Baylor University
January/February 2006
Volume 2, Number 1

From the Director

Douglas Henry Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community

In the midst of a larger academic culture prone to confusion, fragmentation, and ideological strife, Christian scholars need to hear a clarion call to an ever ancient and always new faith that heralds unity and accord, not least of all for the life of the mind that the university prizes. Christian faith, within the context of the church-related university, bears unparalleled promise for unifying the intellectual life of the university, and thus for putting back together what modern academe has broken apart.

Such aspirations, in any case, have prompted a growing number of scholars to consider why and how they are called by God to intellectual labor, and thereby to embody a compelling alternative to business as usual within the scholarly guilds. Crucially, this alternative involves realizing the communitarian ideals that stand at the biblical, theological, and historical heart of the university. Thus is it that these scholars offer a rallying call to all those who—committed to the unity of truth in the triune Godhead—long for a community vitalized by faith, formed by intelligent inquiry and characterized by the kindled flame of friendship which, as St. Augustine once reminisced of his own intellectual community, "fused our very souls and of many made us one."

Of course, the prosaic, predictable routine of lamenting the loss of "community" and urging its renewal typifies post-modern American culture. Everyone seems to have a theory about the collapse and revival of American community. Yet whatever might be said about varied accounts, most agree about two things: we live in a period in which anything approximating genuine community is in short supply, and the breakdown of community represents a phenomenon long in the making and for which there can be no quick fix.

To make matters worse—at least for all who are abidingly convinced of the virtues of families, friendships, and communities—many evidently prefer lives of personal autonomy that are unconstrained by the burden of relationship with others. Far from mourning the waning of the bonds of community, they embrace the independence and fulsome range of free choice opened up for them in an individualistic culture. For some see themselves, Paul Waddell writes, "not primarily as social and relational beings who need others in order to develop and flourish but as essentially private, solitary, and autonomous individuals for whom relationships are more likely an unwanted restriction than the key to our humanization." For these tragic individuals, the privileging of selves over communities constitutes assured progress rather than mournful decline.

Disappointingly, at precisely the point where church-related colleges and universities ought to display a countercultural communitarian impulse, they generally mirror the radically individualistic tendencies of the rest of American culture. They do not realize in any exceptional way the kind of peaceable polity described by St. Augustine: "a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and of one another in God." Christian colleges and universities seldom if ever resemble in practice, irrespective of their rhetoric, anything very like the commonwealth of which Augustine speaks, wherein all are "united in fellowship by common agreement as to what is right and by a community of interest." To the contrary, church-related colleges and universities on these matters all too easily reflect the character of the wider culture, and thus fail to embody imaginative, faithful alternatives in which community simpliciter, and Christian intellectual community in particular, are in evidence.

“Because Christian faith and life always call us
up and beyond ourselves, intellectual community cannot merely stand as an abstract ideal or rhetorically honored desideratum for Christian academics, but indeed constitutes an essential attribute of the church-related university.”

The results are familiar, and without (much) exaggeration include: hyper-specialization that not only contents but prides itself on interdisciplinary irrelevance and inaccessibility; fragmentation of the curriculum; faculty disinclined toward conversation about common educative aims and curricular priorities; students confirmed in their untutored, careerist and consumerist impulses; in short, a failure to acknowledge and cherish our mutual interdependence, an aversion toward the hard work of finding common ground and arguing contested points, and resignation to lives and ideas torn asunder from the joys of serving a shared, mutually enriching good.

Nevertheless, we ought to stand in hopeful solidarity, convinced that Christian colleges and universities can, and must, point to a better way. To do so meaningfully would involve instantiating an existentially committed way of Christian life in community, one that is grounded in dependence on others and on a range of theologically shaped practices and virtues necessary for its flourishing, and one that in all such respects finds its telos in the triune God. If Christian communities of learning fulfilled their potential for this form of shared intellectual life, far from being the moribund enterprises supposed by some in the secular academy, they would provide the most interesting and enlarging kind of education possible.

