A Reflection in Puddles: Distinctiveness in Academia

It’s a rainy day outside and my mind has wandered to puddles. Puddles are commonplace (in England especially!) without much beauty or substance, but they can do one great thing: they can reflect what’s above them.

I’ve been pondering distinctiveness in academia lately, asking: how does being a Christian affect how I navigate the academy? This has been a convicting exercise but a very helpful one. Below, I’ve jotted down a few ways I think I can reflect God better in academia, and I hope my own thoughts might inspire similar personal reflections in others.

Doing English in the church

‘Oh, you’re thinking of doing English at university? You’ll have to be careful about that. A lot of people lose their faith.’

I was seventeen. I had been a Christian for several years, and I had loved books for much longer. I was doing two English A-Levels and thoroughly enjoying them, and I had just moved past a period of crippling doubt in God – the first I had experienced – into a steadier, more confident faith.

A response to Anti-intellectualism

Anti-intellectualism in the church has been well documented (Noll 1995) and is still a problem for Christian academics today. It may appear in many guises, but one is what Don Carson calls “blue-collar arrogance”[1]. This is the idea that if you can’t do something practical – so that others can see the direct benefit or fruit of it, your job is fairly pointless. I encountered this recently when I was asked, “don’t you want to become a lawyer, teacher or vicar? In those jobs you can help people, serve the Church financially or serve the Church theologically and pastorally.”