Journal of Psychology and Christianity Copyright 2008 Christian Association for Psychological Studies 2008, Vol. 27, No. 3, 195-204 ISSN 0733-4273 Christian Student Perceptions of Body Tattoos: A Qualitative Analysis Michael W. Firmin Luke M. Tse Janna Foster Cedarville University Tammy Angelini We used qualitative research methodology in appraising 24 evangelical Christian college students’ perceptions (15 female and 9 male), voluntarily recruited, of their tattoo choices. After coding the transcribed interviews, four predominant themes emerged. First, students believed that the Bible did not forbid their tattooing practices. Second, special religious significances were ascribed to the tattoos’ meanings by most of the participants. Third, few students described making rash decisions when becoming tattooed, but rather, thought through their decisions rather carefully. And finally, friends generally were encouraging of the participants’ decisions to tattoo while family members were more discouraging. In sum, participants in our study did not portray rebellion or deviance in the choice to tattoo, but rather, viewed the decisions as spiritual expressions. sociopaths, some tattoo seekers in recent decades have shown differences from their predecessors. Tattooing has become more prominent in society and tattoos sometimes are accepted as a form of fashion statement. Tattoos sometimes are seen among fashion models, movie stars, and popular sports figures (Brown, Perlmutter, & McDermott, 2000). Several studies have noted that while only a small estimated percentage of the population sport tattoos on their bodies, its popularity is increasing. Up to 9% of the general population indicated that they have permanent tattoos. For adolescents, that percentage could be as high as 16% (Roberts & Ryan, 2002). Tattoo designs vary in complexity. Millner and Eichold (2001) purported that “a tattoo is never just what the appearance is. . . . Tattoos are indicators or little vents to [the owner’s] psyche” (p. 429). Visible tattoos are more likely to make an impression, whether good or bad, than tattoos that individuals choose to cover (Armstrong, Roberts, Owen, & Koch, 2004). Drews, Allison, and Probst (2000) found that men tended to have tattoos on their arms and shoulders, while women were likely to obtain tattoos on their backs. Tattoo designs typically ranged from the size of a quarter to the size of a small dinner plate. Common designs among the college-aged sample included flowers, celestial objects, butterflies, mottos, and reptiles. In an effort to better understand the influences of image, identity, family, and friends on tattooing practices, Armstrong et al. (2002) gathered data from 520 college students, adolescents, career women, and military recruits. They reported that less religious participants were more likely to have tattoos. Generally, both tattooed and Tattooing has had a long and, albeit, controversial history. The practice of this art form has been documented in nearly every culture and used to communicate a number of messages, including group identity, religious commitment, and individuality (Armstrong, Owen, Roberts, & Koch, 2002). During the Greco-Roman era, Greeks and Romans used tattoos to punish or identify people as property (Schildkrout, 2004). Authors of antiquity, according to Schildkrout, condemned the practice, claiming it to be barbaric. Ancient literature was sometimes inscribed onto the skin of saints so as to preserve the Christian message and to serve as reminders of God’s work for generations since the indelible messages would be seen by children and grandchildren. In the early days of Christian church history, many pilgrims traveling to the Holy land also adopted the practice of tattooing as a sign of religious observance. Nevertheless, most scholars of the Quran and the Bible have interpreted the sacred texts as prohibiting tattooing (Forbes, 2001). Among Christians, Scriptural passages such as “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28, New International Version) have been cited as direct prohibitions from God. For the past century, Western societies have increasingly adopted the practice of tattooing. DeMello (1993) indicated, that while most Western social leaders have continued to associate the practice with the rebellious, criminals, and Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Luke M. Tse, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Cedarville University, 251 N. Main St., Cedarville, OH 45314. [email protected] 195 196 CHRISTIAN STUDENT PERCEPTIONS OF BODY TATTOOS non-tattooed individuals held a relatively positive view of those who were tattooed, claiming they were enjoyable, interesting, and unique. Reactions from friends tended to be positive, while reactions from family members tended to be either negative or non-responsive. The more tattoos individuals had, the more likely they were to know others who also had tattoos. Consistent with other findings, the authors determined that tattooing has become an increasingly popular art form and, as opposed to earlier societal perceptions, it generally has become less associated with deviant individuals. Where associations with deviant behaviors are concerned, studies among individuals with tattoos have yielded mixed results. For example, Forbes (2001) suggested that tattoos might not always connotate signs of rebellion or impromptu actions in drunken states. Additionally, Coe, Harmon, Verner, and Tonn (1993) examined tattooing among males at a Southern military