We should aspire to such because Christian education ideally takes shape within the freeing bonds of community for two reasons related to the character of knowledge and our character as human beings formed by God for koinonia. On the one hand, the vision of Christian faith as comprehensively encompassing every nook and cranny of human reason and experience bespeaks the need for self-transcending academic disciplines, and thus the need for communities of scholars who are responsive one to another across academic fields. We simply cannot do without the resources of an intellectual and spiritual community if we aspire to comprehend an all-embracing Christian vision of life. On the other hand, an essential part of accepting God's graceful initiative in redeeming us through Christ involves our incorporation into the Church, Christ's body, and thus involves locating ourselves in relation to and dependence upon other members of the Church.

Because Christian faith and life always call us up and beyond ourselves, intellectual community cannot merely stand as an abstract ideal or rhetorically honored desideratum for Christian academics, but indeed constitutes an essential attribute of the church-related university. No less a Christian mind than Thomas Aquinas recognized, "A man needs the help of friends in order to act well, the deeds of the active life as well as those of the contemplative." Let faith in the risen Lord therefore serve as that firm foundation that grounds and guides the work of all who labor together in Christian intellectual community, "because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

[This column is adapted from Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community, ed. Douglas V. Henry and Michael D. Beaty (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006). The book includes chapters by Joel Carpenter, Jean Elshtain, Richard Hays, David Jeffrey, John Polkinghorne, and others and will be available in April.]

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Recent Events

Pruit Memorial Symposium

The 2005 Pruit Memorial Symposium was held on Baylor's campus November 9-11. The topic was "Global Christianity: Challenging Modernity and the West," and it explored Christianity's worldwide growth and its relationship to modernity/postmodernity as well as Christianity's relationship to secularization, colonization, decolonization, nationalism, internationalism, and globalization. Plenary presentations were delivered by David Bebbington (University of Stirling/Baylor University), Paul C. Freston (Calvin College), Mark A. Noll (Wheaton College), Dana L. Robert (Boston University), Lamin Sanneh (Yale University) and Brian Stanley (University of Cambridge). The conference featured 90 presentations by an interdisciplinary and international group of scholars.

Public Lectures

In November, IFL hosted two speakers from the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University: Drs. Eugene McCarraher and David Schindler. Dr. McCarraher, a historian of modern American Christianity in its relation to economics, gave lectures entitled, "Consider the Lilies: Why the Protestant Work Ethic is So Awful" and "The Enchantments of Mammon: Corporate Capitalism and the American Moral Imagination." Contesting the Weberian thesis that bureaucratic rationality and capitalist exchange lead to a disenchanted universe, McCarraher argued that capitalism instead produces an alternative regime of enchantment through the creation of commodities and should therefore be analyzed theologically as a religion. Schindler's first lecture was entitled "Free Thinking and Freedom for Thinking: An Untimely Meditation on the Nature of Academic Freedom." In it he argued that the acknowledgment of binding authority is not the antithesis of freedom, but its genuine condition of possibility. His second paper, presented before the Traditio society, was entitled "What's the Difference? Plato, Plotinus, and the Metaphysical Structure of Participation."

IFL also co-sponsored with Traditio in December a presentation by Mark Jordan, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion at Emory University. The topic was "The Practice of Tradition in Thomas Aquinas."

The Physics Department hosted a visit by Dr. Norbert Kroó, Vice President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in January. IFL was pleased to co-sponsor his lecture, "God, the Creator and Heavenly Father."

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Take Note

Baylor Professors Receive Awards for Christian Scholarship

Christian Scholar's Review has recognized C. Stephen Evans, University Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Baylor, as the twentieth recipient of the Charles J. Miller Christian Scholar's Award. The announcement, which appears in the Winter 2006 issue of CSR, notes that his article, "Separable Souls: Dualism, Selfhood, and the Possibility of Death" (Spring 2005), was selected by a panel of jurors for having "best achieved the goals of Christian scholarship set by CSR." We join CSR in commending Dr. Evans for an award-winning article "that is a model of insightful, interdisciplinary Christian scholarship."

In December, Philip Donnelly, Assistant Professor of Literature in the Honors College, was recognized with the Lionel Basney Award for best article in the journal Christianity and Literature in 2005. The article is "Enthusiastic Poetry and Rationalized Christianity: The Poetic Theory of John Dennis," which appeared in C&L 54.2 (Winter 2005): 235-64.

IFL congratulates Dr. Evans and Dr. Donnelly for these honors.

Call for Papers: Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy

IFL is pleased to collaborate with "The Meetinghouse" at Georgetown College to sponsor Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy, an initiative for the enrichment of Baptist intellectual life. Colleagues interested in participating in this year's program—to be held July 24-28 at Regent's Park College, Oxford University—may apply through an open call for papers.

Submissions are welcomed from any scholar identifying with the Baptist tradition, with preference given to junior level faculty at Baptist colleges and universities. Seminar participants will receive a $1000 stipend, lodging, and meals at Regents Park College.

Call for Papers: The World and Christian Imagination

The list of invited speakers has grown for the jointly held 2006 Pruit Memorial Symposium and Lilly Fellows Program National Research Conference since our last newsletter. The conference, the theme of which is The World and Christian Imagination, has confirmed participation by the following scholars: Stephen Barr, Oliva Blanchette, Nicholas Boyle, David Burrell, J. Kameron Carter, Stephen R.L. Clark, William Desmond, Susan Felch, Amy Laura Hall, Kevin Hart, Jeanne Heffernan, David Lyle Jeffrey, P. Travis Kroeker, Eugene McCarraher, Allison Milbank, John Milbank, Stephen Prickett, Tracey Rowland, David C. Schindler, David L. Schindler, and Merold Westphal.

The World and Christian Imagination will explore the interaction of Christian thought with various aspects of contemporary intellectual, social, and political life. The organizers invite proposals for contributed papers and concurrent sessions on this theme from scholars in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, professions, and social sciences. Interdisciplinary perspectives are especially encouraged. The deadline for receipt of concurrent session paper proposals is May 12, 2006. For more information about this call for papers, please visit our web site.

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Conference Calendar

Upcoming at Baylor

March 30-April 1, 2006

Faithful Teaching and Scholarship in Language, Literature and Culture
Sponsored by the North American Christian Foreign Language Association
May 15-19, 2006

Vocation, Liberal Learning, and the Professions
Baylor University Faculty Retreat
Laity Lodge, Texas
November 9-11, 2006

The World and Christian Imagination
Sponsored by the Pruit Memorial Symposium and the Lilly
Fellows Program National Research Conference

Upcoming beyond Baylor

March 30-April 1, 2006

International Forum on Christian Higher Education
Gaylord Texan Resort, Dallas, Texas
Sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
March 23-25, 2006

Theology in the Christian University: Prospects for the 21st Century
Sponsored by Abilene Christian University
April 6-8, 2006

The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts
15th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
April 20-22, 2006

Festival of Faith & Writing
Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
June 6-9, 2006

National New Faculty Workshop: 2006 — The Christian Professorate: Balancing Career, Faith, Mind & Heart
Southeastern University, Lakeland, Florida
Sponsored by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
June 26-July 28, 2006

Calvin College Seminars in Christian Scholarship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • June 26-July 7 — John D. Witvliet, Calvin College: "The Transformation of Christian Worship: Recent History of Protestant and Catholic Practices (1960-2000)"
  • July 3-28 — William T. Cavanaugh, University of St. Thomas: "Liturgy and Politics: Is the Church a Polis?"
  • July 10-28 — Ellen T. Charry, Princeton Theological Seminary: "'Taste and See That the Lord Is Good': Liturgical Participation and the Dynamics of Happiness"
  • July 17-21 — David I. Smith, "Faith in the Classroom: Christian Perspectives on Teaching and Learning"
July 20-22, 2006

Scholars Coming to Faith: Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of C. S. Lewis' Conversion
Airport Hilton, Kansas City, Missouri
Sponsored by the International Institute for Christian Studies and Christian Studies International
September 28-30, 2006

Inscription — a conference for teachers, writers and readers on the Christian teaching of writing, rhetoric and literature Abilene Christian University in collaboration with the Southwest Conference on Christianity & Literature

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