Special to Branson Globe
SPRINGFIELD — The last time Dr. John Schmalzbauer participated in a study of campus ministries was from 2004-2008, when he worked on a project directed by Dr. Betty DeBerg at the University of Northern Iowa.
At that time, the Great Recession had not taken full effect, undergraduate students didn’t have access to widespread social media and religious “nones” didn’t outnumber evangelicals.
But in the past 12 years, that has all changed. Now, Schmalzbauer, a professor of religious studies at Missouri State University, is leading a study of the new landscape.
“Students are often detached from organized religious life,” he said. “Even the religious identities of students who are plugged into a ministry and tradition are changing.”
With help from 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 fall 2022.
The grant of more than $981,000 supports extensive methods to build on the ‘04-‘08 National Study of Campus Ministries (NSCM).
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 focuses is widening the diversity of the new study,” Schmalzbauer said. “Not just racial and ethnic diversity, but the inclusion of new religious groups.”
The full team includes Dr. Catherine Hoegeman from Missouri State; Dr. Kathleen Garces-Foley at Marymount University; Dr. Rebecca Kim at Pepperdine University; Dr. David Sikkink at the University of Notre Dame; and incoming MSU religious studies graduate student Cody Yanez. The grant’s project manager is J. Dane Wallace from Missouri State.
With uncertainty surrounding the coming months, Schmalzbauer and his team adapted their plan for the fall 2020 semester.
They will perform interviews online, review digitized student newspapers and watch worship services and content available on YouTube. However, Schmalzbauer is optimistic for the outlook of the long-term study.
“COVID-19 may change the timing of some of the fieldwork we do,” he said. “But we will still be visiting campuses over the next three years to observe campus groups and chaplaincy programs. There is no substitute for being there.”