Two years ago, Eerdmans published an 868-page book with the melancholy title, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from Their Christian Churches, by James Tunstead Burtchaell, a distinguished scholar and past president of the American Academy of Religion. Burtchaell's grim tale was in the air last week when a decidedly more optimistic group gathered at the Kennedy School on October 6 and 7 to consider "The Future of Religious Colleges."
The conference, sponsored by Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) and headed up by Paul Peterson, the director of PEPG, and visiting scholar Paul Dovre, brought together scholars representing a wide range of faith traditions: Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Christian Reformed, Mennonite, Churches of Christ, Nazarene, Mormon. And one session was chaired by a friendly outsider, Alan Wolfe, whose Atlantic Monthly cover story, "The Opening of the Evangelical Mind," was a recurring reference point in the ongoing conversation, along with Burtchaell's book, Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and George Marsden's The Soul of The American University and The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship. Noll and Marsden both gave papers, as did Gordon College's president, Jud Carlberg—who was one of many Christian college leaders in attendance.
Perhaps the most interesting theme to emerge from the conference was articulated by Richard Hughes of Pepperdine University, the foremost historian of the Churches of Christ. Hughes observed that, as the papers made clear, each of the faith communities represented there has within in its own tradition distinctive resources for promoting education that is deeply Christian. And at the same ...1
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