BC, Baylor Talk About Religious Identity

BC, Baylor Talk About Religious Identity

Presidents, faculty of Catholic and Baptist schools meet before game

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

As their football teams prepared to do battle, representatives from Boston College and Baylor University had a very different encounter, discussing their approaches to institutional identity and Christian education at an afternoon conference on Sept. 3 in Burns Library.

Administrators and faculty at the event - including BC President William P. Leahy, SJ, and Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. - also heard the results of a survey which gauged attitudes toward religion and education among both BC and Baylor faculty members.

The conference, titled "To What Extent Does/Ought Religion Make a Difference?," was sponsored by the Jesuit Institute and Baylor's Institute for Faith and Learning. It was held on the eve of the BC-Baylor football game in Alumni Stadium.

Fr. Leahy welcomed the discussion as a way to explore the common challenges facing the Catholic and Baptist higher education institution s , and their responses to these issues.

"The wisdom of this discussion is striking," said Fr. Leahy. "We ask many of the same questions: about our hiring, our curriculum, and the way we present ourselves to the public. What can we learn from one another?"

Law Dean John Garvey participated in the discussion.
Institute for Faith and Learning Director Michael Beaty said that the institute devised a survey on faith and learning that was administered in 1995 to faculty at Baylor, BC, the University of Notre Dame and other institutions with religious affiliations.

The survey findings and their possible implications highlighted the afternoon's discussion, as Beaty and Baylor Graduate School Dean Larry Lyon presented the results and compared institutions.

Approximately 42 percent of 474 BC faculty responded to the survey. Among other findings, faculty showed overwhelming support for the University's mission statement - which refers to BC's "Jesuit and Catholic heritage" - and for the idea that it should help students think critically about their moral commitments and live more virtuous lives.

A majority of faculty said BC should integrate faith and learning by illuminating religious issues through the resources of academic disciplines, and to a lesser extent, use the Christian intellectual tradition in non-religious disciplines.

But survey results indicated that academic prominence or promise should be more of a factor than religious belief or commitment in hiring faculty. Most respondents also said that BC should guarantee academic freedom even if a faculty member's teaching or scholarship calls into question traditional Catholic beliefs and practices.

Still, Lyon said the overall findings pointed to "more support for Christian views at Boston College" than some perceptions might suggest. The results also showed a strong belief that BC should not merely train students for careers but educate them to "be good citizens."

BC faculty tended to be more confident than their Baylor counterparts about combining academic excellence and Christian identity, Lyon noted.

In response to the presentation, Jesuit Institute Associate Director Prof. Patrick Byrne (Philosophy) said his impression was that institutions like Boston College, Baylor and others surveyed generally believe "that it's possible to have academic excellence and faith commitment," but are less certain of how to achieve this.

"I'd suggest that there is a great need for faculty to explore the relationship of faith and learning," said Byrne. "Reading some of the individual comments in the survey, one often detects a feeling that faith is here, learning is over there, and 'ne'er the twain shall meet.' In fact, there are a variety of possibilities between the two."

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