Fundamentalist U

Laats’s first book: “The Other School Reformers”

If you are not reading Adam Laats’s blog I Love You But You’re Going to Hell I encourage you to bookmark it or put in in your feed.  Laats teaches in the Graduate School of Education at SUNY-Binghamton and has written extensively on religion and the culture wars as they relate to American education.

I have been reading Laats for a year or so, but I just recently learned of his new book project: “Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education.”  Here is Laats’s description of this well-funded project:

In my new book, tentatively titled Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education, I’m exploring the complex history of evangelical and fundamentalist higher education. In many ways, these schools have functioned as institutional hubs in the kaleidoscopic world of conservative evangelicalism. From Reagan to Romney, from Cruz to (Jeb) Bush, politicians hoping to woo the conservative religious vote have visited conservative schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty University…

Schools such as Bob Jones and Liberty, as well as Wheaton College, Biola, The King’s College, and a host of other institutions, have educated generations of evangelicals in the distinctive intellectual and cultural traditions of their faith. Students at these schools agree to more rigid lifestyle rules than they would on secular campuses. And they agree to have their educations shepherded by faculties who have signed on to detailed statements of faith. Just as alumni of the Ivy League might brag about their alma maters, so alumni of these schools feel a distinct connection to their colleges. Politicians hoping to prove their conservative credentials want to jump on that bandwagon.
But that does not mean that these colleges are somehow monolithic.  The differences between these schools often loom larger than their similarities, at least in the world of evangelical Protestantism.  What does it mean to be “creationist?”  What changes are healthy, and what are dangerously heterodox?  And what is the proper, Godly relationship between men and women?  There is no single “evangelical” answer to these questions.  Just as at pluralist campuses, evangelical campuses have been rocked by controversy on all these issues.
But there is a palpable sense of connection.  There is something that unites the fractious world of evangelical higher education.  And in this book, I’m asking questions about it:  What did such schools hope to teach each new generation of evangelical student?  How did they hope to raise up new generations of faithful young people in a country that was slipping farther and farther into secularism?  And, importantly, how did students respond to these efforts?
If we hope to understand America’s continuing culture wars, we must make sense of the many meanings of these institutions.  After all, our culture wars aren’t between one group of educated people and another group that has not been educated.  Rather, the fight is usually between two groups who have been educated in very different ways.
I’ll be traveling over the next year or so to a set of non-denominational evangelical schools such as Bryan College, Wheaton College, Biola University, Bob Jones University, and others.  I’ll be looking in their archives at the residue of student life and learning across the century.
As I do so, I’ll keep posting updates in these pages about my evolving argument.  And I invite input from readers who’ve attended such schools.  How did going to a conservative evangelical college shape you?  How did you rebel or conform to the school’s expectations?
Stay tuned.  This looks like a really interesting project that will no doubt make a big splash in the Christian college world.

2 thoughts on “Fundamentalist U

  1. Thanks for the mention! The good news is that I've managed to meet my goal of writing the first two chapters this summer. Now I'm on to my 1920s chapter, with this catchy epigraph from anti-evolution maven T.T. Martin, c. 1923: “My soul is a starving skeleton; my heart a petrified rock; my mind is poisoned. . . . I wish I had never been to college.”


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