I am continually amazed at how provincial and specialized contemporary graduate education is. By provincial and specialized, I mean that there is usually little interdisciplinary conversation that takes place within the curricula. Unfortunately, Christianity graduate education, which has reasons to overcome disciplinary silos, fails to counter this culture. In fact, although Christian institutions are supposed to undertake interdisciplinary conversations about Christianity and various disciplines as part of their mission, when it comes to their formal graduate curriculum they usually do not.
On what basis do I make this empirical claim? I have mentioned in a previous blog post the theologically-guided discourse analysis I undertook with my graduate students of the 638 graduate programs at the 41 top-ranked Protestant Christian universities in the United States. In that study, we found only a third of Christian graduate components had a class dealing with Christianity and the graduate program’s subject matter.
My own institution certainly brought down the results. We have 119 graduate programs—not counting religion, church music, and seminary-related programs. If the Baylor Board of Regents wants to see how serious Baylor University is about developing Christian graduate education, they should simply consult this short list of graduate courses outside of the religion department and seminary that address Christianity and an academic discipline or subject area.
|Christian Faith and P-12 Educational Leadership
|Christian Faith and Education
|Christianity, Ethics and Research with Human Participants
|Medical Ethics from a Christian Perspective
|Christianity, Ethics, and Social Work
That’s it. There are five. Every one of those courses is located in a professional discipline (education, health, human performance, medical science, and social work). In addition, three of the five primarily focus on ethics versus theological perspectives. Baylor claims to be engaged in building a top-notch Christian research university, but we have not undertaken the intellectual work to offer graduate courses about the relationship between particular subject areas and Christianity. Perhaps we do not have the intellectual competence, courage, or care. I do not know which one it is. Other universities may have other reasons.
What was particularly disturbing in our national study was the paucity of courses on Christianity and any disciplinary subject within graduate programs located in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Our study found that only one-fourth of programs in the arts and sciences had a curricular element exploring the relationship between Christianity and their discipline (as evident from the above list, Baylor has zero). Why we think these graduate students do not need curricular space to think about the relationship between Christianity and their academic discipline is beyond me.
Granted, I realize that courses exist that may address these issues but do not mention anything about Christianity in their course title or description. The clear limitation of our research method is that it does not capture that approach. Further qualitative research would be necessary to discover courses where this endeavor is occurring (and I invite others to submit posts about courses where this task is occurring). That being said, I think it is vitally important to have a specific course where a particular discipline and Christianity are discussed through a theological lens.
If those courses do not exist, Christian graduate education betrays our intellectual heritage as inventors of the multi-disciplinary university where such conversations could and did take place. There is a reason why other religious traditions and civilizations did not invent universities, while Christians played the key role in their formation. The reason stems from how Christian education cultivated interdisciplinary conversations.1
It also took a particular form of Christianity to produce the university. The older educational institutions in Byzantium, similar to Islamic educational institutions, separated theology from the other disciplines. Even later, the Eastern Orthodox Church left the education of priests to separate seminaries. Thus, scholars do not consider the Eastern Orthodox Church to have created a university before the 1900s.2
In contrast, as Marcia Colish reminds us, Catholic universities in the West emerged out of a unique integration of theology, the liberal arts, and the professions in the great cathedral schools found in Europe. The particular brand of integration helps explain why universities emerged in Western Europe and not in Asia, the Middle East, or Africa:
In striking contrast with Byzantium and Islam, all of these subjects [liberal arts, law, medicine, and theology] flourished and were supported in the same schools. Basic education in the trivium and quadrivium ensured that scholars in law, medicine, and theology had a command of logic and the other verbal disciplines as well as mathematics and science. The fact that scientists and philosophers studied in faculties adjacent to theologians trained to raise questions about ultimate values, and that theologians interacted with colleagues in fields not informed by religious criteria, forced all involved to take account of the perspectives and ground rules of other disciplines as well as the disagreements within their own. The scholastics who created this heady educational environment rapidly outpaced monastic scholars as speculative thinkers.3
These scholars also began to desire new institutional arrangements. Eventually, well-known teachers and clerics started teaching independently of the cathedral schools and monasteries. They became known for innovation and soon formed themselves into guilds of scholars that grew into what would eventually be called universitas.4
American Christians have betrayed this interdisciplinary heritage in multiple ways. Starting seminaries separate from liberal arts colleges and universities was one tragic move that still plagues us, although there are some Christian universities today that still have seminaries within or near them or have recovered that heritage. Baylor is actually one that recovered that heritage, and some graduate students at Baylor can and do take courses in our seminary as one of their electives. Still, one would hope that academic departments themselves would try to engage in offering courses that try to address the intersection between Christian theology, Christian ethics, and their particular discipline in ways that a seminary never can.
