The last time Dr. John Schmalzbauer participated in a study of campus ministries was between 2004 and 2008, when he worked on a project led by Dr. Betty DeBerg at the University Northern Iowa.
At that time, the Great Recession had not been in full effect, university students did not have access to mainstream social media, and "non-religious" outnumbered evangelicals.
But in the last 12 years, all that has changed. Now, Schmalzbauer, professor of religious studies at Missouri State University, is conducting a study on the new landscape.
"Students often separate themselves from organized religious life," he said. "Even the religious identities of students who are connected to a ministry and tradition are changing."
The New Study
With the help of a team of co-researchers and a three-year grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded to the Missouri State Foundation, Schmalzbauer plans to dive deep into campus ministries until the fall of 2022.
The grant of more than $ 981,000 supports extensive methods to build on the National Campus Ministries Study (NSCM) ‘04 -‘08.
These methods include interviews with religious leaders, chaplains, and students, and extended campus visits in different regions of the United States. New findings will add context to the NSCM.
"One of our approaches is to expand the diversity of the new study," said Schmalzbauer. "Not only racial and ethnic diversity, but the inclusion of new religious groups."
The full team includes Dr. Catherine Hoegeman of the state of Missouri; Dr. Kathleen Garces-Foley at Marymount University; Dr. Rebecca Kim of Pepperdine University; Dr. David Sikkink at the University of Notre Dame; and MSU graduate student in religious studies Cody Yánez. The project manager for the grant is J. Dane Wallace from the State of Missouri.
Adaptations for COVID-19
With the uncertainty surrounding the coming months, Schmalzbauer and his team adapted their plan for the fall 2020 semester.
They will conduct online interviews, review digitized student newspapers, and view worship services and content available on YouTube. However, Schmalzbauer is optimistic for the prospects of the long-term study.
"COVID-19 can change the timing of some of the field work we do," he said. “But we will continue to visit campuses for the next three years to observe campus groups and chaplaincy programs. There is no substitute for being there. "