Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Joint Ph.D. Program in Study of Religion

First Advisor

Miguel De La Torre

Second Advisor

Debora Ortega

Third Advisor

Theodore Vial

Fourth Advisor

Jeremy T. Snipes


Black college students, Complex subjectivity, Faith development theory, Identity formation, Meaning making, Navigational capital


This dissertation focuses on how Black students’ use of navigational capital reflects a quest for complex subjectivity that facilitates authentic identity formation and navigation through a private, predominantly white, four-year, R1 institution (PWI’s). A qualitative study that used portraiture methodology was conducted to collect stories of the lived experience and perceptions of two Black senior undergraduate students who attended a PWI. Their stories provided the foundation for constructing liberative meaning making (LMM), an ethic of praxis that uses a hermeneutics of listening to heighten students’ awareness of and living from interiority. The concept engages De La Torre’s theory of liberative ethics. LMM offers an alternative to faith development theory, which failed to include the salience of racial-ethnicity and culture for authentic identity formation. Interiority is posited as fundamental to authentic identity formation against external essentializing and oppressive forces that are often present in PWI's. The findings of the study indicate that the institutional culture of PWI’s does present barriers to Black students’ ability to engage in authentic identity formation. Also, participant stories support extending the definition of navigational capital to include the strategies for survival they bring with them to PWI’s, and the intentional choices students make to care for themselves amid the culture. Such choices represent a quest for complex subjectivity and signify a refusal to allow white racial ideology to reduce the totality of their existence to one of resistance, suffering, and survival.

Copyright Date


Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Felicia Marie George


Received from ProQuest

File Format



English (eng)


222 pgs

File Size

1.8 MB


Ethics, Religion, Higher education

Available for download on Friday, September 12, 2025