Baylor Research Finds Student-Athletes Have Stronger Religious Beliefs, Behaviors and Identity Than Non-Athlete Peers

Team Prayer
Using data from Baylor University’s ongoing Faith and Character Study, recent research found that student-athletes at Baylor report a higher level of religious beliefs, behaviors and identity than their non-athlete peers. (Robert Rogers/Baylor University)
Nov. 30, 2022

Multidisciplinary study adds to research seeking to understand religiosity among student- athletes, implications for religious institutions

Media Contact: Shelby Cefaratti-Bertin, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-327-8012
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WACO, Texas (Nov. 30, 2022) – Athletics can occupy an ambiguous place within a university's greater mission, particularly at religious institutions. Yet, little research has been conducted – until now – to understand student-athletes’ connection with personal religious beliefs. A recent study of Baylor University student-athletes by a multidisciplinary research team challenged conventional wisdom about student-athletes’ religiosity, revealing that Baylor student-athletes were more religious than their non-athlete peers.

The study’s findings, published in the Journal of College and Character, were based on a survey of more than 800 graduating seniors as part of the longitudinal Baylor Faith and Character Study, which tracks the long-term impact of a Baylor education on a person’s faith and character. The research team compared student-athletes and non-student-athletes on religious beliefs, religious behaviors and religious identity, finding that Baylor student-athletes were more religious than their peers in all three forms of religiosity.

The purpose of this particular study was to better understand the relationship of athletic participation and student-athletes’ religiosity. Although the researchers theorized that student-athletes would report lower levels of religious belief, behaviors, and identity than non-athletes, the data showed otherwise:

"Even at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, coaches and athletics staff can champion a university's religious culture and create an environment that encourages student-athletes religious development," said lead author Daniel Allen, M.A. ’19, Ph.D. ’22, who was a doctoral student in sociology at Baylor when the study was conducted. He is now an assistant professor of sociology at Olivet Nazarene University.

Among the key takeaways of the study for Baylor:

  • Baylor takes its Christian identity seriously, including on the court, field and track.
  • Athletic programs advance the religious mission of Baylor.
  • Given Baylor’s success in sports, religious faith may represent a competitive advantage for athletes and athletic programs.

“It is important to remember that context is key," Allen said. "At religious institutions, student-athletes are more religious than some popular assumptions allow. Coaches and staff will want to keep the importance of religion for student-athletes in mind as they recruit, relate to and mentor student-athletes."

Few previous studies have examined student-athletes in Christian colleges and universities, with most of them case studies that do not often translate to every campus, the researchers said. Baylor is a unique setting for such a study as it is a Christian university that competes in a Power Five conference of NCAA Division I. Most Christian colleges and universities are small and affiliated with NCAA Division III or NAIA.

"One of our goals with this project was to encourage other institutions to use similar surveys and methods," said Allen, adding that the framework from the study can be applied to their specific context and benefit the athletic programs' holistic development of their students.

This research project began in a Fall 2020 course for both graduate and undergraduate students titled “Religion and Character on Campus” taught by Kevin Dougherty, Ph.D., professor of sociology in the College of Arts & Sciences at Baylor. Teams of three-to-four students in the class wrote research papers using survey data from the Baylor Faith and Character Study.

With Dougherty, faculty members Perry Glanzer, Ph.D., professor of educational foundations in the School of Education and resident scholar with Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, and Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, helped revise the papers for publication. Glanzer, Dougherty and Schnitker are co-directors of the ongoing Baylor Faith and Character Study.

"This is a wonderful example of professors, graduate students and undergraduate students learning together through a collaborative research experience," Dougherty said. 

While this study does not differentiate religiosity by sport, Dougherty said, it does support knowledge of the religious beliefs of student-athletes on the college campus. These findings suggest that athletic departments may be able to work within—and not simply compete with—the greater university mission of holistic education.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

The multidisciplinary research team included:

  • Daniel M. Allen, M.A. ’19, Ph.D. ’22, assistant professor of sociology at Olivet Nazarene University, whose research centers on religion and spirituality among emerging adults.
  • Sean Strehlow, a postdoctoral fellow at Baylor University, whose research is broadly concerned with the moral and faith development of college students.
  • Audrey M. Chisum, '20, graduate student.
  • Kevin D. Dougherty, Ph.D., professor of sociology at Baylor, whose research examines the impact of religion on social life. He also regularly writes and speaks about innovative teaching.
  • Perry Glanzer, Ph.D., professor of educational foundations at Baylor and a resident scholar with the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, who has authored numerous works on moral and faith-based education.
  • Sarah A. Schnitker, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, whose research explores virtue and character development in adolescents and emerging adults.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT THE COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES AT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY 

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University's largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments in the sciences, humanities, fine arts and social sciences, as well as 10 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit baylor.edu/artsandsciences

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