Religion and the Liberal Aims of Higher Education
A two-day conference to honor Boston College's sesquicentennial
Date: November 8, 2012
On November 8-9, 2012, the Boisi Center helped to organize a major academic symposium on “Religion and the Liberal Aims of Higher Education,” in honor of Boston College’s Sesquicentennial. Co-organized by Boisi Center Associate Director Erik Owens and Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy Henry Braun, the conference gathered fifteen influential scholars for rigorous reflection on the nature of the academy, the place of religion, and the future of liberal education.
Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University, set the conference tone with an opening keynote that argued for a space for religious institutions in the middle ground of higher education. Both prescriptive and descriptive, his talk challenged conference participants and the whole BC community to recommit to the liberal arts.
The first panel discussion, moderated by author and Vanity Fair editor Cullen Murphy, offered an historical overview of the shifts away from religion and liberal education in the academy. Historians Andrew Delbanco (Columbia University), Mark Noll (University of Notre Dame) and Julie Reuben (Harvard Graduate School of Education) contributed expertise in different periods of American history and provided their own visions of a fruitful future for religious reflection on college campuses.
Mark Massa, S.J., Dean of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, moderated the second panel, which brought together three current college presidents, John Jenkins, C.S.C. (University of Notre Dame), Jane McAuliffe (Bryn Mawr), and Philip Ryken (Wheaton College). All three reflected on the distinct ways in which their institutions’ religious communities contributed essential resources to the project of liberal education, often at the most fundamental levels. Each also spoke about the unique challenges of attending to religious diversity within a context of religious commitment.
Richard Morrill, former president of the University of Richmond and current president of the Teagle Foundation, delivered a lunchtime keynote address that focused on defining the value of the liberal arts in more than just economic terms. He called for a greater attention to life’s “big questions” at colleges and universities, rejecting as incomplete any tendency to dismiss the potential answers found in religious traditions.
The final panel, moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer, explored the ongoing tensions inherent in pursuing the aims of liberal education alongside religious commitments. Author Susan Jacoby joined Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel and Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff to consider ways to balance the particularity of faith convictions amid the diversity of a pluralized academy and world, outlining opportunities for religious institutions to contribute to the common good.
Boston College president William P. Leahy, S.J. delivered the closing remarks. Emphasizing the crucial need for vision, mission and leadership at religious universities, his comments laid the foundation for a continuing implementation of the conference’s insights at Boston College.
Astin, Alexander, Helen Astin, and Jennifer Lindholm. Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Buckley, Michael J., S.J. The Catholic University as Promise and Project: Reflections in a Jesuit Idiom. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1998.
Calvert, Robert E. To Restore American Democracy: Political Education and the Modern University. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.
Colby, Anne, Thomas Ehrlich, Elizabeth Beaumont, Jason Stephens. Educating Citizens: Preparing America’s Undergraduates for Lives of Moral and Civic Responsibility. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Davis, Jeffry C. and Philip G. Ryken, eds. Liberal Arts for the Christian Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
Delbanco, Andrew. College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.
Hatch, Nathan. “Intellectual and Moral Purposes Still Meet at Catholic Universities.” Chronicle of Higher Educaiton. May 6, 2005.
Hauerwas, Stanley. The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and Knowledge of God. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.
Hughes, Richard T. The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.
Jacobsen, Rhonda Hustedt and Douglas Jacobsen. No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason. New York: First Vintage Books, 2009.
Jenkins, John I., C.S.C. “The Intellectual Life of a Catholic University.” Current Issues in Catholic Higher Education 26, no. 2 (2007): 195-208.
Kazanjian, Victor H., Jr. and Peter L. Laurence, Education as Transformation: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality, and a New Vision for Higher Education in America. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.
Kiss, Elizabeth and J. Peter Euben, eds. Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
Kronman, Anthony. Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
Leahy, William P., S.J. Adapting to America: Catholics, Jesuits, and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1991.
MacIntyre, Alasdair. God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.
Marsden, George. The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Marty, Martin E. Education, Religion, and the Common Good: Advancing a Distinctly American Conversation About Religion’s Role in Our Shared Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Morrill, Richard. Teaching Values in College: Facilitating Ethical, Moral and Value Awareness in Students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1980.
Newman, John Henry. The Idea of a University. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982.
Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
-----. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011.
Nord, Warren. Does God Make a Difference?: Taking Religion Seriously in Our Schools and Universities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Nussbaum, Martha C. Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
Patel, Eboo. Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
Postman, Neil. The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School. New York: Vintage, 1996.
Reuben, Julie A. The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Riley, Naomi Schaefer, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation are Changing America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2005.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Educating for Life: Reflections on Christian Teaching and Learning. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.
-----. Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.
