Higher Education in the U.S. today is experiencing a theoretical and practical shift toward educating the "whole person" and to that end, is investigating ways to include spirituality in all facets of the academy. This requires focusing on the concept that "in addition to material knowledge, spiritual, emotional, and ethical knowledge is imparted to students" (Khan 2009). Many colleges and universities are searching for avenues to answer this call and better prepare students as business, political and social leaders in a new millennia that defines religion very differently than it did twenty years ago. Today, students are exposed to a much wider array of organized religions from all over the globe. Additionally, the very definitions of religion and spirituality have undergone a seismic shift making it difficult for colleges to incorporate a religious or spiritual focus into curriculum. More and more people are cobbling together their own unique combinations of religious ideas, practices, experiences and core values from a variety of religious and non-religious sources. The term 'spirituality' is sometimes used to describe this new do-it-yourself faith...To be 'spiritual' understood in this sense, is to have deeply held convictions, and anyone can have those kinds of heartfelt allegiances. This new ambiguity about what counts as religion or spirituality makes it virtually impossible to keep religion out of higher education. (Jacobsen and Jacobsen 2012) Research on the subject of religion and spirituality indicates that this is a point of major concern for many young American college students who are searching for personal and social significance. (Arnett 2000a; Astin, et al. 2011; Jacobsen and Jacobsen 2012) This study asserts that college students enter a unique stage of development known as emerging adulthood (Arnett 2000a) that calls for increased focus on meaning making and identity formation. In an effort to meet the individual and institutional need for spiritual exploration, this study will offer specific applied theatre practices that connect theories in theatre, psychology, student development and leadership designed to serve the emerging adult population as part of a holistic educational vision. This study confirms the feasibility of such a program by a detailed examination of specific theatre techniques and, in particular, the adaptation of Playback Theatre as the most viable form for inner life exploration and campus community building. A formal investigation into the efficacy of theatrical methods is called for as validation of theories and practices offered here. It is my hope that this research will encourage campus-wide awareness of theatre's utility and application to a wider range of students. By recognizing the need to educate the "whole person", institutions of Higher Education can give students the best possible preparation for a full and meaningful adult life through theatre practices uniquely designed for the purpose of inner life exploration and awareness. Key Implications: new areas of application for Applied Theatre Studies; collaborative opportunities for college theatre departments and student services, expansion of campus wide-visibility and understanding of theatre arts, feasibility for attending to student inner life needs and student community building through theatre.


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Graduation Date





Wood, Vandy


Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities



Degree Program

Theatre; Theatre for Young Audiences









Release Date

May 2016

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)