The Funding of Religious Scholarship

01n/25/ARVE/G2168/017John Schmalzbauer‘s recent piece at Immanent Frame is a reminder that scholarship and scholarly organizations cannot function without money.  We need philanthropists, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., to keep doing what we do.  Here is a taste of his excellent essay: “As rich as Rockefeller, Danforth, Lilly, Lice, Pew, and Templeton“:

At the outset of the twenty-first century, what do these Rockefeller-funded projects have to teach us about religion in higher education?

First, they teach us that philanthropy matters. Just as Lilly Endowment, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the John Templeton Foundation have sponsored much of the current wave of religious scholarship, the Rockefeller family helped underwrite an earlier era of research. Equally significant, the Danforth and Hazen foundations bankrolled the revival of religious intellectual life following the Second World War.

Second, these earlier projects show that religious scholarship is shaped by the hopes and anxieties of its funders. From the University of Chicago Divinity School to the Riverside Church, the Rockefellers fostered the growth of liberal Protestant institutions in the United States. Inspired by a global ecumenical vision, at least some of this philanthropy was rooted in fears of Protestant fundamentalism. Assisted by public relations founder Ivy LeeJohn D. Rockefeller, Jr. subsidized the distribution of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s 1922 sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Reflecting the close ties among mainline Protestant elites, Fosdick’s brother Raymond later served as the president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Similar concerns have shaped more recent support for the academic study of religion. Chronicling the “mainstream Protestant ‘decline,’” many of Lilly’s grantees focused on two questions: “1) Just how bad is it? and 2) How did we get here?” Other foundations worried about the rise of the New Christian Right. Commenting on the MacArthur Foundation’s sponsorship of the Fundamentalism ProjectPeter Berger quipped that it “was a matter of knowing one’s enemies,” a fear with deep roots in American culture. Describing a similar sentiment on The Immanent Frame, historian David Hollinger attributed the popularity of American religious history to electoral politics, noting that religion is “harder to ignore if it keeps coming back and hitting you again and again.”

Read the entire piece here.

Why Did *Books and Culture* Die?

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During Q & A following the first plenary session of the State of the Evangelical Mind conference last week, I asked the audience: “What does it say about the state of the ‘evangelical mind’ if evangelicals cannot come up with enough money to support Books & Culture?”

Books & Culture was a Christian review of books edited by John Wilson and published by Christianity Today.  As I noted in an earlier post, Mark Noll’s plenary address at the conference identified Books  & Culture as one of the several signs of a thriving evangelical mind.  Back in January, I wondered how evangelical intellectual life would continue to move forward after Books & Culture.  My blog post called attention to Missouri State sociologist John Schmalzbauer’s piece at Comment magazine titled “The Life and Death of Evangelicalism’s Little Magazine.”  Noll referenced both Schmalzbauer’s piece and my blog post in his address in Indianapolis.

John Wilson was honored during the conference for his work on Books & Culture. Indiana Wesleyan University, one of the conference sponsors, gave Wilson library bound copies of every issue of the periodical.  It was a very meaningful gift, but someone is going to have to lug those books home! 🙂

Rachel Maxson, a librarian and instructor in the honors college at John Brown University, put the demise of Books & Culture in context.  She began her talk by describing the conference as a “funeral”–a time to “grieve together” over the end of this important periodical.  Maxson pointed to 2007 as the beginning of the end for print periodicals such as Books & Culture.  In that year, Apple released the first iPhone, Amazon introduced the Kindle, the bottom of the housing market dropped out, and Harold Myra retired as the CEO of Christianity Today after thirty-two years at the organization.  Traditional print publication took a serious hit from the iPhone and the Kindle.  The tough economy made it difficult for periodicals such as Books & Culture to raise funds. And following Myra’s retirement, Christianity Today changed in a way that was not entirely clear from Maxson’s presentation.

After diagnosing what happened to Books & Culture, Maxson offered some general observations:

  1. It is too soon to say that “print is dead.”  Maxson pointed to a survey that found that 92% of college students would rather have a print textbook.
  2. Evangelicals interested in promoting Christian thinking need to be more creative in their funding models.
  3. Evangelical public scholars and public intellectuals must be rewarded for their work when they “go up” for tenure and promotion.
  4. Evangelicals need to do a better job of creating “clearing houses” so that Christians know how to find good stuff on the Internet.

These are all excellent points that resonate with the work we do here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  While we are a very small operation, we are slowly advancing our grassroots crowd-sourcing efforts to keep this little corner of Christian intellectual culture up and running.  (Now might be a good time to think about investing in what we do here).  In terms of tenure and promotion, I think Christian colleges have always been places where writing for the public has been rewarded.  I also hope that The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog has been a clearing house to help you navigate the Web in a more thoughtful and responsible manner.

Stay tuned for most posts on the “State of the Evangelical Mind” conference.

A Wheaton Graduate Asks His Alma Mater to Consider Its Muslim Neighbors

John Schmalzbauer is not your average Wheaton College alumnus. He is the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair of Protestant Studies at Missouri State University.  

In his recent piece at Religion and Politics, Schmalzbauer puts the entire Larycia Hawkins affair in the larger context of Wheaton’s history with non-Christian religions and the history of Midwestern fundamentalism.  It’s a great piece–the best thing I have read so far on this controversy.

Here is a taste:

In November 2007 Wheaton’s president, provost, and chaplain signed a major statement on Christian-Muslim understanding that appeared in The New York Times. Calling for peace between the two religions, the document affirmed “our common love for God and for one another.” The 300 signatories included megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw, and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. In January 2008, the statement drew strong rebukes from Minnesota Pastor John Piper and Southern Baptist educator Albert Mohler. Though Wheaton’s leaders later retracted their signatures, they continued to embrace the goal of peacemaking. 

Schmalzbauer’s appeal to the administration of his alma mater may be too late.  The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Wheaton and Hawkins have been unable to reconcile.  Hawkins may be terminated if she does not agree to give up her tenure.