Henry Braun is Boisi Professor of Education and Public Policy and director of the Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation and Education Policy at Boston College. He is the author of numerous books, reports, and scholarly articles on educational outcomes, statistical analysis in education research, and the impact and effectiveness of testing. He is a fellow of the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association and a co-recipient of both the 1986 Palmer O. Johnson Award from the American Educational Research Association and the 1999 Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to the Field of Educational Measurement. He has served on the advisory board for national and international research initiatives and has consulted for a range of governmental organizations. An expert in quantitative analysis, he holds a B.Sc. with honors from McGill University and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in mathematical statistics from Stanford University.
Andrew Delbanco is Mendelson Family Chair of American Studies and Levi Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. Among his many books are College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be (2012), and the award-winning Melville: His World and Work (2005). In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and named “America’s Best Social Critic” by Time magazine. In February 2012, President Barack Obama awarded him a National Humanities Medal. He holds A.B., A.M., and Ph.D. degrees in English from Harvard University.
Nathan Hatch is president of Wake Forest University, where he has earned praise for his commitment to creating a “collegiate university.” He served previously as provost and Andrew V. Tackes Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. An internationally recognized historian of American religion, Hatch is the author of three books and the editor of five more. His 1989 book The Democratization of American Christianity garnered numerous accolades including the 1988 Albert C. Outler Prize in Ecumenical Church History. An influential leader in higher education, he has served on the board of the American Council on Education, and is chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and of the Division I Board of Directors of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He earned an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Illinois and a master’s and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis.
Susan Jacoby, who began her writing career at The Washington Post in 1965, is the author of twelve books, including the New York Times bestseller The Age of American Unreason, Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, and Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. Freethinkers was named in 2004 as an outstanding nonfiction book of the year by the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post and as an outstanding international book of the year by The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. Her 1984 book Wild Justice: The Evolution of Revenge, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Jacoby, whose essays and book reviews have been published in numerous national magazines and newspapers, has focused in recent years on the roles of secularism and religion in American history. In 2001, she was selected as a fellow at the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers.
John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., is president of the University of Notre Dame, where he has led the campus in an examination of the meaning and purpose of a Catholic university. His inaugural address embraced the compatibility of “academic excellence and religious faith,” a position reflected in the university’s 2006 “Statement on Academic Freedom and Catholic Character.” Fr. Jenkins gained international attention in 2009 for the university’s invitation of President Barack Obama to deliver that year’s commencement address, and for his argument that Catholic universities have an obligation to promote dialogue in a polarized world. A philosopher, he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Notre Dame, an M.Div. and S.T.L. from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, and a D.Phil from Oxford University.
William P. Leahy, S.J., became the 25th president of Boston College in July 1996. Coming to Boston College from Marquette University, where he served for five years as executive vice president, he brought to his position a diverse background as a university administrator and as a scholar in 20th century American social and religious history. Fr. Leahy holds a Ph.D. in history from Stanford University, an M.A. in U.S. History from St. Louis University, and a master's degree in divinity and sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. He is the author of Adapting to America: Catholics, Jesuits and Higher Education in the Twentieth Century, as well as numerous scholarly articles on religious and educational history in the United States.
Mark Massa, S.J., is dean of the School of Theology and Ministry and professor of Church History at Boston College. He is well-known as an historian of American Catholicism in the post-WWII era, and publishes widely in scholarly and popular journals. He is the author of Catholics and American Culture: Fulton Sheen, Dorothy Day, and the Notre Dame Football Team (which won the AJCU/Alpha Sigma Nu Award for Outstanding Work in Theology); Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice?; and The American Catholic Revolution: How the Sixties Changed the Church Forever. A scholar of the Catholic intellectual tradition, he delivered the keynote address at the third annual Catholic Higher Education Collaborative Conference. He holds an A.B. from the University of Detroit, an M.A. in history from the University of Chicago, an M.Div. from Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and a Th.D. in Church History from Harvard University.
Jane McAuliffe is president of Bryn Mawr College, where she has spearheaded efforts to strengthen the college’s commitment to the liberal arts. She has pioneered initiatives designed to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and to prepare Bryn Mawr graduates to succeed in a globalized world. Internationally recognized for her scholarship in Islamic studies, with particular expertise in Qur’anic exegesis, she is past president of the American Academy of Religion and the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Mellon Foundations as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Before assuming the presidency at Bryn Mawr, she taught at Emory University, the University of Toronto, and Georgetown University, where she was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and an M.A. from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. from Trinity College in Washington, DC.
Richard Morrill is president of the Teagle Foundation, which supports initiatives focused on the improvement of the effectiveness of liberal education. In this position, he has published numerous reports on higher education administration and the role of the liberal arts in value formation. Prior to taking the helm at the Teagle Foundation, he served successively as president of Salem College (Winston-Salem, NC), Centre College (Danville, KY) and the University of Richmond. He continues to serve as chancellor of the University of Richmond, where he was the first occupant of the Distinguished University Chair in Ethics and Democratic Values that now bears his name. He has also assumed leadership roles for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and ChildFund. As a religious studies scholar he focused on moral formation in education; among his books is Teaching Values in College: Facilitating Ethical, Moral and Value Awareness in Students. He holds a Ph.D. in religion from Duke University, a B.D. in religious thought from Yale University, and an A.B. in history from Brown University.