college. Common designs included patriotic themes, cartoon characters, and dragons. The tattoos were small with few colors, and one was selfinscribed. Interestingly, all the study’s participants had tattoos that were not visible without removing clothing. Spontaneous tattooing was infrequent and most were initiated in groups, making the process socially-oriented and premeditated. The majority of the tattooed participants acknowledged that their families either did not know about their tattoo or were not supportive of it. The study concluded that tattoos generally were not marks of defiance, but rather, primarily were characterized by collaborative elements—particularly among peers. Coe et al. concluded that a lack of seeming defiance in this population was due less to personal character qualities than to the effects of a military-style demand for individual discipline. In their analysis of national surveys involving 6,072 adolescents, Roberts and Ryan (2002) discovered that a significant correlation existed among adolescents who have permanent tattoos and such high-risk behaviors as sexual intercourse, substance use, violent behaviors, and school problems. Similarly, other authors also have reported that tattooed participants in their sample displayed more risky and promiscuous tendencies than the non-tattooed persons. But such individuals did not perceive themselves necessarily as being defiant but, rather, as having an imaginative flair (Drews, Allison, & Probst, 2000). Particularly, those who chose to have tat- toos were more likely to describe themselves as adventurous, creative, artistic, individualistic, as well as risky when compared to those who chose not to tattoo themselves (Roberti, Storch, & Bravata, 2003). As alluded to above, tattoos are contributing factors to self- and peer-acceptance. Evidently they often are obtained in conjunction with the desire for peer recognition. Some individuals who have tattooed themselves did so on impulse and, subsequently, want to have their tattoos removed (Lynne & Anderson, 2002). Tattoo removal procedures such as excision, dermabrasion, or laser can be painful, tedious, and costly. Some scarring or skin color variations will likely occur (Contemporary Health Communications, 2007). As cultural acceptance of tattooing has increased, some evangelical Christians also have participated in this growing trend. According to Heinrichs (1999), tattooing has become a mounting issue among the Christian evangelical subculture. Many Christians have sought to use tattoos as a context to proclaim their faith. Heinrichs also noted that over 100 tattoo parlors in America have joined an organization known as the Christian Tattoo Association (CTA). The CTA website (www.xtat.org) includes, among other postings, articles which either support or challenge the practice of tattooing. It also provides a forum for discussions relating to the topic of the Bible and tattoos. In fact, the internet has provided a common locale for many to post their opinions and convictions on such practices through individual webpages (e.g., Watkins, 2007) and numerous online chatrooms. The present study further explores this construct of tattoos as Christian expressions. Little data exist regarding this specific subject, particularly empirical information. Consequently, we employed qualitative research methodology. While a number of investigative strategies were plausible, qualitative research often is the method of choice when exploring terrain where relatively few studies previously have been conducted (Maxwell, 2005). A cogent need at the present stage of development in this domain seems to be some depth of understanding, best gar nered via phenomenological research means. Consequently, we identified a pool of research participants who assisted us in better understanding this construct of religious meanings in the context of evangelicals who tattoo themselves. FIRMIN, TSE, FOSTER, Method Participants Participants for this study consisted of 24 students from a comprehensive university (based on classifications created by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2000 and as used by the U.S. News & World Report) located in the Midwest. The institution is a member of the Coalition of Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), an organization of institutions with distinctive evangelical mission statements, doctrinal statements, and practices. Each person identified themselves as having obtained one or more tattoos. Individuals selected for the study were gleaned from a group of 64 students who responded to a campus-wide email solicitation for participation. Selected participants met criterion: their tattoos did not include a Scripture verse or possess explicit Christian themes (e.g., cross or dove). The rationale for this was two-fold. First, homogeneity of sample generally is preferred to heterogeneity in qualitative samples, when possible (Firmin, 2006a). Consequently, mixing the two here did not seem to be most apt. Second, a separate study of religious symbols in tattooing practices was intended that would provide focus to the specific construct. The participants were European-Americans whose ages ranged from 18 to 32, including freshmen through seniors. Fifteen of the subjects were female and nine were male. Obviously, names used in the present article for reading clarity are pseudonyms. The research team consisted of two university professors and two undergraduate students. All researchers participated across all phases of the