.....the latest permutation of a long-standing trend: namely, an increasing desire to take an exclusively sociological or historical approach to Christianity, rather than what I would call, at the risk of being misunderstood, a "theological" one. By that I emphatically do not mean an approach that attempts to inculcate belief in God, loyalty to Christ, or membership in any Christian institution. I simply mean a grappling with the texts and concepts of influential Christian thinkers of the past two millennia, in the same way that we would deal with philosophical or literary texts from any cultural or religion tradition.I think that's an excellent point he makes; the same way that we would deal with philosophical or literary texts from any cultural or religion tradition. At some level, we are treating Christian texts as too "special" in the academy.
....From a broader perspective, though, this trend toward sociological or historical approaches seems to me to point toward the fundamental anxiety that attends the teaching of Christianity in any secular setting. We are perfectly able to imagine courses on Buddhist philosophy or rabbinic Judaism — both of which involve what we would call "theological" argument and commentary on authoritative texts — without worrying that this would represent some kind of toehold for religious indoctrination. This remains the case even though there always tend to be at least a handful of college students who will wind up identifying as Buddhist in some sense, including practicing.I wonder what the basis of this is? I suspect part of it is a push back from the conservative wing, which very vocally brings their beliefs into the classroom and shuts down inquiry. Part of it is a hyper-active political correctness, where we give excess consideration to the possibility that someone might be offended so we eliminate the conversation.
The teaching of "religions" generally, then, doesn’t seem problematic. Yet Christianity is somehow different. It’s too close to us all. ....Thus it is understandable that having a professor teaching Christian theology seems to be problematic in a way that teaching Buddhist philosophy or Talmudic exegesis is not.
Well, I think that's not quite right. There are certainly cases of proselytizing of opinion by faculty and by students--not just religious views, but political ones. It works both ways, conservative and liberal. I am frequently shocked to find out how seriously some of my students take my least utterance---and I teach science. Teaching a religious subject requires a combination of fearlessness and sensitivity.
....It is very difficult to see how a historically rigorous and broad-based approach to teaching Christian intellectual history could fail to meet academic muster or violate our country’s well-established commitment to the separation of church and state, even in a public university. It is in fact very difficult for me to see how any kind of proselytizing could take place in a secular academic environment at all. ....
I think this writer points out many of the issues that are important. It's also part of why I have no problem with a "great books" curriculum, as long as it's not limited to the "great books".
In the end, though, it’s not my business what my students do with the knowledge and skills I give them, least of all when it comes to their own spiritual lives or lack thereof. What is my business is giving them the tools they need to take stock of the cultural inheritance that has, for better or worse, been forced on us all, in different ways and to varying degrees, and to open the door for them to consciously and creatively reappropriate elements of that inheritance if they choose or else articulate their reasons for rejecting it entirely.
In many respects I wish I could go back to school. When I was in college, I didn't have much time outside of my degree requirements to explore things that I now find fascinating. I think education is wasted on the young. Unfortunately they are the only ones with the time to do it.