Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on...

I saw this article Tuesday night and grabbed the book from Raynor Library's browsing collection on Wednesday. So far it's compelling reading, but also kind of heartbreaking as an attempt to look at the currents of campus culture for my students: this is neither the respect for or empowering of women that I seem to remember being the goal of the feminisms of my student years nor the inheritance from any forms of chivalry. Eek: I'm starting to talk as a member of a different generation! Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America's College Campuses isn't bleak or hand-wringing, though, just honest. I can immediately think of half a dozen friends I'd like to read it with, though, who would have some professional interest in the topic, whether pedagogical, psychological or cultural.

Myself, seeing how the book itself arose out of a Spring 2005 course by the author at Saint Michael's College, this book has really got me thinking in terms of designing either a similar course on "Sex, Dating, and Spirituality," or perhaps having it as one major component of a "Faith and Contemporary Culture" course. I couldn't help but notice how my students last semester, while enjoying all or parts of my "Theology Through the Centuries" course, and reading the classic texts that made the bulk of that syllabus, were particularly involved in, or just plain excited by the reading of Joseph Ratzinger's/Pope Benedict XVI's Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. The reason for this seemed to be because of the immediate, even practical, nature of the theological questions being discussed: suddenly they saw all the stuff we had been reading suddenly becoming important and useful in the shaping of contemporary culture, politics, worldviews, economics, and the like. So maybe a whole course that addressed contemporary issues of different sorts, or from different angles, but all rooted in theological discourse. It would have to be a course where the students had already been exposed to some of the Tradition and its sources, and had begun to learn to reason in such ways. But anyway, I'm thinkin'....

Author sees wide gap between college students' faith, campus culture

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Author Donna Freitas held her breath when her book, "Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America's College Campuses," was published this spring.

She was nervous that the book's frank discussion of the pervasiveness of casual sex on today's school campuses, Catholic colleges included, would not be warmly received by college leaders.

But while she was bracing herself "for the worst," as she put it, Freitas said she received an unexpected "outpouring of positive response" from people "who care deeply" about today's college students and who want to help them, including professors at Catholic colleges.

Freitas, a Catholic theologian and assistant professor of religion at Boston University, said she was encouraged not only by how "open and supportive people have been" but also by their willingness to "engage in positive conversation rather than run away" from an issue many might not want to discuss.

While Freitas was attending the Catholic Theological Society of America meeting June 5-8 in Miami, she said, several theology professors told her they plan to discuss her book in courses they are teaching this fall.

The author also has been contacted by countless parents asking her to recommend a college campus where the frequency of casual sex, or as she terms it, "hookup culture," is less prevalent.

In a recent telephone interview with Catholic News Service from her home in New York, Freitas said it's important for parents to talk to their children "way before college" about the type of school environment they might encounter.

Freitas started talking with college students about their views of sexual behavior and how these ideas or practices connected, or not, with their faith during a course she taught on dating several years ago at St. Michael's College, a Catholic college in Colchester, Vt.

In discussions with students she realized that many of them did not see how their faith had much to say about the issues they faced.

Freitas was determined to find out if this small group of students reflected a larger trend and that became the impetus for "Sex & the Soul," published by Oxford University Press.

Data for the book is based on responses from students at seven U.S. colleges and universities, a mix of public, private, evangelical and Catholic institutions. More than 2,500 students responded to an online survey and more than 100 students were interviewed by Freitas on how their faith helped them or failed to give them direction in sexual relationships.

The book, focusing on a variety of different student experiences, shows how today's students -- with the exception of some at evangelical schools -- were not unlike her initial sample group, because they similarly lacked the ability to make a connection between their religious traditions and modern-life issues such as sexuality.

She said her research and the dozens of presentations on college campuses she has given since she finished the book reveal that students feel "real pain and dissonance" between what they want and what they think is expected of them.

At campus presentations she repeatedly tries to drive the message home: "All of you think all of you love the hookup culture, but really all of you don't."

In other words, just because casual sex takes place on campus, it doesn't mean students have to be part of it.

She acknowledged that any effort to "shift the culture" seems overwhelming, but one way to start is to take the first step of actually talking about what happens after class hours on today's campuses, coupled with a discussion about what faith traditions have to say to modern challenges.

"People need to meet these students and hear what they're saying; they need to have this conversation," she said, noting that campus ministry leaders, teachers, administrators and parents need to get more involved in addressing issues college students are facing today.

Freitas' advice to parents includes suggesting questions they should ask during the routine college tour to get a more accurate picture of campus life. She said parents should not only ask about class sizes, sports programs and academics, but about the school's party atmosphere, campus-sponsored programs offered about religion and love, and ways the school addresses traditional hazing rituals.

"We have an opportunity to do something" about the environment on many campuses, she said, instead of pretending it doesn't exist.

But "we have to be willing to start with the messiness" of talking about the often taboo subjects of sex and spirituality, she said.
Tags: academia, america, books, christianity, class-theology through the centuries, cultural, education, ethical, mysticism/spirituality, sexuality, students, teaching, theological notebook

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