Thesis (Ph.Ed., Leadership and Counseling) -- University of Idaho, December 2014 | College years are important transition years for adult learners. It is a time when students are expected to broaden their minds and deepen their understanding of both general and specific topics. It is also a time when students are introduced to diverse theories and ideologies, often for the first time. One challenge first-year students often face upon entering college is the apparent conflict between new philosophies and theories and more traditional religious views. Confusion, anxiety, and frustration can result from such conflict, leading students to a state of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1985). Past research has shown that many college students who have their religious beliefs challenged eventually abandon their faith (Caplovitz and Sherrow, 1977; Hunter, 1983). More recent studies have found that college students may not necessarily abandon, but rather reevaluate their religious beliefs (Bryant, Choi, and Yasuno, 2003; Lee, 2002). Their religious beliefs become less formal, more personal, and they begin to show more tolerance towards others beliefs. However, the transformations taking place among college students during these formative years have not previously been evaluated through qualitative research (Maryl & Oeur, 2009).
This dissertation reports the lived experiences of college students who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) attending a public university in the northwestern United States. Using a qualitative case study, it presents a rich description of students who were confronted with worldviews that contradicted their religious beliefs. It describes the variety of ways in which these college students' beliefs were challenged, how they chose to manage the inner tensions that followed, and how such experiences transformed their faith. Additionally, this dissertation offers recommendations, in the form of a White paper, to stake holder in relation to better preparing future students for having the religious beliefs challenged during college.