Faith with Benefits

Hookup Culture on Catholic Campuses

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Jason King
  • London, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , February
     232 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Amidst broader cultural transitions in gender, sexuality, and relationships, college campuses have become a microcosm for social change. In particular, this state of flux has produced a “hookup culture” of ambiguous scripts and norms for relationship formation that leaves little clear other than the importance of a physical connection. Given that many religious traditions have commitments to abstinence we might expect that this phenomenon is isolated to secular campuses, yet research consistently finds evidence that it has also ubiquitously transformed the college experiences of young adults across both religious and secular universities. While there is some evidence that evangelical Protestant student culture differs, Catholic campuses often emerge as similar to secular universities despite also sharing a religious commitment to abstinence. Viewing this past research as incomplete, Jason King’s Faith with Benefits: Hookup Culture on Catholic Campuses, reports on a mixed-method study of a wide-ranging selection of Catholic universities to understand the divergent ways religious culture and hookup culture intersect. Combining a quantitative survey of twenty-six different college institutions with a qualitative survey and interviews from a sample of these campuses King identifies three cultures that reflect differences in institutional guidelines and student profiles. While King primarily distinguishes “Very,” “Mostly,” and “Somewhat” Catholic Campuses by their level of Catholicism, he also associates each with a distinct Catholic social teaching that impacts the presence of a hookup culture.

The colleges with a high number of what King calls “evangelical Catholics” and had institutional structures that promoted worship and restricted cross-gender visitation in dorms coalesce into a Very Catholic Campus where most students rejected hookup culture. Nonetheless, students still perceived their decision to not hookup as countercultural and felt the need to explain themselves through a “made to love” theological frame that emphasizes people’s fundamental need to be in a relationship. In contrast, students on Mostly Catholic Campuses also disliked hookup culture but felt that participating in it was one of the only ways to begin relationships. Using the concept of communio Catholicism, King connects their views that their campus was full of “nice” Catholics that are not judgmental as contributing to a sense of security that students can hookup safely. Finally, the accompanying approach to faith found on Somewhat Catholic Campuses meant that religion was not often part of daily interactions but students could engage with it, if they desired. Hookup culture similarly operates as an assumption in student’s lives, with the interested ones partaking but with many simply disengaged from it. In fact, what is most striking across all three college types is how hookup culture is more perceived than practiced.

In concluding, King notes “Even though the majority of students on Catholic campuses do not hook up, they still felt the expectation to do so” (157). Throughout Faith without Benefits, he offers clear evidence that hooking up has become a “social norm,” even if it is not actually a “statistical norm.” Excerpts from the qualitative survey along with interviews often indicate students feel that everyone else engages in hooking up, yet they also frequently claim that their friends are different. In the end King, at best, paints a picture of how students perceive their college campuses and illuminates potential mechanisms of boundary maintenance and identity construction that students engage in within this setting. Less clear, however, are the processes of relationship formation that students actually engage in themselves. As a result, this book is probably most appropriate for those interested in understanding campus cultures. In particular, King makes many recommendations for people that work for Catholic colleges and who want to provide students with an alternative to the hookup culture.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Courtney Ann Irby is assistant professor of sociology at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Date of Review: 
May 29, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jason King is Professor and Chair of the Theology Department at St. Vincent College. He has published essays in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education, Religious EducationHorizons, the Journal of Ecumenical StudiesAmerican Benedictine Review, and the Journal of Moral Theology.


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