Friday, October 31, 2008

Visiting Messiah College

I just spent two days on the campus of Messiah College. Messiah is a small, 2800 undergraduate students, college in central Pennslvania near the capitol. This time of year, and I suspect, at all times it is a lovely venue. It is a college founded by the Brethren in Christ, an Anabaptist church related to the Mennonites by history if not by organization. i was there to celebrate with the editors, Rhonda and Douglas Jacobsen, their new book The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford, 2008). The event was held in the Boyer Center named for Ernest Boyer famed for his many thoughtful inquiries into the educational process. Boyer was a graduate of Messiah College.

With its religious roots, Messiah is awash with Christian language and focus, but witnessing to the broadening of the evangelical movement in America, Barack Obama signs were ubiquitous. On the day I visited, representatives from the Obama campaign were on campus meeting with Falcons for Obama, or to be more precise, there met with students who were supporting Obama.

I was pleased to tell the folks at Messiah that the community at MIT is wider than theirs is, but that it is also no less religious. There are more communities here and some wear "we haven't figured it all out yet" signs. That is what the Jacobsen's have written about in several volumes. It is good for us to be reminded that out in the heartland of Pennsylvania there are those who are grappling with the place of education in formal religion and vice versa. The conversation is lively at Messiah just as it is here at MIT. We live in a new time! I think Ernest Boyer would be pleased.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A New Book

Let me tell you about a new book edited by Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen and Douglas Jacobsen. It is called The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford, 2008) and it grapples with the place of religion in the contemporary university/college. The conversation is balanced and comprehensive talking about students and faculty and the myriad of ways religion impacts the university environment. The authors recognize that no institution is without religious threads that tie together otherwise divergent patterns of belief and practice and with honesty reveal some of those threads, e.g. "Why Faculty Find it Difficult to Talk About Religion" and "The Religious and Spirituality Journeys of College Students".

There are those who do not think matters spiritual should be the object of concern on campus; my response is that we cannot ignore such matters. Our residence halls, our classrooms are shaping lives, molding futures and not to recognize the importance of fundamental questions such as "Who am I?", "What am I about?", "How shall I live?" would be to abdicate responsibility. I am reminded of Reb Saunders in The Chosen who worries that is son will have a well developed mind but have no soul. Saunders says " Because this is America, Reuven. This is not Europe. It is an open world here." It is an open world here, but that does not mean that we are not concerned with the quality of the minds we are educating.

We are preparing the next generation of world leaders. At this time of the year I am particularly mindful of the things we have left undone. It is a good thing to be reminded of what we can do better in the future. The Jacobsens have given us a challenging recipe for educating minds and souls.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Time Away

Lately it is hard to get away during the summer. People come to see us. This past week, however, Jan and I went west for a transfusion of scenery and dry air. While New England prepared for fall, we dried out, saw golden aspens and enjoyed New Mexico. I read The American University in a Postsecular Age (Oxford, 2008) edited by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen of Messiah College. It is always nice to read something that confirms what you sense you are seeing. This book does that as it surveys the conversation about the place of religion in contemporary education. The message, "PAY ATTENTION There may not be a clash of cultures, but there is plenty of pushing and shoving as religious inclinations nudge their way back into the academy. I see it here at MIT.
Another book, Progressive and Religiousby Robert P. Jones (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008) was the object of conversation last evening after dinner with the Lutheran and Episcopal Ministry. Jones was here and argued strongly that there is emerging a movement in the public sphere uniting the religious left with progressive causes that will break the hold on public religious life by the religious right.

Both books are worth reading and in this season of holidays (Ramadan ended yesterday, Rosh Hashanah last evening) books on religion and the public sphere will take your mind off your 401K or retirement plans revised once again.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute