For years, Christians have complained that academia has been an unwelcoming place for them. They're probably right. While the evidence about whether colleges and universities are encouraging Christians to lose their faith is mixed, the anti-Christian humanist bias within academia is relatively clear—both to the disproportionately low number of Christians within the academy and to researchers, like me, who've taken the time to study them.
Given the hostility towards Christians, we're left asking how Christians should approach higher education. Do they belong in academia at all?
As a Christian academic, I affirm our place in colleges and universities. The anti-Christian hostility we see comes partly from scholars' lack of contact with Christians. When more Christians enter into academia, they challenge the anti-Christian stereotypes and myths of some academics. A history of anti-intellectualism within Christianity has long fed into the mistrust of some scholars. At times Christians have been our own worst enemies and have held unwarranted mistrust toward academics and scientists. We should not be surprised when that resentment is shoved back at us.
Furthermore, the differing epistemological assumptions of academia's secular humanism and traditional Christian ideas form an ideological divide. That divide gets deepened when so few Christians participate in the social circles of academics. Some scholars' mistrust keeps them from respecting the perspectives Christians bring to issues within their specific field or to general social, political, and religious concerns.
Having more Christians in academia will also help introduce scholarly topics otherwise ignored. For example, my work on anti-Christian bias in academia would be unlikely to occur in a secular scholarly atmosphere that overlooks unfamiliar individuals toward whom there is little sympathy. Christian academics can both help alter the attitudes of academics and influence the sciences so that a wider range of viewpoints and perspectives can be taken into account.
This does not mean that all Christians should go into academia. Obviously, it takes a certain degree of cognitive ability, personal perseverance, and discipline to obtain a doctorate. Some Christians are not called to handle the unique challenges demanded of them in graduate school; but God has blessed others with certain rudimentary intelligence, stubbornness, a willingness to explore controversial ideas, creative thinking, intellectual curiosity, and other qualities well-suited for academia. A Christian academic has to be able to stand by ideas not accepted or popular among his colleagues—something I have learned to do.
Christians who want to go into academia must undergo a frank assessment of whether they are ready for the challenges academia has to offer. How can they plan for such a career in a way that glorifies God and makes a unique contribution to academia?
First, it is important to acknowledge the intellectual challenge in this career choice—not merely in one's studies but also to one's faith. Before I went to graduate school I immersed myself in the best apologetic material I could find. I anticipated learning new modes of thinking when I went to graduate school and wanted to be well versed in what I believed.
Many academics have accepted a certain level of anti-Christian animosity that is present in our larger society. This is not surprising, since antipathy towards conservative Christians is linked to higher educational attainment. By definition, scholars are highly educated, and they are more likely to be part of highly educated subcultures that include anti-Christian hostility. The animosity within academic circles may merely reflect larger anti-Christian antagonism in some segments in the United States.