časopis pro pedagogiku v souvislostech * journal of education in contexts
Ročník: 2013Volume: 2013
Číslo: 2Issue: 2
Vyšlo: 31. prosince 2013Published: December 31st, 2013
Valčová, Katarína. The Influence of Religiosity and Spirituality of the teacher on the Effectivity of the Educational and Formative Process at the level of Universities. . Paidagogos, [Actualized: 2013-12-31], [Cited: 2017-10-24], 2013, 2, #29. P. . Availiable at: <>


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The Influence of Religiosity and Spirituality of the teacher on the Effectivity of the Educational and Formative Process at the level of Universities.

Katarína Valčová

Abstract: The role of the teacher is the most important one not only in the process of cognitive education but also in the process of personal formation of students. From this standpoint, a teacher is not only the one conveying the information but he/she serves as a personal example for the students, too. In this respect, a person who is deeply involved in religious matters bears clear signs of the religious beliefs and spiritual experiences in their everyday life, including the process of teaching. The organic connection between spirituality and religiosity serves as a healthy base for more effective approach to the students, inviting them, in a very sensitive and non-offensive way, first to consider the possibilities of their own life, and second, to grow and to mature in a very personal way.

Keywords: Religiosity, spirituality, teacher, student, values, norms, experience

1. The post-modern world

Postmodernism denies the possibility of total knowledge of the reality. All convictions (whether religious or scientific) are considered to be social constructions, depending on the lives of specific people, living in certain space and in certain time. There are no such things as universal truth or universal method.

According to Peter L. Berger (1995) 1, it is modernity that favors and brings forth pluralism which is different from secularism. In the area of religions it means a broad scale of possible “faiths” bringing new possibilities for a new generation that does not comply with already established traditional churches and their authority. This new generation needs to be fully convinced on a cognitive and also on an experiential level to choose certain belief. 2

Prof. David Lyon (2002) 3 proposes that the power of the traditional religious groups in a specific environment significantly decreases leaving the space to secularism, which is only strengthened by the power of new ways of communication, especially technology and by the increasing strength of consumerism. If the traditional Churches want to keep up, they need to rethink their way of communicating their basic message. 4

Traditional Churches encounter again the important question of expressing the orthodox Christian faith in new forms and new ways, and offering a meaningful way of personal and communitarian spirituality. On the market of many ideologies sounding religious 5 (or semi-religious), Christian churches have to find more effective way of communicating the meaning of community gathered around the Word and Sacraments, having clear ideal and goal, living in hope of things yet to come.

Relativism of postmodernism brings us to the point, where the boundaries between strictly religious and that what resembles in some ways religious is smudged. As the boundaries between what is right and what is wrong cannot be clearly set anymore, the distinction between truth and lies has been forgotten. Bringing these grand overarching ideas down to earth, to the educational institutions, we can immediately see the practical consequences.

2. The image/concept of God/deity

To answer the question of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on one’s life, we need to look at the question of legitimacy of a religiosity in one’s life.

As Muchová 6 suggests, it is an organic part of human life to seek the sacred, to relate to transcendence, and live out spirituality that is connected to outer religiosity. According to her, each human being has a specific religious dimension with inner and outer characteristics and signs. On a very personal level it is subjective religion, where each person seeks their own way of grasping the notion of sacred, understanding the relationship to a transcendent entity and living out certain beliefs. Personal convictions are strengthened by the outer form of religion, which is objective religion offering explanations, symbols and rituals in a communitarian setting. 7

Muchová offers more detailed view on the basic human needs that are “given” to each human and are an organic part of each person. Each person possesses basic anxiety (or awe) that is ever-present and is clearly visible in life-threatening-situations or changes occurring in different stages of human life (puberty, marriage, sickness, change of schools…). In addition to that, each person possesses basic trust. It is one of the basic human needs to rely on someone important. Humans naturally do it from the time they are born – relying on the mothers and fathers or any other person, to take care of them. This is the important base for establishing the foundation for one’s meaningful life. Each human being lives in the fear of death, not really knowing when or how it will come. The fear of death is one of the most important factors, together with fear from the unknown or strange, or unexplainable, underlining the need for sacred, transcendent being overseeing the matters that are out of human hands. Thus each person has the longing for God. 8

According to Hatoková 9 the image/concept of god/deity is a necessary part of any religion. It deeply influences the core personality of a person. If a person believes he/she has been created in the image of his/her deity, the inevitable question is – who is the deity? What kind of a god is the source and the example of life for the person? Komárik (1997) 10 suggests God is something people take seriously and do not have any doubts about. He goes further in his explanation saying that humans tend to create images on two basis – first is what they know well – humans, and second what is above them, what they cannot fully grasp and that is the image of the broad world with a transcendent entity being the source of everything. Humans define themselves according to the deity/God they believe in – presenting the image of deity/God as a person with all the attributes of a person and even more attributes unattainable to the humans at any point of life.

