Academic freedom might seem like an ivory-tower concern. But Taylor University historian William C. Ringenberg links it to two central Christian emphases: truth and community. His latest book, The Christian College and the Meaning of Academic Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan), begins by rooting academic freedom in such virtues as honesty, humility, and love. Ringenberg then narrates the history of Western European and American higher education, with a focus on changing notions of academic freedom, before exploring case studies of academic-freedom challenges at Christian colleges. Elesha Coffman, assistant professor of history at Baylor University, spoke with Ringenberg about the mission of Christian higher education and its future prospects.

What does the mainstream academic community need to understand about Christian colleges?

Practically speaking, the secular community needs to understand the importance of the First Amendment protection of freedom of assembly. There’s a lot of talk about freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but freedom of assembly is just as vital. The Christian college experience is about gathering together and pursuing truth with people who don’t necessarily think alike on all things, but who share the conviction that God has come to us in Christ.

What misunderstandings about academic freedom exist at Christian colleges themselves?

Sometimes the notion of “academic freedom” makes us nervous, because we think in terms of unsympathetic outsiders. When the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) appeared in 1915, it had many secular impulses, but this was in part an understandable reaction against the power structure of the time, when Christians had almost total control ...

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