Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Higher and Adult Education


Adult Education

Committee Chair

Barbara Mullins-Nelson

Committee Member

Katrina Cummings Myers

Committee Member

Jeff Wilson

Committee Member

William Akey


The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of a small group of adult students who participated in service learning throughout the course of a summer at the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, North Carolina. The transformations in how these students came to understand their spirituality that came about as a result of their service work were of particular interest. Did engaging in service learning change how the students perceived spirituality? Did participation lead to changes in assumptions or beliefs? Did service learning alter how the students made sense of themselves, the world around them, and the connections between the two? To what extent did the students attribute those transformations? Theoretical perspectives and research from both the fields of service learning and spirituality and its relationship to higher education provided a foundation for the study.A form of qualitative methodology known as photo-elicitation was used. Photographs taken by the participants, as well as semi-structured, in-depth interviews served as the primary data sources for the project. A reflexive journal kept by the researcher was also analyzed and triangulated with the other data sources. Inductive analysis was employed to develop themes from the data.Seven themes emerged from the data that encapsulated the transformations in how the participants understood their spirituality: spirituality as relationship and community; spirituality as teaching or learning; spirituality as the act of creating; spirituality as encountering difference; spirituality as nature; spirituality as existential connection; and, spirituality as consciousness. Three main catalysts were identified by the participants that helped enable those changes: being exposed to difference; experiencing or witnessing significant community; and, intentionally reflecting. Two overarching categories that subsumed these themes and influences were experience and making meaning. Other patterns that were also evident in the data were; spirituality as storytelling; spirituality in the mundane; spirituality as surprise; and, spirituality as intuition.All participants reported transformations in how they came to understand and describe their sense of spirituality as a result of engaging in their summer of service learning. Participants also identified the work of service learning as spiritual in and of itself.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.