Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



College of Education and Human Services


Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy Studies

Committee Chair

Jeffrey Daniels

Committee Co-Chair

Ian Kellems

Committee Member

Monica Leppma

Committee Member

Carol Markstrom

Committee Member

Jennifer Taylor


Psychology has a history of ignoring and pathologizing spiritual experiences. Many of the fathers of early psychology including Freud, Ellis, and Skinner modeled this trend. However, with the increasing awareness of the importance of multicultural factors as they relate to mental health, religion and spirituality have gained recognition in the professional literature. Research on religion and spirituality and college students has mainly consisted of survey studies collecting demographic data. The current study uses a qualitative research design to explore the experiences of college students who converted to Christianity during college. The guiding questions of this research pertain mainly to the psychological and existential effects of converting as they contribute to both well-being and distress. Nine college students who converted to Christianity during college were interviewed using a semi-structured interview, and the results were analyzed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). Interpretative phenomenological analysis, like many qualitative methodologies, attempts to understand themes across the data. However, IPA emphasizes interpreting the data with an objective to understand the respondent's psychological world (Smith & Osborn, 2003). Using this methodology, the first case transcript was read a number of times and significant impressions were noted in the left-hand margin. The next phase of analysis involves using the right-hand margin to denote emerging themes. Themes were organized into superordinate concepts and subordinate themes. Directories of these concepts and themes were created and corresponding quotes from each transcript were identified. The final stage is a narrative description of each theme which comprises the results section of this dissertation. Participants reported rich information regarding their perceptions of their conversion experiences. Results were organized into ten superordinate concepts and 45 subordinate themes. The ten superordinate concepts are (a) Previous Exposure to Religion/Spirituality which pertained to participant's exposure to religious and spirituality prior to converting; (b) Unique to College consisting of statements about the unique developmental and cultural experiences in college which fostered participant's decision to convert; (c) Questioning God relating to questions and doubts about God which participant's expressed before and after their conversion; (d) God is Omnipresent and Sovereign consisting of statements about the ever-present and all-knowing nature of God; (e) Positive Emotional Experiences which included descriptions of elevated emotions including happiness and love experienced during conversion; (f) Openness pertaining to openness toward God and toward other on behalf of participants; (g) Existential Meaning which included statements about experiencing new-found purpose and meaning in life after converting; (h) Challenging Emotional Experiences- Prior to Converting including statements pertaining to experiencing distressing emotions such as hardship and confusion prior to converting; (i) Challenging Emotional Experiences-After Converting referring to statements about distressing emotions including guilt and shame after converting; and (j) Supports related to statements about interacting with familial and social supports during the time of converting. Finally, a discussion of implications, limitations, strengths and directions for future research are presented.