Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dawn Coleman, Michael Keene

Committee Members

Kirsten Benson, Mark Hulsether


The purpose of this study was to better describe and understand the academic writing and experiences of evangelical undergraduates at a public university. Previous composition studies have drawn attention to undergraduate diversity and the role of religious rhetorics in writing classrooms. However, because much of the existing scholarship identifies evangelical students by their “problematic” writing, the field has focused on writing that does not conform to academic expectations and is obviously faith-motivated. Additionally, because most composition studies of religious student writing report on classroom anecdotes, it has prioritized instructors’ experiences rather than student experiences. In contrast, this dissertation used qualitative interview methods to understand how these evangelicals experienced academic writing situations and how their experiences shaped their academic writing and qualitative document analysis methods to describe the characteristics of the academic writing of ten self-identified evangelical undergraduates.

The interview data revealed that there is no single phenomenon of evangelical identity and, therefore, no single evangelical experience of academic writing, but that evangelical identities do exert pressure on academic writing by significantly shaping evangelicals’ rhetorical awareness and interpretation of the salience of their writing. Based on the interview data, this dissertation presents a model of how evangelical identities influence rhetorical purposes and uses the model to explain three primary patterns of faith-motivated writing that emerged. The document analysis revealed that participants’ academic writing was usually a fitting response to an academic writing situation. This study also found that participants’ rhetorical purposes and choices for academic writing were dynamic and that some evangelicals significantly developed as writers over time as they gained discourse community expertise.

This study’s findings do not support the dominant characterizations of evangelical undergraduates or their academic writing and suggest that we may be misreading this growing student population. Further research about the diversity of evangelical students in terms of race, geography, and theology as well as longitudinal studies are needed to better understand how evangelical undergraduates develop rhetorically during college and what types of schooling experiences best support their rhetorical development.

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