Posts by Richard Gunton

I heard a talk about “Being a Christian in Academia” recently and wanted to make a response.  I had a list of points at which I would have said something different from what the speaker said, and there were probably enough for a 30-min talk.

But as I reflected, there seemed to be just one point that really mattered.  One thing could set the general direction for everything else, and perhaps that was all I needed to say.  That point was, “What’s the point?”  I mean: why be a Christian in academia?  And why have universities at all, from a Christian point of view?

This week, I’m taking a look at another initiative concerned with Christian scholarship.

Grad Resources has a unique model for engaging with the university.  Based in the USA, it has a telephone helpline dedicated to PhD students in moments of crisis, or who feel a need for anonymous support.  The National Grad Crisis Line (freephone
1.800.GRAD.HLP) receives hundreds of calls a month, apparently helping many postgraduate students avoid despair, self-harm and even suicide.

At one of our postgrads’ discussions, a friend doing a PhD in literature was sharing how difficult it is to attribute special authority to the Bible in the English faculty, where a first principal is that all texts are treated equally.  Must we just make a special exception for this book, and take the ridicule on the (other) cheek?

I’m from a science background, and in my faculty non-scientific texts are supposed to have no authority at all.  Can either of us ever hope to be considered rational by our colleagues, when we trust in God’s written word?  Surely that challenge is there even if we never get into apologetics discussions at work, never mind claiming scientific or literary insights from the Bible in our research!

For many of us, Easter has strong associations with studying. The Easter holiday is the one you won’t really get if you’re coming up to big exams, because Easter term is exam term. Easter also comes when preparations for end-of-year performances and summer sporting events step up a gear. In some of the most intense years of our lives, Easter can seem to be brushed aside by ambition.

For many people, “academia”, “PhD” and “scholarship” suggest intellectual pursuits, far removed from real life. If you want to change the world, don’t go and hide in an ivory tower! And some Christians would readily take Paul’s warnings against “the wisdom of this world” (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:19-31) to be dismissive of learning in general, except perhaps for certain kinds of approved theology. So people who feel called to scholarly work – especially at postgraduate level – are sometimes seen as lost from the cause of the Church. The university may be a mission field, but why make your home as an academic in some obscure science, philosophy or sociology department where worldly wisdom is enthroned and conversions to Christianity seem very rare?

This is the title of a book by George Marsden – and it’s also the title that David Hanson took for his talk at the recent FiSch leaders’ conference.  In this and the next few posts, we’ll share some of the things we heard at this conference, which took place in Leeds on 31 Jan – 1 Feb.

This blog is a space where a team of us – the FiSch Fellows and some friends – will be exploring how Christian faith can affect academic work and life.  And you, dear reader, are invited to join in!

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