Original Research - Special Collection: Graham Duncan Dedication

The religious lives of students at a South African university

Werner Nell
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 72, No 1 | a3177 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i1.3177 | © 2016 Werner Nell | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 September 2015 | Published: 08 April 2016

About the author(s)

Werner Nell, North-West University, South Africa


Whilst significant research has been conducted on religious affiliation and on general levels of religiosity in the South African context, few studies specifically investigated the religious lives of South African university students in a comprehensive way. This is unfortunate as such research could significantly inform and support the effectiveness of youth and student ministries. As such, this article explored the religious lives of students at a university in the Gauteng province of South Africa, focusing specifically on students’ self-assessed religiosity, the maturity of their religious attitudes, their spiritual well-being, the religious practices in which they engage and the relationship between such practices and their spiritual well-being. Gender, racial and religious differences concerning these variables were also investigated. Data were collected from 356 undergraduate students by means of a structured survey consisting of the Spiritual Well-Being Questionnaire, the Religious Fundamentalism Scale and two other scales aimed at assessing religiosity and religious practices. Results indicated that 98.9% of participants were religious with the majority (86.9%) being Christian. Generally, students espoused highly fundamentalist religious attitudes but had high levels of spiritual well-being. Prayer and virtual or in-person attendance of religious gatherings such as church services were the most prevalent religious practices whereas fasting and meditation were practiced least. All practices were positively correlated with students’ spiritual well-being. Based on these findings, the article concludes with several specific, practical recommendations relevant to student ministries and those working with university students in religious contexts.


religion, religiosity, spirituality, university students, spiritual well-being, religious practices, fundamentalism


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