Baldwin (1992) 11 describes the concept of God in the changing stages of life of a human being. First of all, God is both, mysterious and specific, real and ideal, and humans clearly recognize their dependency on Him. The first stage and understanding could be described as physical or spontaneous, since every child 12 relies fully on known people, who satisfy their needs the best. The second stage is intellectual. A child starts to recognize and critically think about the rules of behavior asking a lot of questions (why?). Parents, naturally, are the ones who know everything, so they are the guardians of keeping the rules and they reward or punish the child. The third stage is ethical. A person starts to distinguish between moral behavior and faith, he/she is able to recognize communitarian norms and values, knows the boundaries and the punishment for overstepping them. The new concept is the concept of undeserved grace that is underlining a picture of good and loving God. The fourth stage is esthetical, meaning a much more personal and deeper understanding of God and His deeds based on personal experiences.

Frielingsdorf (1995) 13 explored and defined false (unconscious) picture of God. Human understanding of the image of God is based not only on the known face of God visible in the Bible and Christian communities, but also on the mysterious, hidden side of God. Human conclusion is - God will never reveal Himself fully and will remain a mystery for the time-being. In this respect, God is the embodiment of the contrast, even contradiction. He is present and remote, close and distant at the same time. Therefore, it is very difficult for any person to put the unified, unambiguous picture of God together.

When it comes to experiencing God, there might be a discrepancy between the personal and mediated experience. A person brought up in a Christian tradition is offered a concept of God as He is experienced by the members of the family, which is the very first image of God. The parents usually offer both, positive and negative experiences of God, speaking about God’s love and mercy on one side, but also about God’s wrath and justice on the other side. This first image is enlarged or more developed during the Christian education classes, both in positive and negative way. Still, God may not be personally experienced and accepted by the recipient of the information. On the contrary, the personal perception of God may still be somewhat distant and mysterious, “pagan,” full of mystery and magic.

3. The differences and common points between spirituality and religiosity

Religiosity is defined in many different ways. It is considered to be the positive relationship of a person to a transcendent being (deity) including a number of phenomena - various forms of thinking, that shape the religious convictions, specific forms of experience, that mark personal feelings, and mixed religious actions opening the possibility for a person to show their faith in a very practical way (Stríženec, 1996). Being religious from the sociological point of view means to belong to an organized group of people, an institution, with rules, norms and cultic life – rituals, rites and symbols. Life of an individual thus cannot resist the influence of the religious group they belong to. The quality of life is a complex sum of various factors on a very personal and also on a social level, differentiating the secular and religious communities. 14

To measure religiosity, is a complex and difficult task. It includes the outer and the inner signs that are difficult to trace. It is possible though, to look at some outer indicators to perceive some signs of religiosity, like attendance at worship, or admitting particular confession of faith. These are considered to be the “classical” forms of religiosity. Both of these outer forms of religiosity do not require absolutely active participation, a person can be a passive receiver of the information or a passive listener, which, on one side can still serve as a supportive structure for the person and yet, it does not necessarily mean changed and meaningful personal life.

If a child grows in organized community with common teaching, rituals and symbols, serving as a tool to draw the participant closer to the transcendent being overseeing the whole process, there is certain progress in child’s thinking and life, which is regarded as religious growth supporting and forming the identity of the child (trust, hope, the notion of sin and the need for forgiveness, obedience, etc.). It is naturally connected to the inner spiritual growth where “I (myself)” is naturally connected to the sacred, transcendent being and the consequences are visible on a personal but also social level.

