"Totally focused on God": How undergraduate student members of Christian parachurch groups construct what it means to be a person of faith

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Higher Education


Sari Knopp Biklen


Undergraduate, Christian, Parachurch groups, Person of faith

Subject Categories

Higher Education Administration | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


This study explores how undergraduate members of Christian parachurch groups construct what it means to be a person of faith. This is a qualitative study of two college campuses in the northeast including a state university campus and an elite private university. In depth interviews with ten students, two parachurch groups on the elite private campus were conducted over a period of three years. Symbolic interactionism theory (Blumer, 1969) was used to examine the meanings conferred by the participants as they constructed what it means to be a member of a parachurch group. The findings reveal that the participants within the groups worked to create a stark binary between Christians and non-Christians. Participants adopted a moral career (Goffman, 1970) that reflected the groups' expectations for their either becoming "born again" or enhancing their earlier faith experience, both of which meant becoming "saved." Members were expected to witness to non-Christians. Findings also reveal that the informants participated in "God-talk" as a means of attempting negotiation with the outside world. God-talk is defined as that moment in their discourse when they retreated to the language that they knew as a refuge from having to integrate dissonant ideas. The students resisted concepts that were other than the groups' teachings. Findings also reveal that the students internalized the control of the group by accepting the norms of the group that faith in God is synonymous with giving up personal power and the dispossession of the self is necessary for accepting the dominant values. While there were common experiences on both campuses, there was one major difference. When confronted with having to integrate knowledge from outside sources with their group knowledge, the students from the state university used language to collapse the complexity out of the issue. The elite private university students used language to over rationalize the issue.


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