Thursday, June 11, 2009

Academic Babylon

Regarding a new openness to faith in the academy, Princeton Sociologist Robert Wuthnow suggests that religious folk think twice before they uncork the celebratory champagne:
Faith and religion in the academy may have more opportunities to overcome marginalization now than a generation ago. But this change can also be viewed as a kind of devil's bargain, for the process in no way suggests that faith and religion will again become center stage in American higher education. Instead they become articles of personal biography, aspects of some community or group's cultural history, rather than anything resembling truth.
Wuthnow identifies three strategies by which religiously-minded people navigate this situation. The first is accommodation, a path often unconsciously followed. The second strategy, resistance, argues that the University serves the liberal nation-state which is incompatible with orthodox faith; hence pagan learning must be undercut.

Wuthnow calls the third religious strategy "intentional reframing," and it's much more difficult to describe than the first two, lying as it does between them. This approach
recognizes that the pursuit of knowledge is always flawed by self-interest, academic politics, and other human limitation. It therefore adopts an intentional stance of questioning or even skepticism in the consumption of and pursuit of higher learning....
At the same time, however, this perspective
trusts the academy, up to a point, to be an institution that has proven over the years to be effective in generating and transmitting knowledge... But just as faith in the democratic system of government always requires citizens to reserve granting absolute faith to their representatives, so faith in the academy is similarly tempered.
Wuthnow's third way for religious folk in academia is very similar to the counsel of Richard John Neuhaus (and the prophet Jeremiah) for religious folk in democracies, as articulated in Chapter One of American Babylon.