ChristianGovernance eletter – June 15, 2012
Today’s shabby university religion
The most interesting aspect of the analysis in the article below of the shabby intellectual condition of today’s universities and colleges is the following:
> However, religion has been largely shunned from higher education during the past 100 years, in the name of combating sectarianism and dogma.
> There has been a positive side to this development, called “secularization.” It was meant to show there were no taboos in higher education: Orthodoxy, especially religious orthodoxy, could be challenged.
> The trouble is that now most North American institutions of higher learning, especially public ones, have gone to the other extreme. They’re become anti-religious. Healthy “secularization” has turned into an ideology of “secularism.” In their subtle conformity, they’ve tossed out the baby – meaning-filled wisdom traditions – with the bathwater, which they denounce as religion.
It’s a common desire by people to associate respectability with moderation, and moderation is often seen as a reasonable position between the extreme views of the day on the issue. Christians mostly seem to be as interested as anyone else at being seen as moderate, balanced and reasonable.
This desire for perceived moderation comes out in the article we are considering here about modern universities. Yet we will see that the moderate position is not reasonable at all – if we accept the premise that there is no such thing as neutrality.
The columnist, by embracing the apparent middle ground of “secularization” in universities has demonstrated himself to be different from the extremists – the “secularists” – only in degree, not in fundamental worldview. He rejects the idea that wisdom is associated with the Christian vision for university. How is that a moderate, reasonable, middle ground or neutral position?
He says that the move away from Christian orthodoxy at university with the embrace of “secularization” was positive. But how does he know “secularization” was positive? On what basis does he say that? He does not tell us. It is simply assumed.
He says that secularization brought with it “meaning-filled wisdom tradition.” In other words, he has a pre-commitment to the notion that wisdom is incompatible with what he defines as religion, which certainly includes Christianity. In fact, if he knows anything at all about his subject matter and the history of the university, then his reference to religion can be treated as a synonym for Christianity. So wisdom came with the shift from a Christian vision to “secularization.” Hmmm… He does not tell us what his definition of wisdom is.
His position is not a theologically or morally neutral position at all – and nor was the shift from a Christian vision to secularization in universities.
What the writer frames as a reasonable middle position, a healthy point of transition in Western history, in fact proves to be a theologically, philosophically, morally weighted development, and one that is already hostile to Christianity.
What we learn from this brief study – once again – is that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NEUTRALITY. There is a distinct Biblical worldview, a distinct Christian belief system. Attempts to dull this distinctiveness are expressions of syncretism. They are a threat to the Gospel, an attack on the Church, an assault on the Kingdom of God. God is a jealous God. He will not share His glory with another. Christ will not squeeze over on His throne to make room for Buddha or Martin Luther King or anybody else.
There is no respectable middle ground between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of darkness. The respectable real estate is found fully within the Kingdom of God. This is where the respectable ground is to be found on science, on medicine, on education, on economics, on family relationships, on music, on psychology, on sexuality, on architecture, on civil government, on history.
If higher education wants to be respectable again, it will rediscover its necessary Christian foundation.
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Vancouver Sun – June 9, 2012
Can higher education rediscover its ‘soul’?
By Douglas Todd
One of many new books determined to restore the relevance of higher education focuses on one specific but symbolic shortcoming.
It’s Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard University Press).
The New Zealand professor’s book maps out precisely how more academics could overcome their addiction to stodgy and unreadable prose.
Appalled at the wordy work produced by most academics, Sword analyzes 1,000 peer-reviewed articles and 100 academic books. She persuasively counters the fears of scholars who claim they’re “not allowed” to write vividly and with panache.
In ruminating on why so much academic writing is uninspiring, Sword says conforming to colleagues’ notoriously bland writing seems to comfort worried academics, and that jargon is a signal to peers they belong in the same elite club.
Sword, however, offers many examples of scholars whose writing breaks the grim pat-tern of obscurity and monotony. And she encourages more academics to practice clear communication, craft and creativity. It will, however, require courage.
Sword’s admonition to academics to overcome their fear of clear writing is a revealing illustration of a much larger problem in contemporary higher education – a crisis of relevancy, of meaning.
Since Sword is targeting her book for sale to academics, she is not about to criticize them too harshly. But there is an undercurrent running through Stylish Academic Writing that suggests faculty who fail to communicate are ignoring a long-standing expectation that their work should have social significance.
There are notable exceptions to the current hollowing out of higher education, which I mention below. But it appears there is a growing lack of interest among many academics in communicating any-thing resembling “wisdom” to students.