Sunday, April 2, 2017
Intervarsity Press has published a promising new book, "Restoring the Soul of the University," in which the authors insist that "Christian universities can recover their soul―but to do so will require reimagining excellence in a time of exile, placing the liberating arts before the liberal arts, and focusing on the worship, love, and knowledge of God as central to the university." (HT: TaxProf) Since I haven't read the book, I can't guarantee that the authors -- Perry Glanzer, Nathan Alleman, and Todd Ream -- offer big ideas that haven't been proposed by previous contributors to this genre. Even if the same basic insights repeat themselves, though, I think the insights gain new depth and nuance depending on the context in which they're offered. In this case, the context is promising for at least three reasons: 1) the authors are affiliated with Baylor, a university that has experienced turmoil stemming from its efforts to reclaim a robust Christian identity and (more recently) achieve prominence in college sports; 2) the book is coming out in the wake of an election in which white evangelicals propelled to victory a presidential candidate who was dismissive of the sort of intellectual pursuits embodied by the very idea of a university, Christian or not; and 3) over the past few years, American universities have become significantly less hospitable to claims rooted in traditional Christian morality, particularly around issues of sexuality.
Here's a quote from the authors that suggests they appreciate the scope of the challenge:
We think Christians should be romantic realists. Our love for God and faith and hope in God should lead us to be optimistic about the creative and redemptive work in which we are involved.
In our own research, we continually find inspiring examples taking hold around the world. For example, African Christians have created more institutions of higher education in the past two decades than the rest of the world combined. Not surprisingly, this growth happened when various African nation-states dropped their monopolies on higher education. Christian higher education tends to prosper when freedom for civil society flourishes as well.
Yet, since we recognize the sinful tendency in humanity to repress and reduce educational freedom, we also want to be realists. Throughout history, powerful political forces have sought to deform and destroy Christian higher education. Whether it involved the leaders of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars who helped terminate one-third of Europe’s universities, the leaders of nation-states who appropriated and nationalized Jesuit universities in the 19th century, or the communists who took over whole university systems in the 20th century, politicians seeking domination have often destroyed diverse university systems (and with it, religious universities) to promote their ideological agenda. We thus pray for wisdom and strength for individuals and institutions that currently face those pressures, which could one day include those in North America.