Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Curriculum and Instruction PhD

First Advisor

Sherick A. Hughes

Second Advisor

Larry D. Burton

Third Advisor

David Sedlacek


Problem: A lack of research integrating spiritual development as a central component of human development does not reflect an understanding of the whole person across multiple contexts throughout the life span. Such a limited-capacity view of African American males disproportionately disadvantaged, both historically and currently, has been detrimental. A theoretical model for how a relational journey with Christ may offer insights that lead to transformative practice in various educational settings.

Method: Constructivist grounded theory was utilized throughout this research process. Thirty-four African American males in three age groups (13-17; 18-25; 26+) who were placed at risk during adolescence and connected with Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) organizations at the time of data collection engaged in the research process. Focus group discussions or initial interviews were followed by in-depth interviews.

Line-by-line coding of focus group discussions and initial interviews led to the formation of tentative categories and themes. Data were compared to data. Then data were compared to codes. Incident-by-incident coding of some initial interviews and all in-depth interviews also occurred. Categories and themes were compared, refined, and further developed. Focused codes were raised to conceptual categories. Voice memos and memo writing were utilized throughout the research process. Through data collection and analysis, theory emerged. Purposeful sampling was followed by theoretical sampling as comparative analysis occurred until saturation point was reached and a substantive grounded theory was constructed. An intensive member-check process, inclusive of testing the theory against participants' lives and artifacts, as well as reflection on the research involvement and the role of the researcher, concluded data collection.

Results: A framework of adversities, self-constructs, adversity response strategies, positive and negative influences to adversity response strategies, and spiritual development components work cyclically to form Christian-Identity Response Theory. Spiritual development overlays other components, allowing for spiritual development to be a core developmental dimension with which other theory components interact and enact influence on over the course of the life span.

Participants identified 74 individual types of adversities from which nine interdependent categories emerged: school, religiosity, spiritual development, familial adversity, sexual abuse, sex and romantic relationships, environmental context, internal struggles, and societal adversities. These adversities served as the data-rich foundation and backdrop that played a powerful role in the molding of participants' identity constructs.

Each participant's unique makeup of self-constructs acted as a filter through which adversities experienced are viewed. Forty-three specific identities that formed a self-construct at one or more times over the course of the life span formed categories: demographics, Christian-based identity constructs, characteristics, descriptors, roles, and cultures. When participants experienced their adversities through the filter of their identity, they responded to their adversities in corresponding ways. When one's primary self-construct becomes that of "Christian," it is the most significant turning point in how adversities are responded to. After conversion other constructs of the individual's identity increasingly became ways of expressing their Christianity. This shift in participants' primary identities rarely happened suddenly, and most often occurred over the course of months and years after first encounters with Christianity. This is reflected in pre-conversion identities, transitional identities, distinctly Christian identities, and remaining sub-identities of primary-identity Christians.

Responses to adversity moved from maladaptive avoidance and aggression toward adaptive adversity responsestrategies of seeking help and problem solving as participants' faith commitment increased and developed distinctly Christian identities. The presence of emotional responses remained consistent across the life span. However, responses to these emotions evolved on pace with participants' spiritual development.

These responses to adversity in various educational settings were impacted by a variety of participant-identified 40 positive and 31 negative influences that were categorized by academic school life, non-academic school life, family life, religious experiences and expectations, community life, and relationship with self. These influences serve as potential contributors or destructors of individual resiliency that played an imperative role in overcoming risk factors.

Unexpected findings included: relative silence within an academic educational context, involvement in research as educative turning point, some limitations turn to strengths, finding a voice through authenticity, and reconciliation.

Conclusions: The development of Christian-Identity Response Theory (C-IRT) has added to spiritual development literature on African American males placed at risk during adolescence. The influence of Christian spiritual development and subsequent evolution of primary identity to that of "Christian" has been reflected by the participants. This evolution is demonstrated in a shift from maladaptive responses to adversity, toward adaptive responses to adversity. The same influences on responses to adversity have the power to be either positive or negative, and at times both. Implications for a wide variety of educational contexts include targeted awareness of adversities faced, intentional development of Christian identity's influence on responses to adversity, and development of consistent relationships.

Subject Area

Identity (Psychology)--Testing, African American men--Research, Spiritual formation, Suffering--Religious aspects--Research