study. Procedure Following Firmin’s (2006) protocol for conducting interviews in waves, all students participated in two sets of interviews for this study. The first wave consisted of semi-structured, detailed interviews administered to all 24 participants. Following analyses of data, a second wave was conducted to probe in-depth information from 17 of the participants. Prior to the first wave, each participant also completed a demographic questionnaire. Both interview waves were tape recorded and later transcribed for analysis. Questions during interviews gathered information concerning choices of design, personal reasoning, influences, and future intentions. Due to the varieties of tattoo locations on the bodies, participants were not asked to reveal AND ANGELINI 197 their tattoo. They did, however, provide either a picture or drawing of it. The constant-comparison method of analysis was used for analyzing data. Following the traditional model of Glaser (1992), we avoided theoretical interpretation models when describing our findings. Rather, following Flick (2002) we approached the data inductively—using disciplined restraint in attempting to keep our own biases at bay. This is a qualitative protocol whereby authors bracket (Raffanti, 2007a) their own biases and existing theoretical structures when analyzing data—providing as much of an inductive approach to data reporting as possible. Collaborative meetings among members of the research team helped to provide comparative checks, enhancing internal validity of the findings (Berg, 2001). Some initial themes were later discarded due to lack of sufficient, supportive data. Other themes were collapsed and combined, where appropriate, in order to enhance the organization of findings. In the end, our results provided what we considered to be an apt grounded theory (Raffanti, 2007b). Results Four themes emerged from the data collected. These included Biblical understandings of tattooing, personal significance of the designs, the extensive and meticulous planning process, and substantial influences from family and friends. The themes are discussed below with illustrative support, supplying voice to various Christian students in our sample. Biblical Understandings It was evident that the participants had varying ideas as to what the Bible teaches about tattooing. However, given the fact that individuals for this study have obtained tattoos for themselves, they generally do not believe that the Bible speaks against such practices. For example, Jeff said: I don’t know if the Bible speaks directly to tattoos, because you won’t find the word tattoo in the Hebrew or Greek translation. It does talk about marking your body and that type of thing in the Old Testament. Obviously since I got it, I don’t necessarily think that applies to tattoos. Similarly, Jackson stated: “I don’t personally believe [the Bible] says anything wrong about [tattoos] or else I wouldn’t have them.” In short, 198 CHRISTIAN STUDENT PERCEPTIONS OF BODY TATTOOS our participants not only believed that tattooing was appropriate, but they also expressed confidence that the Bible provided no regulations against tattoos. They portrayed themselves as individuals with Christian integrity. The tattoos they made on their bodies, from their vantage points, were not inconsistent with God’s instructions. A few participants were somewhat more precise in how they communicated their Biblical understandings. They expressed a dispensational understanding of Scripture as their basis for justifying tattoos for New Testament Christians. For example, Beth believes: “[The Bible says] that you shouldn’t do it. I can’t give you the exact verse but it is something about not tattooing your body or I think there is something about piercing in there too.” However, individuals, like Beth, further explained that they believe tattoos were forbidden within the context of the Old Testament. They believe that such passages are no longer applicable to New Testament Christians. Bob illustrated: The only thing I really ever found in the Bible is in the Old Testament. It says, “do not mark on yourself.” But I think it was more of a ritualistic thing, aimed towards idolatry and trying to actually carry out a ceremony to worship other gods. So I don’t really think the Bible says anything in particular about modern-day tattoos. Likewise, Erin emphasized that her decision to get a tattoo did not violate Biblical teachings, believing that they were in the Old Testament laws which have no present-day applications: Well I know there’s that verse that is like keep your temple pure. And I know there are verses about tattoos but I was always under the impression that those passages were the old law. Like, the same kind of thing where you are supposed to cover your head and all that stuff. I just didn’t think it really applied anymore, well I kind of know it does not apply anymore. I wouldn’t have really gone against it. In addition to Scriptural teaching, participants believe that choices in designs are significant. Generally, they believe that tattoos are permissible by God if they promote a positive or even a neutral message. For example, one participant commented: “It’s one thing if you’re going to get a demon tattooed on your body, but for something harmless like Greek letters, it’s like a reminder; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.” Overall, statements and expressions regarding the designs of tattoos communicated personal relevance and significance. Kelley’s view summarized this