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When I was in college, a professor told a story about a boy from a backwoods family who was being interviewed by a visiting anthropologist. Asked about his siblings, the boy proudly declared that his brother was at Harvard. The astonished anthropologist asked what the brother was studying. "It's not that way," replied the boy. "They're studying him."

Likewise, the academic world regards Christian theism as an object for study rather than as a participant in academic discourse, as Notre Dame history professor George Marsden has shown (see his new book The Soul of the American University, Oxford). The standards of academia discourage a professor who is teaching, say, the history of Christianity from taking the position that Christianity may be true. Such restrictions do not apply to advocates of other viewpoints. Socialists teach socialism, and feminists teach women's studies. As Marsden wrote in the "Wall Street Journal" (Dec. 22, 1993), "Many contemporary academics insist that the only respectable place for religion in the academy is on the syllabus-as an object of study-where it may be subordinated to Western scientific methods of analysis."

Sometimes this double standard requires that a thinker or group be split into two parts, to separate the politically correct from the incorrect. In Marsden's words: "One conspicuous example is that, although universities welcome African-Americans and build programs in African-American studies, they find little place for positive evaluations of the dominant religion of African-American culture." One might paraphrase this point by saying that the secular content of the Reverend Martin Luther King's views on racial justice has a very different status from the religious background of those ...

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In the Magazine

October 24, 1994

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