About The Study

The time is ripe for a new study of chaplaincy and campus ministry in American higher education. The National Study of Campus Ministries was conducted between 2004 and 2008. Its goal was to provide a detailed map of the campus ministry landscape.

The new Landscape Study of Chaplaincy and Campus Ministry in the United States builds on that earlier study, while exploring a wider range of groups. How have chaplaincy and campus ministry changed? What does the field look like today? In answering these questions, the Landscape Study will focus on three main topics: 1) Chaplains and Campus Minister; 2) Students; and 3) Programs and Organizations.

Campus Ministers and Chaplains

Focusing on campus religious personnel, the Landscape Study will explore their priorities, models of ministry, and how they spend their days. Using both ethnographic methods and a national survey, it will assess what has changed in the past decade. It will also explore the professional culture of chaplains and campus ministers, including their education and training, theological reading habits, professional role models, and engagement with cultural and religious diversity.


Besides profiling a changing profession, the Landscape Study will examine how students experience campus ministries and what they are seeking, using the methods of ethnography and in-depth interviews. It will look at how campus ministries engage students through lived religious practices and by connecting them with larger traditions and narratives. It will explore how campus ministries change to meet student needs, as well as the impact of cultural and religious diversity on campus religious life.

Programs and Organizations

Like the National Study of Campus Ministries, the new Landscape Study will examine the nuts and bolts of campus programs, including finances, staff size, reporting lines, level of student participation, and relationships with administrators and other campus religious groups. It will also examine the relationships among chaplains, student affairs professionals, and campus wellness programs, including their response to the student mental health crisis.

A three-year research project begun in 2020, the Landscape Study examines religion in a time of COVID-19 and heightened attention to racial injustice. These developments will affect both the questions we ask and the methods we use.

Research Methods and Activities

The Landscape Study of Chaplaincy and Campus Ministry in the United States will combine qualitative methods of ethnography and in-depth interviews with a national survey of chaplains and campus ministers. The project will engage in three main research activities:

Ethnographic site visits

Ethnographic site visits will be conducted in four regions of the country (East, South, Midwest, and West), focusing on 2-3 campuses within each region. The study will focus on multiple ministries in each area, exploring the ecology of student religious life. Ethnographic site visits will include participant observation and in-depth interviews with both chaplains/campus ministers, the students in their programs, and other key stakeholders (board members, student affairs personnel, etc.).

Auxiliary visits

Auxiliary visits to the denominational or organizational headquarters of campus groups will take place in all three years of the project. The purpose of these visits  will be to conduct interviews and gather additional information (data on the number and location of campus chapters and noteworthy programs). These visits will supplement the ethnographic site visits and the survey. Whenever possible, each group or denomination studied on campus will receive a headquarters visit (though some do not have national or regional offices).

National Survey

A national survey of campus ministers, chaplains, and other campus religious personnel will be administered in the Fall of 2021. The survey design will draw on the ethnographic site visits. The goal of the survey is to provide a national snapshot of chaplains and campus ministers from a broad range of traditions. It will also allow for comparisons with the earlier National Study of Campus Ministries survey administered in 2006.

Because of COVID-19 and concerns about travel and social distancing, the early ethnographic site visits and interviews will be conducted online, as chaplaincy and campus ministry programs utilize virtual and hybrid programs to reach students through new technologies. Early auxiliary visits will also be conducted online.