Spirituality overlapping with religiosity positively correlates with person’s well-being, which is related to personal growth, insight, and with the involvement in creative and knowledge-creating everyday tasks. Individual religiosity during one’s life-time changes slowly but noticeably - the value of ritual practice decreases and the value of personal prayer and meditation rises. Religiosity as such is not lost, but its traditional manifestations are changed. (Stríženec, 2007)

What happens, though, if someone does not trust the institutions or just passively participates in the institution’s organized life? Since a person is involved in activities that do not satisfy, it leads to alienation, which has an enormous influence on human life. A person without the living connection to the religious community they are a part of, feels not only alienated from the ideas and norms of the community, but also isolated on a social level, which means helplessness, and meaninglessness on a personal level. (Vavra, 2010)

Spirituality is considered to be a way of life with experiences gained in the community of believers and in active interaction with the sacred being/God through the mystical experiences. Spirituality can be understood as an active search for the sacred, as the process through which people try to hold to what they regard as important in their lives. Sacred includes such concepts as God, divinity, or death. Spirituality forms the norms and values in one’s life, and relationships – to yourself, to the others, to God. 15 Spirituality, according to Plašienková (1997), is the existential attitude of a person, all the experiences that relate to the sphere of transcendence, which may be religious or nonreligious. Today there is a confusing number of spiritual alternatives. 16

In theology, spirituality is mostly defined as a personal and spontaneous expression of spiritual life, as a result of the action of the Holy Spirit. “Spiritual theology” explores the spiritual experience of life in its different modalities, its gradual development, its structure, and patterns. It includes mysticism (emphasis on inner experience with God) and asceticism (achieving the highest degree of perfection, usually through the suppression of sensual flesh and contemplation of the Word).

Regarding the differences between religiosity and spirituality, we have already stated that the basic concepts of spirituality and religiosity partially overlap. Spirituality is an essential part of religiosity. The process of spiritual development starting in childhood usually is deliberate, and spontaneous. The degree of spirituality depends on the motivation, and personal experiences of each person and in such a way, spirituality serves as the foundation for the formation of the whole person, including the authorities, norms, values, morality, wisdom, and worldview. 17 The development of spiritual life thus depends on the growth and education of the whole person leading towards maturity.

4. The influence of the teacher on student’s learning and formation

Higher-level-teaching is characterized by greater professional and physical distance. Many teachers therefore treat closeness and emotions as intrusions in the classroom. “This distance threatens the basic forms of emotional understanding on which high-quality teaching and learning depend.” 18 Since it is almost impossible to leave the emotions behind the closed door and be totally neutral, we cannot expect the students to do the same; especially if the teacher’s life is based on his/her religious convictions. Teachers’ beliefs can and should become an important focus of educational inquiry. It requires “clear conceptualizations, careful examination of key assumptions, consistent understandings and adherence to precise meanings, and proper assessment and investigation of specific belief constructs.” 19

To be an effective teacher means to live in this tension all the time; on one side to keep the prescribed norms and rules together with ideals, zeal, self-esteem; on the other side to know one’s own limits, allow the space for emotions, which allow the teacher to relate to students as to human beings. Neither the teacher, nor the students come to the classroom detached from their personal lives, including the matters of faith (religion and spirituality). And yet, they enter the special educational space with rules and possibilities, which all together creates a very special dynamic influencing not only the lives of the students, but the life of the whole society.

The generational gap between the teacher and the student means different set of values and norms, utterly diverse way of receiving any kinds of information, different way of communication and critical thinking, and a very different approach to life in general. The postmodern accent on diversity concerning the ways of life and plurality of truths underlined by a personal preference and choice, often opens up the space for an ongoing dialogue between the teacher and the student. On the other side the absolute persuasive power of the “words” lost its full meaning. If the words, whether said or written, are not connected with some kind of experience, they usually fade away quickly – the times of academic debates leading to axioms and principles, later put to practice in one’s life, are long gone. In the lives of young students, the whole process has been reversed - first comes the practical experience followed by thought process, 20 then the questions may arise, and finally come the axioms stating some values and norms, which influence the way of life.

More than words, a personal example of the teacher plays an important role in this whole process. The integrity of the teacher’s words and deeds, firm adherence to the values and norms in practical everyday life and teaching, and an open mind are the necessary prerequisites for a meaningful dialogue creating the space for spiritual formation of the students. The teacher has to decide really wisely, how to pursue the spiritual formation of the students without forcing them to accept religious ideas they consider dead or irrelevant – what kind of current means of communication to use in order to engage the students fully in a meaningful educational and formation process. The firm connection between teacher’s professional practice and personal values influences young students not only on the strictly professional cognitive level but also on a personal, existential level, so that the development of their personalities can be complex and thus more effective.

