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."
CT: One of your key points in the article is that Orthodoxy was long a part of Russian higher education, but that it was a servant rather than a more independent and creative force in its own right. What about the current Russian church-state regime brings about the change you've written about? Is there a danger that such efforts will be stifled by stronger alliances between the Russian church and the state?
Glanzer: Part of the change comes from the fact that Orthodox education is no longer suppressed, but neither is it favored with direct funding from the federal government. Freedom without favoritism can produce a healthy entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, one of the fascinating parts of our research concerns the entrepreneurial efforts of some of the early Orthodox universities. Without state sponsorship, the new Orthodox universities ran on extremely tight budgets. Many professors basically worked for free at the Orthodox school while earning money at a secular school. St. Tikhon University initially survived on sales from its book store. Later, the state provided the universities some resources but this was through returning property stolen by the Communists.
Of course, this freedom without favoritism is changing. The theology faculty at St. Tikhon wrote the state standards for theology degrees (which even apply to Islamic schools). In addition, local governments are funding these schools while also putting up legal road blocks to other Christian colleges such as Russian American Christian University. The Orthodox church needs to remember that the road to secularization undertaken by other Christian universities often begins when a particular church or religion courts unjust forms of political or cultural hegemony.
The priority of rankings
A number of liberal arts college presidents have moved from frequent protest against the U.S. News and World Report rankings to formal action. Approximately 40 institutions (with another 30 to 40 rumored to join) have stated their intent to no longer participate in the U.S. News rankings by filling out the infamously subjective "reputational survey" or by using the rankings in their own promotional campaigns. Not many Christian colleges and universities have signed on yet, but Frances Lucas of the Methodist-affiliated Millsaps College, speaking to Inside Higher Ed, offered a compelling reason they might want to do so. Lucas claims virtually every college president would shift some merit aid to aid for low-income students if the rankings weren't in play.
Abstinence in the Ivies
We've heard a lot about high school abstinence movements like True Love Waits and Silver Ring Thing. During the same period, we've incorporated the campus term "hooking up" into our lexicon. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that True Love Revolution at Harvard is designed to encourage preserving sex for marriage, but it has a somewhat novel approach. Although the group is largely a Christian one, the membership of about 150 students includes agnostics interested in the connection the group makes between waiting and real romance.
A statement from Katharina Cieplak-von Baldegg, a student with more liberal attitudes about sex, reveals something interesting about a campus dynamic that could show signs of outgrowing the culture war model. She appreciates the fact that the members of True Love Revolution "just want to have a group and a place where people can feel that they're not alone in their opinions, like any other student group." Students and staff at a number of InterVarsity groups struggling with campus credentialing issues during recent years couldn't have put their own case any more succinctly.
Hunter Baker is special assistant to the president and director of strategic planning at Houston Baptist University. Got a tip regarding academic research or higher education? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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