Details of Thesis

Title The “limit” experience of senior high school students: A study across four catholic high schools
Author McQuillan, Paul
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2001
Abstract The purpose of the research reported in this thesis is to investigate the occurrence and recognition of “limit experience” among some Catholic High School students in their final year at selected secondary colleges in Brisbane. “Limit” experience was defined as an experience that reveals a reality of life beyond the self, beyond the here and now. It may be recognition of our own fragility and vulnerability as much as a joyous awareness of a reality beyond our normal encounter with life.” The research work of the Alistair Hardy Research Centre and of Hay (1987) in particular has centred on the question, asked in various ways: Have you ever been aware of, or influenced by, a presence or power, whether you call it God or not, which is different from your everyday life? The survey instrument for this research was designed to divorce questions on such experiences from the direct reference to the term “religious”, although individuals might indeed interpret them as “religious”. To approach the issue, an extensive open-ended survey was administered to senior high school students. It was designed first to determine the extent of recognition of such experiences among the students and second to examine whether factors such as home background, regular religious practice, type of school, subject choice or co-curricula activities may make a difference in enhancing the awareness of such experience. This research has also been designed to enable comparison with similar studies. Major research in Australia by Flynn (1975, 1985, 1993) highlighted the factors above as influencing student achievement. Flynn also made connections to religious practice and attitudes to church but not to religious experience as such. Robinson and Jackson (1987) had undertaken extensive research on religious experience in Great Britain that also has important parallels to this research. Some of the techniques of both studies and in some cases actual questions have formed part of this research instrument. This research has gone further than both studies by incorporating the Hay (1987) categorisation of types of religious experience to form the basis for direct questions on student experience. The data gathering, treatment and analysis focused on four catholic secondary schools in the Brisbane Archdiocese. While the research focus was by definition limited, and while the results have of necessity to be treated with some caution before wider generalisation, the outcomes of the research do illuminate some of the important issues identified in the literature. The results of the survey showed that over 90% of the respondents could affirm some association with a “limit” experience along the lines of the Hay (1987) framework. With significant strengthening of criteria to allow for meaningful statistical analysis, this reduced to 76% of respondents. Results for this smaller group were shown to be essentially independent of home background, type of school attended, co-curricula programs and level of religious practice. With the significant exception of religious education, their recognition of “limit” experience was also independent of subject choice. This last is in contrast to the earlier work of Robinson and Jackson (1987). Exploratory analyses of the data enabled comparisons to be made with a suggested framework for “spiritual sensitivity” and the context of “relational consciousness”, both of which were first proposed by Hay and Nye (1998). This suggests some possible directions for further research into adolescent spirituality. The exploratory analyses also highlight some of the conflict between the reality of these experiences for students and their experience of dissonance with institutional religion.
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