kissing, and romans on campus.” These discussions were “intergenerational,” that is, “Professors are involved. Student life is involved. Campus ministry is involved. It really affects the campus culture in positive ways, and it’s a high-level conversation.”

The book also addresses the “hookup culture” so prevalent on college campuses today. Reviewing her findings, Freitas indicates that this culture is facilitated by a number of influencing factors:

What fosters hookup culture at the spiritual colleges is not student culture alone. Hookup culture is aided and abetted by all sorts of additional factors: administrators turning a blind eye, parents who don’t knwo and perhas don’t want to know what their kids are really doing, the ongoing marginalization and trivialization of feminism by younger women and men, and a society that still treats men as if they are gods and women as objects for male sexual pleasure and enjoyment. [p. 213]

Again, these are part of the conclusions, and they should get our attention. I’ll do a short series on this book in the coming weeks.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, that really makes me want to read the book.

    The distinction between evangelical colleges and all others doesn’t really surprise me based on my own experience and those of others I know, I just hadn’t really thought about it in that light before. It definitely leads us to some interesting research questions. Thanks for the blog!

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