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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Publication details for Professor Mathew Guest

Guest, Mathew (2019). The 'Hidden Christians' of the UK University Campus. In Young People and the Diversity of (Non)Religious Identities in International Perspective. Arweck, Elisabeth & Shipley, Heather Cham, Switzerland: Springer. 8: 51-67.

Author(s) from Durham


This chapter is concerned with expressions of Christian identity among university students, asking how the experience of university generates strategies for dealing with cultural and religious difference. In probing this question, it revisits Colin Campbell’s (Sociol Anal 39(2):146–156, 1978) thesis—itself a development of the work of Ernst Troeltsch—about the ‘secret religion of the educated classes’. Campbell applies Troeltsch’s account of ‘Spiritual and Mystical Religion’ to emerging religious trends in the 1960s, highlighting affinities between an adaptive, individualistic religiosity and the cultural identities of a middle class educated demographic. Key to both are individualism, tolerance, and a tendency towards syncretism. The present chapter deploys this framework in considering configurations of Christian identity among present-day undergraduates studying at UK universities. Those engaged in higher education and self-identifying as Christian form an ideal case study for ascertaining whether Campbell’s thesis is capable of illuminating patterns of cultural correlation that endure well beyond the 1960s and into the twenty-first century. The chapter concludes by developing a theory of ‘hiddenness’, seeking to reveal variant patterns among Christian students, based around concealment (driven by a desire not to be associated with publicly assertive religion), reservation (driven by a desire to sideline or compartmentalise religion in order to accommodate the demands of the university experience), and diversion (driven by an urge to embody Christian identity in novel ways not necessarily amenable to conventional sociological analysis).