The Religion in the Academy (RITA) Project address the many ways that religion, spirituality,

and big questions of human meaning and purpose interact with university education.




Directors of the Religion in the Academy Project


Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen co-direct the Religion in the Academy (RITA) Project, a major research initiative examining the impact of religion and religious diversity within higher learning (see They have lectured or led workshops at many American colleges and universities and are co-authors of three books published by Oxford University Press: Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation (2004), The American University in a Postsecular Age (2008), winner of the Lilly Fellows Book Award, and No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education (2012), winner of a Critics Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association.


Title: Jake Jacobsen


Title: Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen

Douglas "Jake" Jacobsen (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Distinguished Professor of Church History and Theology at Messiah College. Jake is the award-winning author of Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (2003), Gracious Christianity (2006), The World's Christians (2011), and Global Gospel: An Introduction to Christianity on Five Continents (2015).



Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen (Ed.D., Temple University) is Director of Faculty Development and Professor of Psychology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. Rhonda has been the recipient of both national and campus teaching awards and has received several grants from the John Templeton Foundation to support her work bringing science and religion into dialogue in the classroom.

Contact Information:









RITA Presentations and Workshops


The RITA Project helps colleges and universities develop models for engaging with religion in ways that align with institutional missions, educational goals, and campus cultures. The Jacobsens are able to provide customized half-day, full-day, or multi-day events that facilitate conversations, planning, and decision-making at public, private, and church-related institutions of higher education.



Religion encompasses a complex mix of personal spirituality, historic institutions, emerging movements, and public values. Designing and assessing university programs that engage religion in ways appropriate to a particular institution requires clear and appropriate guidelines. The RITA categories of personal, historic, and public religion provide a helpful framework for curricular and co-curricular engagement with various types of religious expression.



Religious diversity is re-shaping college and university campuses. The RITA co-directors have evaluated the demographics of religion both globally and in the USA, with a focus on the contemporary diversity of religious and secular beliefs among young adults. Religious diversity presents challenges and opportunities for enhancing higher learning related to service-learning, global understanding, and civic engagement.



Students (and professors) are human beings whose values and experiences influence the way they learn. Knowledge (one's best evidence-based understanding of the world) and faith (one's sense of connection with something larger than oneself) are inextricably intertwined. The RITA project employs five models for linking faith with learning to help educators and institutions understand these connections.



During the past two decades, religions have become less clearly bounded and the line between traditional religion and spiritual or secular convictions has blurred. This new cultural reality, which the RITA project calls "pluriform religion," is reshaping many academic fields of study. This presentation explores the significance of pluriform religion for curricular and co-curricular university programming.




The RITA Project has worked with a wide variety of colleges and universities, including:


Belmont University

Bethel University (MN)

Brigham Young University

Brown University

Calvin College

Davis and Elkins College

DePauw University

Dominican University

Eastern Mennonite University

Emory University

Hartwick College

Houghton College

Illinois College

Indiana Wesleyan University


Oberlin College

Penn State University

Pepperdine University

Princeton University

Roberts Wesleyan College

St. Olaf College

Santa Clara University

Seattle University

Syracuse University

University of Puget Sound

University of Rochester

Vanderbilt University

Virginia Tech





RITA Project Publications



No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education

(Oxford University Press, 2012)


Title: No Longer Invisible book cover



2013 American Education Studies Association (AESA) Critics' Choice Book Award


Drawing on conversations with hundreds of professors, co-curricular educators, administrators, and students from institutions spanning the entire spectrum of American colleges and universities, the Jacobsens illustrate how religion is constructively intertwined with the work of higher education in the twenty-first century. No Longer Invisible documents how, after decades when religion was marginalized, colleges and universities are re-engaging matters of faith--an educational development that is both positive and necessary.


Religion in contemporary American life is now incredibly complex, with religious pluralism on the rise and the categories of "religious" and "secular" often blending together in a dizzying array of lifestyles and beliefs. Using the categories of historic religion, public religion, and personal religion, No Longer Invisible offers a new framework for understanding this emerging religious terrain, a framework that can help colleges and universities--and the students who attend them--interact with religion more effectively. The stakes are high: Faced with escalating pressures to focus solely on job training, American higher education may find that paying more careful and nuanced attention to religion is a prerequisite for preserving American higher education's longstanding commitment to personal, social, and civic learning.


"This volume is a wise, sophisticated, eminently readable, and profoundly important contribution to the literature of higher education in America."

Lee S. Shulman, President Emeritus, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching


"The authors make a convincing argument that . . . educating the whole student means being willing to take all perspectives, even religious perspectives, seriously, from classrooms to student affairs to administrative offices."

Joanne Maguire Robinson, Teaching Theology and Religion


"The authors provide a much-needed source for understanding how religion connects with higher learning and how to capitalize on, rather than ignore, such connections."

Rishi Sriram, Religious Studies Review


"The Jacobsens' model allows even public colleges and universities to understand how religious questions can impact teaching and scholarship."

Todd W. Ferguson, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion



The American University in a Postsecular Age

(Oxford University Press, 2008)


Title: The American University in a Postsecular Age book cover



2009 Lilly Fellows Book Award Winner


For much of the twentieth century, it was assumed that higher education was and ought to be a secular enterprise, but that approach no longer suffices. The culture has shifted, and contemporary college and university students are increasingly bringing religious and spiritual questions to campus. In response, college and university leaders are exploring anew the relationship between religion and higher education.

This is a state-of-the-art introduction to the national discussion about religion and higher education. Leading scholars and top educators express a wide spectrum of opinions that reflect the best current thinking. Introductory and concluding essays by the editors describe the postsecular character of our age and propose a comprehensive framework intended to facilitate ongoing conversation.



Scholarship and Christian Faith: Enlarging the Conversation

(Oxford University Press, 2004)


Title: Scholarship & Christian Faith book cover



This book enters a lively discussion about religious faith and higher education in America that has been going on for a decade or more. During this time many scholars have joined the debate about how best to understand the role of faith in the academy at large and in the special arena of church-related Christian higher education. The notion of faith-informed scholarship has, of course, figured prominently in this conversation. But, argue Douglas and Rhonda Jacobsen, the idea of Christian scholarship itself has been remarkably under-discussed. Most of the literature has assumed a definition of Christian scholarship that is Reformed and evangelical in orientation: a model associated with the phrase "the integration of faith and learning."


The authors offer a new definition and analysis of Christian scholarship that respects the insights of different Christian traditions (e.g., Catholic, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Wesleyan, Pentecostal) and that applies to the arts and to professional studies as much as it does to the humanities and the natural and social sciences. The book itself is organized as a conversation. Five chapters by the Jacobsens alternate with four contributed essays that sharpen, illustrate, or complicate the material in the preceding chapters. The goal is both to map the complex terrain of Christian scholarship as it actually exists and to help foster better connections between Christian scholars of differing persuasions and between Christians and the academy as a whole.




Last Updated: September 2017