To build on previous research in chapel programs at Christian colleges and universities by examining the role of chapel leaders in shaping chapel content and culture in order to demonstrate how chapel services shape the culture for diverse attendees.
Findings from our previous research indicate that chapel services may not reflect the institutional goals articulated in campus diversity statements. Building on this research, we will conduct a participatory action research (PAR) project to examine the role of chapel leaders in shaping chapel content and culture. We will explore the “why” and “how” of the decision-making process, including who are invited as speakers, the liturgical decisions of each service, as well as any guidelines communicated to speakers regarding the content, tone, and tenor of a given service. Our goal is to shed light on the institutional culture embedded in chapel offices, demonstrating how chapel services shape the culture for diverse attendees.
What questions about worship and your discipline will be guiding your project?
The main research question guiding this study is: How do chaplaincy office administrators and other institutional leaders approach chapel services, especially in light of the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion statements at Christian colleges? Our supporting questions include: How can chapel offices make the chapel experience more equitable for all participants? How can students feel a sense of belonging in the chapel service? What ways do chapel directors and other leadership shape the chapel experience towards equity or inequity? How can institutions make their chapel services align with their stated diversity goals more directly?
How do you envision this project will strengthen the worship life of congregations?
This study will focus on college chapel programs at Christian higher education institutions. As unique worshipping communities, college chapels will benefit from this project through a better understanding of the role of chapel and chapel program directors in ensuring a sense of community in the student body. Research shows that a sense of belonging and spirituality is important for college students’ success. As the primary vehicle of spirituality on campus, chapel services have the potential to foster or disrupt a sense of belonging, particularly for racially minoritized students on campus. It is imperative for institutional leadership to understand the role of chapel on their campuses. Though our findings may have implications for worshipping communities outside of higher education chapel programs, we believe these chapel programs will receive the greatest benefit from our research.
What do you expect might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?
One of the greatest challenges we will face in this project is the methodology we are using. The participatory action research methodology tends to be complex. Striving to democratize our project will take great effort, however, the reward can yield amazing results, not just in data and research, but in change in the institution. Aside from the methodology, COVID has posed a challenge to our study due to travel limitations, personal health considerations, and access to participants.
What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?
We look forward to learning what other researchers are exploring and are curious to see if any of their research may be helpful to our project as well. We are also eager to find other like-minded scholars who care about equity and justice in the context of Christian worship.