thinking: I think that if you’re just tattooing your body for sexual reasons . . . those things are not spoken well of in Bible. If it’s something . . . like a promise that you want to make to God, to yourself, or to other people then I think that it’s okay. It is something that is showing that you really do care about what you’re saying and that I think that God would honor that. Design Significance Expressions of religious commitments through tattoos were a consistent theme in participants’ interviews. Regarding his lighthouse design, Paul described: “When I looked at myself in the morning in the mirror, it would remind me that I was to be a lighthouse—a light to the world.” When asked about her Chinese symbol tattoo, Wendy similarly articulated: “I try to think of it as spiritual intimacy—just a little reminder. I see it all the time because it’s me, but it just wasn’t for everybody else to see.” To students in our sample, the spiritual meanings attached to tattoos overshadowed other variables in their thinking. Kristen illustrated this as she spoke metaphorically concerning her rose tattoo: Talking about giving the rose of your life to God . . . would remind me constantly of the decision I had made that I was giving my entire life to God. . . . My life with Christ is eternal. I got the idea from a speaker at the camp I work at. He talks a lot about making sure that we’re giving all of ourselves to God, in purity, and just in our everyday lives, not just giving him part of it. With a rose you can peel back petals and it still looks like a rose, but we want to make sure that we’re giving him all of the petals, and we’re not burning up the ones that are in our past. FIRMIN, TSE, FOSTER, The spiritual significance of students’ tattoos sometimes was seen as a springboard for ministry enhancement. The selected symbols sometimes serve as reminders of this spiritual focus. Peter illustrated: I was really inspired by Japanese culture . . . so I searched it on the internet for different words. There are these Japanese calligraphies called “sonkei;” they mean do your best and respect, and it just reminded me . . . I always want to do my best in everything I do, and I always want respect. . . . I’m going in the ministry now and I need to take the next step of putting my best step forward. . . . I’m not working for any man, I’m working for God. In the book of Colossians it says, “Don’t work for men of the earth—work for God.” My work is not going to be noticed by men so I wanted a constant reminder, “Peter, do your best, respect those around you, and do your best.” Jackson also illustrated this principle by selecting a word with spiritual significance, rather than a symbol: “The second tattoo I have is in Greek and it says ‘Theraputis.’ My name . . . is of Greek origin, which means ‘Healer.’ That is what ‘Theraputis’ means—healer.” Similarly, Matt found conviction and assurance in the reminder provided by his tattoo. He noted: “The first [tattoo] is ‘our strength is made in weakness,’ so basically it is a reminder that when I am at my weakest point I know that Christ is there to give me the strength.” For some students, spiritual significance is portrayed in the perceived connection the symbol(s) provide. Jeff, for example, described his Greek lettering tattoo: It’s the three Greek letters of the fraternity or Christian organization that I am in here on campus. It was simple and plain and something easy. I think our Christian organization is something that we believe that our best friends for life are going to come from there and it was kind of more of just like a keepsake of ‘remember the good ol’ days’ type thing. Additionally, spiritual significance is possessed through the remembrance it provides. In a hum- AND ANGELINI 199 bled tone, Kelley explained her choice to permanently engrave a meaningful word: My boyfriend decided. . . . Through a long series of events, we ended up having sex, and because we did not want to do that again, we decided we would make a pact with each other. . . . It’s like a theme in our lives at the time, we decided on the word broken, and then we got tattoos just to remember that a broken and contrite heart, the Lord will not despise. . . . Just a recognition of who we are in that we are broken, we are sinful, we’re not perfect, and we make mistakes all the time. For others who used tattoos as remembrances, the meanings were memorials to others. Nancy explained: “It’s a purple rose laying on it’s side. . . . The style isn’t very big, maybe a couple of inches. My cousin died a couple of years ago and my family got tattoos in her memory.” In short, memory was an important construct to many students in our sample as it related to tattooing decisions. Deliberate Considerations Whether individuals chose to tattoo as personal expressions or as symbolic reminders, most did not choose their tattoos in rash manners. Instead, much time was spent in the decisionmaking stage. Most undertook extensive and meticulous processes as they contemplated desirable, significant tattoos. Some participants spent as many as four years forming ideas and linking meanings with designs before they had them permanently etched onto their skins. Few went into tattoo parlors without distinct ideas of what they wanted for a design and the rationales behind their decisions. Most participants indicated a common contemplative sentiment as expressed, simply, by Eileen: “It was something I had intended on doing for awhile.” Ron concurred, indicating a long-standing desire: I have wanted a tattoo since I was seventeen and had actually drawn out the tattoo when I was seventeen. After four years of staring at it and thinking about it, I knew I wanted it. I think of it as a personal decision that I was willing to make and wanted to make. 200 CHRISTIAN STUDENT PERCEPTIONS OF BODY TATTOOS Similarly, Danielle expressed: “I knew I wanted to get it done. It was fun though, like to go in the store and you know I was nervous but it wasn’t enough to go ‘no, I don’t want to get this done.’ I had no second thoughts.” Likewise, Kirby stated: “I had already thought through it all the way, and I was really excited about it.” Christian participants in our sample described themselves as taking the tattoo decision very seriously. As such, they tended to investigate various options, making deliberate, rather than impulsive choices. Almost as a way of giving advice, Dan remarked: Basically, you have to know what you want. You have to look at a lot of pictures as far as fonts and texts. As far as the graphics, you need to have some sort of idea; a lot of people just go to get a tattoo. For me, I had some sort of idea going in and then it was multiple visits to the tattoo parlor so that I could have what I wanted. Certainly, the intentional process was related to the permanence of the design. Relaying this concern, Peter elaborated: I got saved when I was nineteen. I started making qualities that I wanted to stick with and one of those things was if I made a decision, I didn’t want to have any second regrets. I had really thought about this for a year, so it was a decision that I made. I knew it was permanent. In addition to the lengthy decision process, many of the participants acknowledged that much care was given when selecting the tattoo parlor. Denise related: “I really was careful about where I went and that it was a real reputable place.” Wisely investigating her tattoo parlor with deliberation, Danielle expressed: “It seemed like it was very professional. When I walked in their store, it was very clean, all the things they used were very clean, and they were very nice people.” Bob also checked his options, having health issues as his motivation: Some people talked about some Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C issues and obviously AIDS; but I checked to make sure that this place was sanitary, used clean needles, and scrubbed up before they did it (which was kind of weird for a tattoo place). That was how I decided where I would get it. Cindy was attracted to her locale based on the attention to details shown by the operators: It was not dirty or anything but when I saw a person reach over the counter, the guy totally flipped out and made sure the person would not do that again. They have a little border that you cannot walk over if you are not the one that is getting the tattoo or piercing. I knew it was a good place to go. Dan described cleanliness and licensure to be the factors giving him the greatest confidence in the parlor he selected: Both places I went were really clean and had a good reputation as far as their cleaning machine, as well as, they had their certificates and all that stuff. I was confident I was not in harm’s way too much because of the process they go through with new needles and whatnot. John likewise found cleanliness to be a prime selection criterion: There were three tattoo parlors that I inquired about. I asked to see their equipment. I asked to see what kind of health protection they used and how clean the equipment was that was used. How could I verify that it was clean? I did research; I went to the library and read what [characterized] good practices and what did not. Influences from Friends and Family Individuals involved in this study reported that they have received both encouragements and discouragements from friends and family members. Despite pre-meditated ideas of designs, participants generally reported that friends often were helpful in the choice-making process. A few of the participants even decided on a tattoo along with friends or selective family members. Kristen was encouraged to pursue tattooing by a family member: “My sister and I just kind of had a bonding moment and went and got tattoos together.” Nancy also was encouraged by family members, FIRMIN, TSE, FOSTER, My cousins in my family and my brother because when my cousin was in the hospital, she died of a brain tumor. She was only 22. And so when we were in the hospital, we would talk to her. . . . She was in a coma for like the last week. . . . We were like “Chrissy, we’re going to get tattoos in your memory and they’re going to be awesome and we’re always going to remember you.” So we talked to her because we believed that she could hear us and everything so . . . and then finally when she died, like a few days later, my cousins got them and I was like “Oh that’s such an awesome way to remember her, I want to do that too.” Others, like Jeff, were influenced by friends: “Six out of twenty friends all got them around the same time and so I think it was just a [domino] effect, we all just decided to go get them.” Discouragements came mainly from immediate family members. Debbie, for example, recalled: “I don’t think mom and dad ever like specifically said ‘you will not get a tattoo.’ They weren’t happy about it when I did.” Beth’s parents squarely were against the idea of her getting a tattoo: “My dad always said if we were living under his roof, and got a tattoo that he would cut it off our body—not that he would really—but obviously they didn’t want us to get one while we were living at home.” Erin’s parents also illustrate the difficult time most parents experienced in accepting their child’s tattoo: My dad still won’t look at mine. He always said it was a joke. I told him I was going to get one, but they kept thinking I was joking. So when I did get it he was like ‘why did you do that,’ but before hand he would just laugh it off not really discourage me. My mom always says ‘you ruined your body,’ but it is in a place you can’t see. But since, she complied and said that it is cute for a tattoo. Although most discouragements came from immediate family members, participants also reported having friends who also gave negative feedback. For example, Rachel reported facing difficulties from her peers: I was actually just discouraged by a AND ANGELINI 201 lot of kids here at school because, what I got all the time was, ‘How’s that going to influence your job.’ I never really understood the whole argument because it’s on my arm, if I’m like a businessman, I’ll be wearing a suit, so it’s not like I’ll ever see it. I’m a graphic design major so I really don’t think it’s socially unacceptable for a graphic designer to have tattoos, actually most of the ones I know do have them already. Discussion As noted, students in our sample generally believed their decisions to tattoo themselves did not violate Biblical principles. That is, they believed that Old Testament references to tattooing either were culturally non-applicable or dispensationally irrelevant. By “dispensational,” we refer to the classic hermeneutical model, outlined by Ryrie (1965), on which most premillenial theology is based. This model asserts that the New Testament church is not a spiritual continuation of Old Testament Israel; therefore, the Old Testament teaching from the law does not apply to New Testament Christians. Dispensational theology is taught in the Bible classes where the students from our sample attended, although the university Bible professors would not necessarily endorse how the students interpreted or dismissed Old Testament passages— e.g., Leviticus 19:28—in the apparent manner that they did. To the students, personal attributions of unique meanings or spiritual significance to the tattoos overshadowed any Biblical instructions on tattoo practices. From another perspective, the participants did not refer to any Biblical affirmations as rationale to support their decisions. That is, in their deliberations, since the Bible did not prohibit the practice explicitly, they were free to engage in the behavior. None of the students in the study referenced Scriptural passages that would encourage or permit believers to engage in tattooing practices. We noted that students, overall, did not seem to engage in a thorough study of Scripture on this matter prior to making their decisions. At best, they knew vaguely about a couple of Scriptural references and that seemed to be the extent of their Biblical considerations. At worst, they were either ignorant of any Scriptural references or their knowledge was based upon hearsay. 202 CHRISTIAN STUDENT PERCEPTIONS OF BODY TATTOOS While participants were college students in an institution that required Bible and theology classes, not everyone had completed the required courses at the time of our interviews. In any case, tattooing did not seem to be a particular theological concern for all of them. That is, any spiritual connotations were individually ascribed rather than theologically based. Moreover, while students anticipated that their tattoos were permanent dedications for life, none considered the possibility that later Scriptural understandings might show their present decisions to be imprudent, and none expressed potential regret for their decisions to have the chosen designs indelibly marked on their skins. Students made no mention of consulting with Bible professors, pastors, or others spiritual mentors to help them explore Scriptural teachings in this area. While these observations are not meant to be criticisms, we observed that students in this study seemed to have given minimal considerations to specific or relevant passages in the Bible or to any potential ramification for later reinterpretations of Scriptural teachings in this practice. Instead, the primary persuading factor for obtaining tattoos seemed to be a personal attribution of the tattoos’ purpose and significance. Regardless of Biblical teachings or parental influences, a number of individuals perceived the tattoos as being symbolic of their personal commitments to be at their utmost for God. Some also believed that their tattoos could serve as conduits for conversations that could lead to sharing the gospel. By this phrase, they meant that tattoos might naturally lead to conversations where they could explain the Bible’s teaching of salvation by grace through faith to unbelievers. To these students, tattoos serve as a personal, sometimes public, declaration of devotion to God. Additionally, we underscore that generally students’ parents were discouraging of the tattooing practice. It was not the intent of the study to probe into the family dynamics of the participants’ lives. Nonetheless, we take note of the Bible’s instructions to honor one’s parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3). The majority of students in our sample did not indicate spending time with their parents and receiving, perhaps, what the book of Proverbs refers to as their “wise counsel.” For the few who did discuss with their