Christian Higher Education Goes to Russia
This is the first entry in our new biweekly department, Evangelical Minds, which covers developments in research and higher education.
Journal Watch: Faith and Learning in Russia
The integration of faith and learning has taken center stage in Christian higher education in the United States. While we work out the implications of the concept in symposia, journal articles, and the classroom, the long-suppressed Russian church has been at work, too. Baylor University's Perry Glanzer and Konstantin Petrenko recently wrote about heartening developments in Russian higher education for Christian Scholar's Review (the article was previewed in March by Inside Higher Ed). I interviewed Glanzer about their research.
CT: Your article in Christian Scholar's Review says the Russian Orthodox Church is beginning to make real efforts toward providing a distinctively Christian education for college students. One thing that struck me about the article was that it notes that efforts in higher education beyond the training of clergy are relatively new for the Orthodox church. What explains that omission from a church that reaches directly back into antiquity? And why have they decided to take this new route now?
Glanzer: One reason simply concerns historical-political realities. Whether it was the Russians under the Mongols, Ukrainians under the Poles, or the Bulgarians and Romanians under the Turks, many nations with Orthodox majorities were ruled or threatened by foreign powers. It would have been difficult to start a university in those circumstances. Nonetheless, there were also other factors. Church-state relations played a key role. The Catholic church in the West successfully achieved a greater degree of institutional autonomy and power from the state. The universities that developed in the West then looked to the Church for legitimacy and political protection. In contrast, the Eastern church more often found itself, for both political and theological reasons, serving in a less autonomous and powerful role within the dominant political structure.
Consequently, secular political entities first designed and created institutions of higher education without looking for leadership or legitimacy from the Orthodox church. Finally, some features of Orthodox theology contributed to this tendency. Orthodoxy's historical emphasis upon and comfort with mystery and its views of the limitations of reason did not inspire the development of systematic knowledge in other fields. The West also developed a more desacralized view of nature that allowed for a broader interest in scientific investigations.
The Russian Orthodox Church has undertaken this new approach partly because they've observed the success of Protestant and Catholic efforts. In addition, they realize the need to develop Christian scholars, since, as one rector claimed, "Scholarship without morality at its core is dangerous." Thus, they want to prepare the spiritual and intellectual elite for a new, highly moral Russia.
CT: It seems to me that one of the driving forces behind the ambitions of American Christian colleges to integrate faith and learning is a recent recognition of how worldviews influence the way we teach and research. Orthodox scholars in Russia seem to be coming to a similar conclusion. If anything, you argue, the realization may be easier for them because of their cultural context.
Glanzer: One still finds Western professors who hold to the modern dream that subjects such as history or psychology can be taught objectively and without interference from worldview bias. In contrast, Russians never experienced that modern dream under Communism. In fact, they constantly experienced hostile worldview bias, since, as one professor told us, "During the Soviet years, science was always integrated with atheism." Now, they believe that as Christians they "can avoid all the atheistic prejudices." As one history professor told us, "This allows us to look at history without overlooking the religious aspect of history and presenting it simply as something that is superfluous to history."