Practically, speaking, I recommend that every Christian university with graduate programs in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, or professions create at least one elective graduate course addressing “Christianity and the Sciences,” “Christianity and the Social Sciences,” “Christianity and the Humanities,” and “Christianity and the Professions.” If taught well, they would demonstrate the unity and diversity among Christian approaches. After all Christians do not agree on how to approach their discipline or profession. For example, one of CSR’s most-read older articles is a decades-old book review of Psychology and Christianity: Five Views.
Of course, I think Christian theologians and ethicists have a role to play as well in these courses. In contrast to every other graduate discipline that operates with an impulse to reduce matters to their smallest possible unit of understanding, theology should help us draw all creation back to God and intellectual unity. I have argued in Restoring the Soul of the University: Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age,
Christian universities should hire at least one if not more faculty members trained in theology whose job is not to advance their scholarly agenda within the professional fields of the discipline. Instead, they should serve more as a clinical theologian in that they would focus upon learning from the rest of the faculty. In service, they could help faculty and students learn how to speak and think theologically, but they should also see it as their job to learn from the whole university. Perhaps similar to current vice-presidents for the advancement of mission that one finds at Catholic universities but different in that these university theologians would seek to free theology from its professional confines and bring it back to the whole university. (pp. 233-34)
In other words, Christian theologians and ethicists should go to where the action is and ask to be placed in the sciences, social sciences, the arts, and professional schools where they can serve others. Unless we bring Christianity to these disciplines, we will continue to have siloed graduate education at Christian institutions that marginalizes Christianity.
Similarly, I have proposed that Christian universities need more dual-degree graduate programs that combine theology and other disciplines. Unfortunately, some programs that do that, like a few at Baylor, simply combine programs without creating unique integrated courses. In contrast, two dual degrees incorporating extensive attention to how Christ may animate learning in the field are the combined business and theology degrees at Seattle Pacific University (M.B.A. in Theological Integration; MA in Management, Faith, and Business). In these degrees, eighteen-course credits are devoted to courses integrating the two disciplines.
Of course, administrators could help as well. Imagine an institution whose administrators specifically provided summer funding for faculty members to develop a graduate-level course on Christianity and their discipline for their graduate students. I do not know of one, but I can always dream. Maybe one day we will move beyond the scandal of Christian graduate education.
- Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton, University Press, 2003).
- The ecclesiastical academies in Kiev (1632) and Moscow (1687) were the closest Orthodox institutions to universities, but scholars do not consider them as such. For an explanation of these reasons see Jacques Verger, “Patterns,” in A History of the University in Europe: Vol. I. Universities in the Middle Ages, ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Judith Herrin, “The Byzantine ‘University’—A Misnomer,” in The European Research University: An Historical Parenthesis, eds. Kjell Blückert, Guy Neave, and Thorsten Nybom (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); Perry Glanzer and Konstantin Petrenko, “Resurrecting the Russian University’s Soul: The Emergence of Eastern Orthodox Universities and Their Distinctive Approaches to Keeping Faith with Their Religious Tradition,” Christian Scholar’s Review, 36 (2007): 263–84.
- Marcia Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400–1400 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 266.
- Verger, “Patterns.”