According to our own experience, we consider the atmosphere of acceptance, openness and trust to be the key factor in the process of spiritual formation. General mistrust, which is prevalent in the current society, leading to doubts, suspicion, and social isolation, is clearly visible in the educational process in the interaction between the students and their teachers. Mistrust leads people to individualism ending in broken and shallow relationships, and dissatisfaction and unhappiness in their personal lives.

The atmosphere of acceptance, openness and trust can be built and kept only on the strong foundation of self-confidence on the side of the teacher. Teacher needs to be certain of him/herself, meaning, he/she needs to know who they really are, what their qualities are and be fully aware of them; they must know of their own weaknesses and how to absorb or overcome them; and they need to know what they believe in, in the religious-spiritual sense. Our theology informs our anthropology. The Source of our life (in both, ontological and existential sense) is the foundation of our perception of the other human beings.

Students are generally very perceptive. They notice very well the approach of a specific teacher and are very sensitive to how the teacher perceives them, not only as students of a certain program, but also as human beings with feelings and specific life-stories. The present generation of young people learns on the basis of first-hand-experience, which feeds their cognitive process and makes them re-think their own approach to life. Values and norms of the teacher are observed and tested on the basis of his/her own behavior, and only then transformed into student’s lives.


In the process of cognitive education and personal formation in the present relativist and all-doubting-post-modern society, it is of vital importance for the teacher to be situated in a supportive and constructive community of believers offering the opportunity to serve and to grow as a person and as a member of a broader society. Only those deeply rooted in a safe community can show healthy signs of spiritual life and thus can become effective teachers both, cognitively and formatively, in the educational process. Even though the immediate effectivity in student’s lives may not be clearly visible, the experience shows the long-term-effect on the values, norms and life-style of the students, usually visible after some years through the feedback from the students getting back to the teacher to seek some advice or simply express their gratitude. The question still remains, though – what are we to do to raise the immediate effectivity? It shows the need of a further explanation of the subject.


1. In STRÍŽENEC, Michal. Novšie psychologické pohľady na religiozitu a spiritualitu. Bratislava 2007. p. 30. [online][2013-10-15]

2. People in the present times live in a society where market holds a prime place, the possibility to choose according to one’s wishes in this matter means a market of various faiths, religions, and churches.

3. In STRÍŽENEC, Michal. Novšie psychologické pohľady na religiozitu a spiritualitu. Bratislava 2007. p. 31. [online][2013-10-15]

4. Some churches grasped very quickly the need to be different and offer “instant” mercy of God presented in the cyber-space-electronical Christian-communities throught the teleevangelization, etc.

5. There are a lot of societies and communities resembling traditional religious communities – for example environmental movements, animal rights and freedom movements, healthy life-style, etc. All of these have religious features such as common convictions and common goal, supported by the feeling of meaningful life and especially by the feeling of transcendency – something sacred hovering in the world above reality (Mother Nature, energy, etc.).

6. MUCHOVÁ, Ludmila. Úvod do náboženské pedagogiky. Olomouc, 1994. pp. 22-33.

7. Broader community offers important supportive structure for an individual, especially in the times of sudden change or threat.

8. MUCHOVÁ, Ludmila. Úvod do náboženské pedagogiky. Olomouc, 1994. pp. 50-52.

9. Mária Hatoková describes the topic of the image/concept of God and its influence on personality broadly and in detail in HALAMA, P., ADAMOVOVÁ, L., HATOKOVÁ, M., STRÍŽENEC, M. Religiozita, spiritualita a osobnosť.[online][2013-10-15]. Bratislava, 2006. pp. 105-140.

10. Ibid. p. 109.

11. Ibid. pp. 109-110.

12. A child does not fully understand the care, nor the person, but this person is impersonation of good for the child with a notion of mystery.

13. HALAMA, P., ADAMOVOVÁ, L., HATOKOVÁ, M., STRÍŽENEC, M. Religiozita, spiritualita a osobnosť.[online][2013-10-15]. Bratislava, 2006. pp. 111-114.

14. More detailed information about the influence of religiosity on a quality of a person’s life in VAVRA, M. „Naboženstvi a kvalita života. Psychosocialni předpoklady”. Naše společnost 8 (2): 3-10. 2010.[online][2013-10-15].

15. Spirituality is considered to be a way of life with experiences gained in the community of believers and in active interaction with the sacred being/God through the mystical experiences. Spirituality can be understood as an active search for the sacred, as the process through which people try to hold to what they regard as important in their lives. Sacred includes such concepts as God, divinity, or death. Spirituality forms the norms and values in one’s life, and relationships – to yourself, to the others, to God. Spirituality, according to Plašienková (1997), is the existential attitude of a person, all the experiences that relate to the sphere of transcendence, which may be religious or nonreligious. Today there is a confusing number of spiritual alternatives.

16. In the secular postmodern culture membership in various religious or ideological groups with its own message affects the religiosity and spirituality of each person on personal but also on the social level. Various forms of spirituality are influenced by today’s humanistic thinking, especially the question of the meaning of life, and the dialogue of different cultures. As for today spirituality usually means an effort to recover both physically and spiritually and it usually is connected with the interest in the Eastern meditation.

17. Ibid. p. 5-9; STRÍŽENEC, Michal. Novšie psychologické pohľady na religiozitu a spiritualitu.[online][2013-10-15]. Bratislava 2007. pp. 39-43.

18. HARGEAVES, Andy. Mixed emotions: teachers’ perceptions of their interactions with students [Abstract]. In Teaching and Teacher Education.[online][2013-10-15]. Vol. 16, nr. 8 (2000): 811-826.

19. PAJARES, Frank M. Teachers’ Beliefs and Educational Research: Cleaning Up a Messy Construct [Abstract]. In Review of Educational Research,[online][2013-10-15]. Vol 62, nr. 3 (1992): 307-322.

20. VALČO, Michal. Cultural challenges and future hopes of Christian church in Slovakia, pp 118-119. In V službe obnovy. Vedecký zborník vydaný pri príležitosti šesťdesiatych narodenín Dr. h. c. prof. ThDr. Júliusa Fila. Bratislava: Univerzita Komenského v Bratislave, 2010, pp. 116-123.


[1] FONTANA, D. Psychology, religion, and spirituality. London: BPS Blackwell, 2003. 

[2] MUCHOVÁ, L. Úvod do náboženské pedagogiky. Olomouc: Matice cyrilometodějská s.r.o., 1994. 

[3] VALČO, M. Cultural challenges and future hopes of Christian church in Slovakia. In V službe obnovy. Vedecký zborník vydaný pri príležitosti šesťdesiatych narodenín Dr. h. c. prof. ThDr. Júliusa Fila. Bratislava: Univerzita Komenského v Bratislave, 2010. P. 116-123. 


[4] HARGEAVES, Andy. Mixed emotions: teachers’ perceptions of their interactions with students [Abstract]. Teaching and Teacher Education.  [online], [Cited 2013-10-15] 2000, 16, 8. P. 811-826. Availiable at: <>.

[5] HALAMA, P. - ADAMOVOVÁ, L. - HATOKOVÁ, M. - STRÍŽENEC, M. Religiozita, spiritualita a osobnosť.  [online], [Cited 2013-10-15] Bratislava: Ústav experimentálnej psychológie SAV, 2006. Availiable at: <>.

[6] PAJARES, Frank M. Teachers’ Beliefs and Educational Research: Cleaning Up a Messy Construct [Abstract]. Review of Educational Research.  [online], [Cited 2013-10-15] 1992, 62, 3. P. 307-322. Availiable at: <>.

[7] STRÍŽENEC, M. Spiritualita a jej zisťovanie. The study is based on the support of the Center of exellency of the reasearch of inteligency and creativity and on the basis of financial support of the grant project nr. 2/3020/23.  [online], [Cited 2013-10-15] 2005. Availiable at: <>.

[8] STRÍŽENEC, M. Novšie psychologické pohľady na religiozitu a spiritualitu.  [online], [Cited 2013-10-15] Bratislava: Ústav experimentálnej psychológie SAV, 2007. Availiable at: <>.

[9] VAVRA, M. „Naboženstvi a kvalita života. Psychosocialni předpoklady”. Naše společnost.  [online], [Cited 2013-10-15] 2010, 8, 2. P. 3-10. Availiable at: <>.

Kontaktní informace / Contact informations

Mgr. Katarína Valčová, PhD.

Department of Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Žilina University in Žilina

Univerzitná 8215/1

010 26  Žilina


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