As I have noted before at this blog, my Messiah College colleagues Jake and Rhonda Jacobsen have been very active in exploring the role of religion on college campuses. There most recent book on the subject is No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education.
Today’s Inside Higher Ed has a nice interview with the Jacobsens. Here is a taste:
Q: Your title, No Longer Invisible, refers to a resurgence of religion on college campuses. Was religion ever truly “invisible” in higher education? How does religious expression in college differ now from in the past?
A: Religion has never been truly “absent” from higher education. There have always been religious individuals among the faculty, staff, and student bodies of American colleges and universities, and religious or spiritual questions — the big questions of human meaning and purpose — have always been part of higher learning. The historic religions — like Christianity, Judaism, Islam — have also always been subjects of study, though certainly not at every school. So, in one sense, religion has always remained part of the college experience.
That said, there was a time during the mid- to the late-20th century when many institutions of higher learning tried to bracket religion from campus life. Religion was deemed a private affair, something to keep to oneself, and religious questions were not supposed to intrude into the curriculum. The hope was for religion to be invisible.
There were a variety of reasons for taking this approach, including longstanding tensions between science and theology and between a generally enlightened view of the world (as in “the Enlightenment”) and the more parochial orientations of traditional faith. But the immediate motivation in the second half of the 20th century derived from the theory of secularization: the belief that society as a whole was becoming less religious and that religion itself might be headed toward oblivion. Some leading educators assumed that they should be preparing students to live in a world where religion was no longer a significant factor in personal or social life. At this current point in history, the theory of secularization has lost its credibility. It is evident that religion in a multiplicity of forms continues to have significant influence in the contemporary world, and religion has returned to visibility in higher education.
One point needs to be underscored. Religion as it has “returned” to colleges and universities is not equivalent to what was there a half-century ago. Religion in America today is pluriform, by which we mean it is both pluralistic — there are many different religions represented in American society — and it is religio-secularly “brackish,” meaning that there are very fuzzy borders separating religious beliefs and behaviors from deeply held secular beliefs and behaviors. Religion has returned to visibility in higher education partly because it is no longer possible to segregate religious or spiritual orientations from other ways of life and thought.