Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


Date of this Version

Fall 2008


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements Of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies. Under the Supervision of Professor Richard Hoover.
Lincoln, Nebraska: December, 2008
Copyright (c) 2008 Mary-Ellen Madigan.


During college, students search for meaning in their lives and question their beliefs, behavior, and mortality (Garber, 1996). One way that students search for meaning is through their spiritual lives. Spirituality is “the personal quest for understanding of ultimate questions about life, about meaning, and about relationship to the sacred or transcendent” (Koenig, McCullough & Larson, 2001, p. 18). Parental attachment theory explains that students who have developed a secure attachment with their parents see their parents as a secure base from which to explore their environment (Kenny & Donaldson, 1991, p. 480). This environment may be internal or external. Students with a secure base from which to explore may have a higher level of spiritual development. This study was conducted to determine if there was a correlation between parental attachment and spiritual development in traditional-aged undergraduate college students. The outcome of this research would have relevance to the kind of programs that institutions provide to their students and to the parents of their students to assist students in their spiritual development. The population included 6,091 students enrolled in two regional campuses of a university located in the Northeastern United States. Subjects’ levels of parental attachment was measured using the Parental Attachment Questionnaire (PAQ) and subjects’ spiritual development was measured by the Spiritual Experience Index-Revised (SEI-R). Other variables studied included gender, ethnicity, class level, and age. A positive correlation between parental attachment and spiritual development was found. Female students scored higher on spiritual development than did males and non-Caucasian students had a higher level of spiritual development than Caucasian students. Older students reported higher levels of spiritual openness and lower levels of spiritual support than younger students. Additionally, younger students and those with lower class standings scored higher in the Parental Fostering of Autonomy than their older peers and those who had been in college longer. This research provides higher education professionals information to use in creating programs and services for students and their parents.