Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Religion and the universities again

Terry Mattingly has this interesting post on Baylor, God on the Quad, and Bob Jones University. The most interesting portions are on BJU (follow the link to this Newsweek interview) and, in the comments section, on Baylor.

Update: You can find reviews of God on the Quad here and here, and an interview with Naomi Schaefer Riley here. I’m still withholding final judgment, but here’s the lead paragraph from the first review linked above:

If the past two decades have been an era of religious revival in America--what some observers have called the fourth Great Awakening in the nation’s history--the predominantly secular world of U.S. higher education seems at first glance to have been remarkably untouched by the spirit of the times. Large majorities of undergraduates, for instance, say they seek meaning and purpose in their lives, yet just 8 percent report hearing professors discuss spiritual or religious issues in or out of the classroom, according to a major study of campus religious life by University of California-Los Angeles researchers. "There is a poor fit today between students’ interest in spiritual matters and the universities’ general lack of interest in those concerns," says Alexander Astin, founder of UCLA’ s Higher Education Research Institute.

And then there’s this from

Christianity Today’s weblog:


Rarely is the watering down of a college’s religious commitments spelled out so clearly than in the revisions to the Davidson College Statement of Purpose and bylaws, approved last week by the board of trustees.

No longer does the North Carolina college seek "ties which bind the college to the Presbyterian Church." (Davidson has official ties to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) Now it’s "ties that bind the college to its Presbyterian heritage." And where the school used to "intend that this vital relationship be continued to the mutual benefit of church and school," it now doesn’t say that it wants to benefit the church.

Likewise, the new statement dropped the line that it’s "a college whose tradition commits it to nurture the life of the spirit."

Fortunately, the trustees rejected the most astounding change proposed by ad hoc committee of its members. The proposal had "Davidson commits itself to a Christian tradition that recognizes God as the source of all truth" replaced with "The religious tradition that has shaped Davidson recognizes God as the source of all truth." The final version now says "The Christian tradition to which Davidson remains committed recognizes God as the source of all truth."

Ted Olson, who compiles CT’s weblog, which I consistently find extremely useful, concludes in the following way:

At Davidson, apparently, it’s best to view religion as an old historical thing that’s shaped stuff in the past rather than something that "nurtures the life of the spirit" and has an active, present role in directing one’s educational aims.

For those concerned about religion and higher education, this is an interesting case study. Davidson is one of the crown jewels among
PCUSA-afilliated colleges and universities. I suspect that the trustees are simply acknowledging and acquiescing in facts already on the ground, rather than actually charting a new course for the institution. But this recognition or surrender--consigning religion to the dusty bookshelf, if not the dustbin, of history--bespeaks the difficulty of maintaining a serious connection with one’s religious heritage in the face of a pervasive public culture whose preferred response to religious pluralism is to stress secularism or to change the subject.

For Davidson’s somewhat different take on its changes, go here.

Update #2: A friend writes from North Carolina:"there has been a gradual decoupling from the Presbyterian church over the last several years, much to the dismay of a number of bright and thoughtful religious students of mine. It will, however, take several years for Davidson to assimilate entirely to the homogenous, indistinguishable academic establishment--above all because there is an active Christian subculture among a sizable minority of students."

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