Studying French in Paris or working on housing projects in Latin America are what come to the minds of most college students looking for a semester of cross-cultural experience. But for Kevin Roose, foreign culture was as close as Lynchburg, Virginia. The irreligious Brown University student found exactly the otherness he was seeking at a bastion of conservative evangelicalism, Liberty University.
Although Roose could barely name the four gospels, he set out to explore the other side of what he calls the "God divide" after meeting some Liberty students while traveling for a summer job. He chronicles his semester in The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. Here, he shares some observations about leaving Brown's lax social world to study at a school where kissing carries a $10 fine.
How does a self-professed "liberal" from Brown end up at Liberty?
I was fascinated by the idea of a school where every student has to follow this 46-page code of conduct called the Liberty Way, with no smoking, no drinking, no R-rated movies, no cursing. For me, this was more foreign than any European capital. And it struck me as sort of sad when I met the Liberty students. They looked like me, they talked like me, they acted like me, but they led totally different lives from me and I didn't know what that entailed. I wanted to see if I could build a bridge there and find any common ground between my experience at Brown as a blue-state liberal, and the experience of a Liberty student.
What most fascinated you about evangelicals and evangelical culture?
My social circle was pretty much empty when it came to evangelical Christians, so my impression was that these students were just interesting and smart and personable. ...1
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