An interpretative phenomenological analysis of 'being religious' in emerging adults within a tertiary education setting
Research in the last 30 years has shown that young people have been increasingly turning away from religion during the period of emerging adulthood, despite the benefits that religious people experience. The present hermeneutic phenomenological study explored the meaning of young adults’ experiences of being religious in a New Zealand tertiary education setting. Phenomenological interviewing was used to capture the experiences of 10 religious students, including how they practise their religion and what they believe, with the aim of developing a deeper understanding of what being religious meant for them. An interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) of the findings showed that being religious meant: having a relationship with God, being different to one’s secular peers, experiencing challenges, and that being religious was ultimately constructive. Many of the students experienced challenges to their religious beliefs and identities from fellow students, teachers and at an institutional level. The benefits of being religious outweighed the challenges and included: praying being therapeutic, religion providing support and helping define the students’ life purpose and identity. The implications of the study are discussed in relation to raising awareness about the importance of mutual respect, moving beyond religious tolerance to fully inclusive education and improving the integration of religious students in tertiary environments through curricular and co-curricular activities and programmes. Recommendations for future research include a greater focus on assessing the extent of the challenges religious tertiary students’ experience, and examining whether students of particular religious traditions experience unique challenges and benefits.