Cullen Murphy is an editor-at-large of Vanity Fair, a post he has held since 2006. He was previously the managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly for more than 20 years. He is also the author of several books, including God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World (2012); Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (2007); and The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own (1998). Murphy is a graduate of Amherst College, and chairs the college's board of trustees. He lives in Massachusetts.
Mark Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. His research centers upon Protestant evangelicalism but ranges widely across American intellectual and religious history. He is author of more than a dozen books, including Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind; The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith; The Civil War as a Theological Crisis; The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind; and the monumental America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2004, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal in 2006. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of Christianity from Vanderbilt University, an M.A. in history of Christianity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity school, an M.A. in comparative literature from the University of Iowa and a B.A. in English from Wheaton College.
Mark Oppenheimer is the biweekly “Beliefs” columnist for The New York Times and a frequent contributor to Slate, Salon, The Nation, and The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of three books: Knocking on Heaven’s Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture; Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America; and, most recently, his memoir, Wisenheimer. A lecturer in English at Yale University, he has also taught at Wesleyan, Stanford, and Wellesley. He earned a Ph.D. in religious studies and a B.A. from Yale University and currently lives in New Haven, CT.
Erik Owens is associate director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life and adjunct assistant professor of theology and international studies at Boston College. His research explores a variety of intersections between religion and public life, with particular attention to the challenge of fostering the common good of a religiously diverse society. He is the author of a number of scholarly articles on civic education, religious freedom and ethics in international affairs, and he is co-editor and contributor to three books: Gambling: Mapping the American Moral Landscape; Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning; and The Sacred and the Sovereign: Religion and International Politics, the last of which was called a "must read" by Foreign Affairs in 2009. He is co-chair of the American Academy of Religion's Religion and Politics section and a member of the AAR’s Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion. He holds a Ph.D. in religious ethics from the University of Chicago, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from Duke University.
Eboo Patel, named by US News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a Chicago-based organization building the interfaith movement on college campuses. Author of the book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, which won the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, and Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, Eboo is also a regular contributor to the Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, NPR, and CNN. He served on President Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.
Julie Reuben is Professor of Education in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She specializes in the history of higher education in the United States, the impacts of affirmative action policies, and the role of education in civic and moral formation. Currently working on a project on the history of social science instruction in post-World War II higher education, she is the author of Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality, distinguished as a Choice Outstanding Academic Book in 1997, and a number of articles on the impact of campus unrest in the 1960s.. Interested in broad questions about the purpose of education, her research also addresses curriculum developments in both secondary and post-secondary education. A fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, she holds a B.A. from Brandeis University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University.
Philip G. Ryken is president of Wheaton College (Wheaton, IL). A theologian and former pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, he has led Wheaton in its commitment to provide a Christian liberal arts education grounded in the Scriptures. He is the author of more than 30 books, among them biblical commentaries, study guides, and reflections on the intersection of Christianity and culture. His insights on the integration of religion and liberal education have appeared recently in his books Art for God’s Sake and Liberal Arts for the Christian Life. A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in English literature and philosophy, he also earned an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary and a D.Phil. in historical theology from Oxford University.
Nicholas Wolterstorff is a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, and Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University. He is the author of more than fifteen books in the areas of justice and political philosophy, epistemology, religion, aesthetics, and the philosophy of art. His major philosophical works include Justice: Rights and Wrongs; Until Justice and Peace Embrace; and Reason within the Bounds of Religion. He is also well known for his work on the distinctiveness of Christian education, including a book, Educating for Responsible Action and two collections of essays, Educating for Life: Reflections on Christian Teaching and Learning and Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and past president of the American Philosophical Association, he has delivered numerous prominent lectures including the Gifford Lectures at the University of St. Andrews and the Wilde Lectures at Oxford University. He holds an A.B. from Calvin College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University.
What sets religious colleges and universities apart from their secular peers when both are committed to offering a liberal education? This conference brought together fifteen distinguished scholars and writers, including six current or former university presidents, to examine the varied complexions of liberal education and the unique contributions and challenges that religion brings to the endeavor.
The conference opened with an evening keynote address by an eminent historian—now a university president—on the role that religious colleges and universities have played in American society. The next day featured three moderated panels on "historical trajectories" (with distinguished historians and observers of higher education, religion and culture), the "view from the top" (presidents of three religiously affiliated colleges and universities) and "dynamic tensions” (advocates for and critics of the religious dimension of higher education). An afternoon keynote lecture from a former religious studies professor and university president—now president of a foundation committed to strengthening liberal education—took the measure of contemporary higher education. Closing remarks from BC president William Leahy, SJ wraped up the discussion before a public reception following the event.