A few years ago, while visiting an explicitly Christian university, I met two students who said they had been ridiculed for raising a biblical perspective in the classroom. Their travails remind us how diligently most contemporary scholars struggle to separate their pedagogy from their religious faith. American universities are famously in love with the ideology of secularism. On the flip side, they are notoriously skeptical or even hostile toward religion. In his masterful Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, John Milbank defended the primacy of theology for the Christian scholar.
Since Milbank's call, unfortunately, the situation on campuses has worsened. C. John Sommerville, in The Decline of the Secular University, warns that campus life is swiftly bypassing secularism in favor of post-secularism. That is, the appeal to reason is being replaced by the appeal to fashion. The secular university, says Sommerville, "was a flawed concept from the beginning," because it focused on the education of young people without any sense of why they were being educated.
Other voices have presented similar theses, including Harry Lewis, the former dean of Harvard College, in Excellence Without a Soul. What distinguishes Sommerville's argument is his insistence that universities ignore religious voices at their peril. Religion, he contends, has an important perspective to bring. But because today's campuses tend to see religions as retrograde on the hot-button issues, they ignore centuries of serious thought on diverse subjects such as philosophy, history, and cosmology.
Worse still, to the extent that the university becomes post-secular, it will hopelessly flounder at preparing students to use the knowledge they gain. The ...1