“Competing Contemporary Values: Traditional, Modern, Radical Postmodern and Transmodern”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Consistently through four cycles of surveying and across a multiplicity of locations and institutions, four principal patterns have emerged (Box 2):

Box 2

1.        Nearly everywhere, undergraduate worldviews tended to reflect traditional and modern values to a considerable extent;

2.        Nearly everywhere, some evidence of a self-referential “postmodern turn” was found in the worldviews of many if not most contemporary undergraduates;

3.        This “turn” to self-referentiality was in general much more pronounced and accelerated among students at state universities, who tended in general to be more postmodern than students attending church-affiliated colleges; but,

4.        A smaller but clear degree of a shift to postmodern values was evident among many students at even the most conservative or “traditional” of church-affiliated campuses.

Each of these patterns was repeatedly and consistently revealed across all our survey phases.  A few representative examples of typical response-patterns in each instance may serve to make the point (Box 3):

Box 3

  • Traditional values such as family, honor, duty, and hard work were affirmed by 80-90% of students regardless of locale or institutional type.
  • Modern values such as individual merit, technology, progress, change and science were typically affirmed by majorities, usually sizeable majorities.
  • Postmodern values tended to be validated by many more undergraduates at public universities than at parochial or church-affiliated colleges. For example, nearly 70% of the former compared to less than 40% of the latter affirmed that “everybody’s point of view is equally valid,” and where a majority of the former agreed that “my only duty is to be true to me,” 96% of the church-college students rejected this statement. I was particularly struck in our 2001-2002 and 2003-2004 studies by a clear impulse toward what might be called radical toleration or anti-judgmentalism: although overwhelming majorities everywhere affirmed that, indeed, “some values are superior to others,” fully 50% of public university undergraduates agreed that “teaching any particular value as better than another is wrong,” while only 27% disagreed. (For the church-college group the respective percentages were 13-67.) Here we seem to encounter a worldview in which in principle some values are absolute but in practice nearly anything goes…
  • Postmodern values have made inroads everywhere, including even the most “orthodox” (conservative) Christian colleges. E.g., forty percent of parochial college students agreed that “human and environmental well-being are equally important”; over 20% agreed that “heaven is the here and now”; 23% “opposed any limits on my personal freedom/choice” (another 21% was undecided); 26% affirmed that “humanity is the center of things”; and, as noted earlier, nearly as many of these students agree as disagreed (39-47%) that every point of view is equally valid.

There were of course other intriguing patterns.  A particularly striking one was our discovery in 1992 (perhaps somewhat presciently?) that only the Palestinian students at the College of Science and Technology, Gaza, had a coherently traditional worldview.  In contrast to the roughly 50-50 response nearly everywhere else to the statement, “I am willing to die for my country,” for instance, 100% of the Palestinian students agreed, and most strongly agreed.  Where the worldviews of students at every other institution we have surveyed over the years reflected varying admixtures of traditional, modern and postmodern values, traditional values were uniquely dominant in Gaza.