parents, their decisions appeared to run counter to their parents’ wishes. Instead, they seemed to place greater weight in the counsel of their friends. Simply, these students seemed more influenced by friends than by their parents. Unfortunately, this finding is not surprising given the general conclusions of many studies that peers have greater influences upon individuals than do their parents. The finding in this regard is consistent with the previously cited literature regarding general disapproval shown by parents for tattoos on their children (Armstrong et al., 2002; Coe et al., 1993). The method of sampling used in the study was straightforward as described earlier. The e-mail was sent from the account of the psychology department secretary. Viz, a general request for self-identification was issued via a campus-wide e-mail. There were no individuals responding to the query who showed pathological tendencies in their tattoo practices—such as shock or to inflict pain on their bodies. We have no a priori reason to suspect that anything in the recruitment process might have scared off such a potential subgroup of students. In short, the participants in the study, from observable and rational perspectives, appeared to reflect the population of tattooed students on this particular campus. Finally, the evangelical Christian students in our sample notably did not associate tattoos with unruly individuals who, sometimes, stereotypically have been associated with tattooing practices (e.g., bikers, sailors, etc.). Their mindsets were more consistent with the new attitudes suggested by the literature on tattooing. That is, we previously noted that secular society seems to be accepting tattooing practices more today than they have in previous generations. Two percent of the student population (at the university being studied) responded to an email solicitation for participation. Considering the potential number of students with tattoos who did not respond to the open solicitation, the number of students in this CCCU evangelical institution who have a permanent tattoo may fall within the norm of the general population (3% to 5%). Students in our present sample spent most of their developmental years in the new millennium and seem to reflect these changing societal values. Stated plainly, as the world has become more accepting of tattoo practices, so have the evangelical students in our present sample. Tattooing remains a controversial practice among Christians. While some believe that any prohibition is irrelevant in the New Testament context, others remain adamant that such practice denotes, at least, defiance and disobedience and, at worse, a courting with the demonic—that is, FIRMIN, TSE, FOSTER, practice influenced by the devil (e.g., Watkins, 2007). It is clear that participants in our sample who obtained tattoos do not possess a clear or comprehensive Biblical theology on the subject. Consistent with other studies on spheres of influences, peers play a larger role than do parents. Decisions were based primarily on personal constructs of right/wrong or pragmatics, not parental insights or Scriptural specifics. In other words, for this group of evangelical Christians, neither frequency of practice nor rationales (for or against) tattooing seem any different from those of the general population. We believe this conclusion is consistent with recent developmental literature. For example, Lashbrook (2000) reported that when shame or embarrassment was at stake, peers generally outweighed parental influences—even for older teens. Additionally, Wheeler (2007) reported that contemporary college students, unlike previous generations, likely fit extended adolescent models of human development, rather than young adult models. In sum, the salience of peer influence on our study’s participants is congruent with experts’ current thinking in this domain. Limitations and Future Research To some degree, all qualitative research suffers from deficits in external validity. Thus, although we followed principles to enhance generalizability as much as possible in the present study (Firmin, 2006b), our findings are limited in this regard. Results from qualitative research best achieve external validity through replication. That is, as qualitative studies are repeated across multiple contexts, cultures, and time periods, grounded theory emerges in its most robust form (Rafannti, 2006). Consequently, future researchers should repeat this study in other contexts of Christendom, both inside and outside of academe, to compare our present findings with those across varying milieu. Participants in the present study were European-Americans. No attempts were made at excluding minorities from our sample. Rather, the study’s sample simply reflected that only 6% of the student body at this university was minority. Consequently, future researchers should replicate our findings with evangelical students from minority populations. A comparative analysis would prove most interesting. Additionally, future studies in this domain where both Euro- AND ANGELINI 203 pean-Americans and minority students are represented would strengthen the research design. The students in the present study came from a sample where the institution was located in a rural, Midwest small town. Moreover, the university possesses a national reputation for being relatively conservative—with a fundamentalist, historical tradition. We believe that further studies should assess this topic with students from more open or progressive, evangelical