Conventional wisdom says that American universities that have lost their religious roots are places where neither spiritual longings nor moral boundaries can get a hearing. But Donna Freitas, a religion professor at Boston University, says that students themselves defy this wisdom by showing an insatiable interest in spirituality and ethics, particularly as they challenge the hypersexed party scene dominant on such campuses. Freitas spoke with CT assistant editor Katelyn Beaty about her latest book, Sex and the Soul, and what nonreligious schools (which Freitas calls spiritual schools) can gain from born-again virgins and evangelical authors such as Joshua Harris and Lauren Winner.
Sex and the Soul emerged from conversations in your class "Dating and Friendship" at St. Michael's College. What about those conversations made you want to investigate sex and spirituality on campuses?
I thought it was interesting that even though hookup culture was prominent on campus, I had so many students trying to get into the class, dying to have a conversation about spirituality and religion in relation to their dating lives. I saw in them a yearning to critique hookup culture with spirituality and religion, even if they were unsure of what that meant.
There was also a turning point during my class when my students came back from spring break. One student admitted out loud that she hated hookup culture—that she was participating in it but that it didn't make her happy. Suddenly the whole class shifted: they were all shocked to realize that they were all unhappy; they were acting a certain way because they felt like that's what they were supposed to do. I was interested in that dissonance between what they thought everyone wanted to do ...