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January 27, 2004

Evangelical Colleges

Jason discusses a Time article on Azusa Pacific University (APU), an evangleical Christian university in California attempting to challenge "the stereotypes of evangelical colleges as weak academically and ultraconservative socially." As Jason points out, biology professor Jon Milhon's half-hearted introduction to Darwin's evolutionary theory needs to be interrogated. To be fair, at the evangelical college I attended, the biology professor actually taught evolution relatively straight, without snide comments about Darwin's faith. Still, in an environment where George W. Bush is pushing faith-based initiatives and further blurring the lines between church and state, the academic missions of these colleges need to be carefully considered.

I would point out, from personal experience, that the article's discussion of evangelical colleges glosses how politically and socially homogeneous many of these campuses are. Class discussion invariably starts from a very specific worldview, one that regards some questions as "dangerous," which often had the result of making me feel alienated from most of my fellow students and unable to be open about my (then moderately liberal) politics on campus. More than anything, my experience was that the campus's insularity prevented any real confrontation with difference, and for the most part, the article ignores that dynamic almost completely.

Update, 11:15 PM: I've been struggling with this entry for most of the evening (I even thought about deleting it), in part because I feel like my experience at an evangelical college may have been unusual; I'm hesitant to make any general claims based on anecdotal evidence; and I don't think these colleges are nearly as simple politically or socially as I've described them. But I do think that by focusing solely on one evangelical college and limiting interviews to people who generally support the university's goals (APU students and professors), the article only gives us a limited part of the story.

Posted by chuck at January 27, 2004 10:36 PM

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Chuck... I always enjoy reading your posts on the evangelical experience. You point out a very important fact about Christian schools that I think can be generalized to the entirety of the Christian faith... namely, that there is a greater deal of diversity than most people realize or are willing to realize. It is an unfortunate fact that most of the famous faces, those that end up "representing" Christianity to the world, are not truly representative of the diversity of opinions and points of view within religion. Take it from me -- I don't feel well represented by many of those public faces.

Posted by: Chris at January 28, 2004 4:11 PM

You're right, Chris. I think that's why I hesitate to talk about it, because even though I did feel somewhat isolated at our undergraduate college and found it to be pretty homogeneous, I recognize that it is a little more complicated than that and that many people don't feel represented by the public (or even insitiutional) faces.

Posted by: chuck at January 28, 2004 5:03 PM

I just feel a little guilty now for not knowing you felt that way at the time. I was caught up in my own life issues at the time, I guess, as were all of us, but I had no idea until you and Jim became closer in grad school that your views were different than the so-called "Christian mainstream." Jim and I have interesting conversations all the time now about this stuff - he calls me to vent because he knows that, even if I disagree with him, we can still have a reasonable discussion about it.

Posted by: Chris at January 29, 2004 10:02 AM

I don't think you should feel guilty at all. In fact, I'm not even sure I could have articulated these issues at the time. I think the problem was that almost everyone there held (or seemed to hold) a fairly single viewpoint that was held up as "natural."The result, in my case, was that I rarely talked about these things much.

And, of course, that I ended up feeling tremendously liberated when we studied in Cambridge that spring.

Posted by: chuck at January 29, 2004 10:51 AM

Now that makes a lot more sense (about Cambridge)... I was going through my "dark artist" period then (without really creating much, however). I think I was emulating Beckett since I was writing about him all that semester, LOL.

Well, maybe guilt isn't the right reaction, but I wish we'd talked about it, for both our sakes. I feel like I have moderated my viewpoint quite a bit since then (still quite conservative, but much more open minded now)... and it probably would have sped the process along for me to discuss issues openly with a friend.

Posted by: Chris at January 29, 2004 11:17 AM

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