traditions. In order to understand best the dynamics of how evangelical Christian young people view tattooing practices, gauging various samples seems necessary due to the heterogeneity of the population. We do believe, however, that the present study makes a significant contribution to this overall understanding. Given the paucity of previous research conducted with evangelical Christian populations on this topic, we believe that the present research will be heuristic for future researchers. Future research studies in this area should consider drawing from random samples of CCCU institutions, employing survey methods. Findings from the present research should provide highly useful data for generating apt questionnaires. Such research could compare individuals who receive tattoos with those who have not chosen to be tattooed. Additionally, future researchers may wish to account for the sizes and locales of tattoos. Using same-gender researchers and participants (only) may enable the researchers, with permission and pre-informed consent, to view various tattoos. This may help to factor potentially moderating variables that influence tattoo decisions, such as colors, shapes, symbols, body locations, and the like into our overall understanding of tattooing practices. References Armstrong, M. L., Owen, D. C., Roberts, A. E., & Koch, J. R. (2002). College students and tattoos: Influence of image, identity, family, and friends. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, 40, 21-29. Armstrong, M. L., Roberts, A. E., Owen, D. C., & Koch, J. R. (2004). 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Anthropology Today, 9, 10-13. Drews, D. R., Allison, C. K., Probst, J. R. (2000). Behavioral and self-concept differences in tattooed and nontattooed college students. Psychological Reports, 86, 475-481. Firmin, M. (2006a). Using interview waves in qualitative phenomenological research. In P. Brewer & M. Firmin (Eds.), Ethnographic and qualitative research in education (pp. 175-181). New Castle, United Kingdom: Cambridge Scholars Press. Firmin, M. (2006b, June). External validity in qualitative research. Paper presented at the 18th annual Ethnographic and Qualitative Research in Education Conference, Cedarville, OH. Flick, U. (2002). An introduction to qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers. Forbes, G. B. (2001). College students with tattoos and piercings. Psychological Reports, 89, 774-786. Glaser, B. G. (1992). Basics of grounded theory analysis. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press. Heinrichs, K. (1999, May 24). Tattoos no longer taboo? Christianity Today, 43 (6), 17. Lashbrook, J. T. (2000). Exploring the emotional dimension of adolescent peer pressure. Adolescence, 35, 747-757. Lynne, C., & Anderson, R. (2002). Body piercing, tattooing, self-esteem, and body investment in adolescent girls. Adolescence, 37, 627-637. Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Millner, V. S., & Eichold, B. H. II. (2001). Body piercing and tattooing perspectives. Clinical Nursing Research, 10, 424-441. Raffanti, M. (2007a, June). Phenomenological bracketing as a pedagogical tool in grounded theory. Paper presented at the 19th annual Ethnographic and Qualitative Research in Education conference, Cedarville, OH. Raffanti, M. (2007b). Grounded theory in educational research: Exploring the concept of ‘groundedness.’ In M. Firmin & P. Brewer (Eds.), Ethnographic & qualitative research in education, Vol. 2. (pp. 61-74). New Castle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press. Roberti, J., Storch, E. A., & Bravata, E. (2003). Further psychometric support for the Sensation Seeking Scale—Form V. Journal of Personality Assessment, 81, 291-292. Roberts, T. A., & Ryan, S. A. (2002). Tattooing and high-risk behavior in adolescents. Pediatrics, 110, 1058-1063. Ryrie, C. (1965). Dispensationalism today. Chicago: Moody Press. Schildkrout, E. (2004). Inscribing the body. Annual Review of Anthropology, 33, 319-344. Watkins, T. (2007). Dial-the-Truth Ministries. To tattoo or not to tattoo: A Christian response to the tattoo. Retrieved July 3, 2007 from http://www.av1611.org/tattoos/intro.html Wheeler, R. W. (2007, April). Alcohol abuse among college students. Paper presented at the annual research conference of the National Social Science Association, Las Vegas, NV. Authors Michael W. Firmin (Ph.D. Syracuse University) is professor and chair of the psychology department at Cedarville University in Cedarville, OH. Dr. Firmin is a licensed psychologist in the state of OH. His research interests include professional human service analyses, quantitative studies in intelligence, and qualitative research, serving as editor of the Journal of Ethnographic & Qualitative Research. Luke M. Tse (Ph.D. in Psychology & Counseling, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2000) is Associate Professor of Psychology at Cedarville University (OH). Dr. Tse is a National Certified Counselor and a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. His research interests include issues pertaining to marriages and families, cross-cultural relationships, and Biblical Counseling & Spiritual Formation. Janna B. Foster (B.A. in Psychology, Cedarville University, 2007) is enrolled in a Psy.D. program at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Tammy L. Angelini (B.A. in Psychology, Cedarville University, 2006) is a Foster Care Caseworker at Aldersgate Youth Service Bureau (PA).
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